East Twin Butte P1K
West Twin Butte P300 RS
Battlement Mesa 2x RS
Courthouse Butte P900

Tue, Oct 18, 2022

With: Eric Smith

Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profiles: 1 2

Continued...

We'd spent the night camped on the 4x4 Broken Arrow Trail on the south side of Sedona. Not exactly legal, we suspected, but the police were unlikely to patrol the rough road at night for vagabonds. It was also conveniently located near the Broken Arrow TH where we intended to hike in the morning. It wasn't a very early start since we'd gotten into the habit of visiting the local Starbucks for an early morning fix for Eric's caffeine habit and my sugar one. Once that was taken care of, we drove back to the TH and started our day on foot. Today we were headed to Twin Buttes, a pair of sandstone scrambling objectives typical of the area. The West Butte appears in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles, as does the nearby bonus, Battlement Mesa, that we would add at the end. We had a couple of GPX tracks from Mike Toffey off PB that proved helpful for both outings.

East Twin Butte - West Twin Butte - Battlement Mesa

I had been to Battlement Mesa the week prior, so I had some idea about the trail system in the area, but for the most part I let Eric lead since he was much better at navigating with his phone than I. We followed the Broken Arrow, Twin Buttes, and Hog Heaven Trails for about 45min in the cool of the early morning, working our way around the east and south sides of Battlement Mesa. The trail system has been designed for bikes, evidenced by some rather cool stonework found along the way. We made a wrong turn on the last trail but corrected it before long, eventually landing us on the south side of Battlement Mesa. Following the GPX track, we left the trail to follow a dry creekbed upstream towards East Twin Butte, our first stop. I figured we should get the scariest one out of the way so Eric could relax for the rest of the outing. The creekbed became brushy, forcing us to leave it, leading to some slow progress as we realized the track was not following an established use trail as we'd hoped (further research suggests there is just such a trail leading to the saddle between the two buttes, but we didn't find it for the ascent or descent). Some 40min was consumed on this cross-country affair that eventually brought us to the cliffband at the base of East Twin Butte. We turned left to follow this to the leftmost of two saddles, then further along for another 100yds or so, looking for a way up. The base of the cliffband showed signs of travel, so we were pretty sure we were on the right track. We eventually found the chute with a chockstone we were looking for, finding it matched the GPX track nicely. Up we went.

I chimneyed up the opposing sides of the narrow chute to get past the chockstone close to the start, then invited Eric to do likewise. I think it was the crux of the whole route, class 3-4. Above this, we followed what looked to be the easiest way through a series of easier and harder class 3 sections, taking about 15min to work our way through the cliff band to reach easier ground above. It would take another 12min to follow an indistinct use trail through brush and various steps to work our way to the highest point, just about 2hrs from the TH. After a short pause to take in the views and rest, we reversed the route back across the butte and down through the cliff band, then back to the saddle where we'd left some of our gear. On to West Twin Butte.

The traverse to West Twin Butte is a fun exercise with good views off one side or the other. Mostly we stayed on the ridge or off the northeast side to get around difficulties. At the main saddle we spied a touristy attraction at the base of West Twin Buttes in the Little Horse Park neighborhood to the west. It turned out to be the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a popular attraction constructed in the 1950s and anchor to one of the Sedona vortices. Upon reaching the base of the West Butte's SE Ridge, one is forced to pause at what looks like a difficult ascent. It turns out to be no more than class 3 and quite fun, with good holds, enough exposure to get the adrenaline going. The fun stuff lasts less then 10min before easier ground is reached. On our way to the summit, we passed by a small stack of rocks that I examined briefly and judged to mark our descent route. We continued to the highpoint where a moderately-sized cairn marks the top with views overlooking Sedona north and west. Two down, one to go.

We returned to the smaller cairn that did, indeed, mark the descent route, matching nicely with Mike's GPX track. Steep at first with some short class 3 sections, it eventually becomes a regular use trail leading down to the saddle with Battlement Mesa. Eric was descending slowly now, either out of caution or just tiredness, and it took us about 40min. There were a few parties mulling about the saddle, marking the highpoint of the Hog Heaven Trail. We paused briefly so Eric could greet one of the friendly dogs they had with them, then continued across the main trail to follow a use trail northeast towards Battlement Mesa. Difficult-looking from the west, we followed around the north side to gain the class 3 access point on the northeast side. An airy ridgeline then leads to the highpoint, the easiest of the three summits. After returning across the airy bridge, we continued northeast cross-country so that we could use a fun little gully I had found on my previous visit to Battlement Mesa. It makes for a more direct return and a bit adventurous, too. The gully has been used quite often, leaving a brush-free scramble route down it, eventually depositing us on the Twin Buttes Trail. From there, it was less than 10min to get back to the TH where we arrived around 12:10p.

Courthouse Butte

We started looking around the peakbagger app for afternoon options. I was initially excited to hear there was a trail to Cathedral Rock, an impressive looking feature a few miles to the west. I quickly found the trail only goes to an overlook, not the real summit. Nice views, they say, but not a summit. Eric found something called Courthouse Butte that then got my attention - good scramble, fixed rope, some exposure. I saw that Iris and TomG had climbed it and even while Eric was looking at other options, I decided I wanted to give Courthouse Butte a try. Even if unsuccessful, it could be great fun. It isn't too far from where we were parked, just a few miles down SR179 to the village of Oak Creek. Eric decided to do some easier things near Bell Rock, so we agreed to meet up afterwards.

The route up Courthouse Butte from the south appears to be the only scramble route available, and only with the help of a fixed line. It follows a series of gullies, ledges and aretes to ascend through a maze of cliffs that ring the massive feature with nearly 1,000ft of prominence. I used the TH at the northern edge of Oak Creek Village, southwest of Courthouse Butte. There is a fee to park unless you have a Federal Lands Pass. The Big Park Loop Trail will take you to the Courthouse Butte Loop Trail on the south side of the feature in about half a mile. A short distance east along the latter trail will get you to the unmarked start of the cross-country route. The GPX was very helpful in finding the start and several key turns. I found not a single duck on the entire route, a little surprising. I think someone before me saw fit to remove them, if they ever existed. A use trail leads to a left-leaning gully that goes up through the lowest cliff band. At the top of this, one turns right (east) and follows a ledge system around into the next gully, then further east where the ledge eventually ends. There are some indian ruins to be found near the end of the ledge at the base of a cliff. Where the ledge ends, the route goes up a rounded arete/ridge, class 3 with some exposure. There is a pair of pitons wtih some webbing above this to show you are on route. On easier ground, the route continues up a broad gully, taking the rightmost of two gullies where it splits higher up. Neither gully leads to the summit plateau, however. Instead, after climbing partway up the right gully, one needs to traverse on a second ledge system to the east, which will lead to a second arete. I missed this initially, continuing up the righthand gully until it was clear there was no exit above. The GPX track got me going the right way. The second arete/ridge starts out as class 3, but runs into difficult ground just below the plateau. A rope dangling from above helped guide me to the correct exit. Once the rope is reached, class 4 scrambling leads higher, ending at a 5.6 headwall about 10ft high. The rope is key to surmounting this. A single bolt is found on this headwall to aid one leading it with their own rope, should the rope be missing or untrusted. Looking around, there are several footholds that will aid in the ascent. I had no micro ascenders or other gear with me (that could make this less scary), having only my leather gloves to wrap the rope around during the ascent. Not the safest of measures, but it worked. Above, there is a two bolt anchor to which the rope is secured. There was a thinner rope as well, coiled up and sitting to the side.

Past the ropes, the route becomes class 2-3 all the way to the summit. I mistook the lower eastern point for the highpoint and visited that first, then made my way over to the higher west summit. Views are quite grand, particularly looking down the 400ft cliff that forms the North Face. A register left by Mike Toffey and pal a year earlier had 15 parties signing in, making it fairly popular, though hardly popular by Sedona standards. I had spent just under an hour and a half on the ascent, longer than I had guessed beforehand, but not bad considering the intricacies of the route. Following a brief stay, I went about reversing the route in about an hour and a quarter. For the rope section, I tossed down the unused rope so that I could use both, one on each hand, to help lower myself back down the headwall. I let the rope slide slowly through my glove and around my shirt while I lowered my feet from one foothold to the next. The rest of the descent seemed uneventful by comparison, including the lower exposed class 3 arete/ridge where a helpful plant hold allowed me to do this section without the adrenalin rush. I was back to the TH by 3:40p, and hooked up with Eric soon thereafter. We went back to our campsite on the Broken Arrow Trail to clean up and enjoy happy hour before heading into town for dinner. Fun day...

Continued>...


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