Mescal Mountain P300 RS
Three Sisters P300 RS
Grassy Knolls West RS

Mon, Oct 17, 2022

With: Eric Smith

Mescal Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Following a rainy day that brought cooler weather, we moved back to Sedona for the next few days. Temperatures were 5-10 degrees cooler and much better suited for hiking and scrambling. All of today's objectives are found in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles and accessed from the Long Canyon TH, north of SR89a and Sedona.

Mescal Mountain

This summit is found about a mile WNW of the Long Canyon TH. We followed the Long Canyon Trail for about 2/3mi before looking for a use trail forking left. We started cross-country a little too early, weaving about through scrubby forest before finally stumbling on the correct route. Better would have been to stay on the maintained trail until a trail sign and some wooden fencing is encountered - the unsigned trail we wanted then forks left. We were surprised to see folks on the trail ahead of us, not realizing this is also the route to the popular Birthing Cave that lies on the SE side of Mescal's lower north summit. The Birthing Cave is supposed to have been used by Native Americans, but this is probably as unlikely as the supposed mystical powers said to be contained therein. In fact, the whole mythology probably arose after the first photos taken from inside the cave looking out were noticed to be vaginally-shaped. Add this to the Vortices as Sedona new-agey-silliness. While a handful of parties were gabbing it up in the Birthing Cave above us, we turned left without actually visiting it to follow a lesser use trail to the saddle between Mescal's summits. Nice views from the saddle.

We turned left (south) and made our way to the base of the 20-foot cliff band that would need to be surmounted to reach the summit plateau. We followed the base of this cliff to the left until we found something that matched the class 3 rating. Passing a couple of much harder options, we settled on a step up to the right that would get us nicely through the band. The summit plateau was easy, as expected, and in less than an hour we found our way to the top. The most interesting view to us was to the northeast where Three Sisters, the harder objective, could be found. We had trouble discerning its exact location, hoping it would become more evident upon closer inspection. After reversing the class 3 step in the cliff band, we paid a quick visit to the PB-only north summit before returning to the Long Canyon Trail.

Three Sisters

At the junction, we turned left to follow the Long Canyon Trail further upstream. We had no GPX tracks nor any useful route description for Three Sisters. Purcell merely comments, "You're gonna have to snoop around to find your way up this - it's half the battle, and half the fun!" Ok, so there's something tricky about this one. The satellite view shows the west side to be our best bet, which is why we approached from Long Canyon. If there's another way, we don't know about it, but this way worked.

Our return route was far better than our ascent route, much shorter, too. For the ascent, we followed the Long Canyon Trail for more than a mile, turning right into a drainage immediately west of the summit. The dry creekbed we followed started off well, but soon forked into narrower channels that grew increasingly brushy. Oddly, we found several ducks in this nether place, giving us hope, only to have that squashed after some wasted effort. As we got closer to our target, we found our choices narrowing with a mid-level cliff band threatening to box us in. I spied a duck atop what looked like our only exit route, and this proved to be one of the keys. Above this, the route grows steeper and our options narrowed further to one of two chutes that might get us through the uppermost cliff band south of the summit. Some of this was terribly brushy and I was frankly surprised that Eric kept up his spirits the whole time - I hadn't been on such a bushwhack with him before and thought he would ask or beg for retreat, but did neither - even when I gave him my best estimate of less than 50% chance of success. We eventually got to the exit gully, the only one that would work to get us to the upper reaches. Once we found this would go, we were ecstatic - the rest was easy ground, the summit only five minutes away. It was two and a quarter hours since we'd returned to the Long Canyon Trail from Mescal, about twice as long as I'd guessed it would take. This was a battle, to be sure.

The views are quite spectacular, especially the near views of the various crags that defend the summit. A register dating to 2013 had only a handful of entries - this one indeed is a toughie. On the way back down, we could get a better view of the landscape, and on Eric's suggestion, we tried a different return route after descending the exit gully. It had some of the same issues as before - steep and somewhat brushy, but it soon improved, so much so that it became quite obviously the better route. We had some more fun with another cliff band to get through and then skirting property just outside the private golf club, but we were back to the TH shortly after noon, having taken less than an hour and a half for the entire descent.

Grassy Knolls

These low summits are located southeast of the golf club, northeast of the Long Canyon TH. About them, Purcell only says, "Largely, er, completely uninteresting." One has to wonder why he included it in his guidebook. Still, it is not entirely without merit, even if it has barely 200ft of prominence. The hike up from the south is relatively easy and only mildly brushy. It took us just over 20min to make our way to the top. As on Three Sisters, the view of the Seven Canyons Golf Club makes one wonder who was responsible for this travesty nestled up against the Wilderness boundary. On the descent, we headed west off the summit, closer to the newly planted homes occupying the northwest side of the knoll. We eventually dropped onto Long Canyon Rd and followed use trails on its west side back to our starting point.

Done by 1:30p, I went off to explore nearby Peak 5,634ft near the mouth of Boyton Canyon. I had no tracks or beta and was really just winging it. Much like the golf course, the Enchantment Resort is a private commercial property surrounded by the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness, seeming oddly out of place. It was likely a ranch back in the day before selling to developers. The Boyton Canyon Trail follows along the east side of the resort, decidedly non-Wilderness in feel. Worse, there is serious construction going on to the east side of the resort where new buildings are going up. The noise was quite deafening at times, as though there was a tree mulcher running continuously. It could not have been any better for the resort customers who were hoping for a quiet retreat, only to find the sounds of urbanization inescapable. My exploration of the west side of Peak 5,634ft found cliffs completely blocking all access. I did find the unexpected remains of a cliff dwelling at the base of a mid-level cliff that made my efforts worthwhile. I found later that it is depicted on the topo map though there isn't much left to it - just a partial wall of sandstone rocks cemented with sandstone mortar. After aborting my outing, I was back to the Jeep by 3p, then headed off to find Eric in time for happy hour...


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