Morning Glory Spire is a 5,310-foot (1,619-meter) peak located in the Coffeepot region of Sedona, Arizona. Towering more than 800 feet above the valley floor, it is a jagged finger of brilliant red rock capped by a teetering block of glistening white sandstone. Collapse of underground layers at the base of Morning Glory Spire has resulted in the formation of a massive sinkhole known as the Devil’s Kitchen.
The easiest way to reach the top of Morning Glory Spire is by the class-4 north ridge. Some sections fringe on low-class-5 difficulty, amplified by a respectable amount of exposure. Placement of traditional climbing gear is optional on the ascent, but a 60-meter rope is highly desired to take advantage of the two rappel stations on the descent.
SUMMARY: I climbed Morning Glory Spire with Giselle in late September of the year 2015, while driving home to Flagstaff from Phoenix. Parking at Soldiers Pass trailhead just north of the town of Sedona, we scrambled up to the saddle between Morning Glory Spire and Jap Head Spire. A short class-4 pitch connected us to the main north ridge of Morning Glory; from there, several pitches of class-4 climbing deposited us on the precarious summit block. We downclimbed the north ridge and then proceeded with two lengthy rappels to return to the saddle. On the jog back down to the trailhead, we came across Devil’s Kitchen, a remarkable sinkhole beneath Morning Glory Spire. It took us approximately 3 hours to complete the round trip, including a lengthy break on the summit and time to explore the Devil’s Kitchen.
27 SEPTEMBER 2015
The searing heat of mid-day is upon us as we exit the air-conditioned vehicle and begin stomping up the trail, our bags loaded with hot, heavy climbing gear. We follow a network of trails to the first of the red-rock slabs at the base of the south face of Morning Glory Spire.
From the bottom of the south face, the top of the spire appears unattainable! The lone twisted finger of ancient colorful stone shoots up from the desert floor, puncturing the deep blue sky and gnarling its way to sinister heights.
From the base of the spire, we aim for the unmistakable saddle between Morning Glory and its more bulbous counterpart, Jap Head. We select the path of least resistance, trying to avoid pinyon shrubs and crumbly cliff bands.
We soon find that the easiest way to get to the saddle is not to attack the saddle directly (too much sharp brush), but rather to gain a subsidiary ridge below the southwest face of Morning Glory Spire and then contour the slabs on the lower south face across to the saddle.
So we contour the entirety of the lower south face, taking advantage of thin horizontal stripes of resistant stone.
It’s hard to imagine being more sweaty than when traversing a massive south-facing slab in the late Arizona summer. Thankfully the saddle is in the shade of the overhanging east face, and we are able to rest a while. During this rest I scramble up an exciting little arête in order to gain a better view of the spire.
Looking up west from the saddle, we are faced with our first technically-challenging obstacle: a 30-foot headwall of smooth, rippled sandstone. We use a cliff-leaning tree to climb the first part of the headwall, then we are left to the open air on the higher class-4 slab section.
The 30-foot headwall culminates at the crest of the main north ridge. Here we don our climbing gear, tie ourselves together by 60-meter rope, and climb traditional style. From this point to the summit, I place a total of four pieces of protection.
The crux comes on the second pitch in the form of another steep 30-foot headwall. The face is overhung at the bottom, but we are able to use chimney techniques to get above it. The most nerve-wracking maneuver is stepping left out of the security of the chimney and onto the exposed face, but from there it is a jug-haul to the top of the pitch.
The last pitch finds the easiest path up to the summit block, with a fun little class-4 face right at the top. The 5,310-foot sandstone summit block of Morning Glory Spire has such a small surface area that we are able to swivel 360-degrees and soak in the afternoon red-rock panorama.
We had been hoping for the presence of rappel anchors on the summit, but find none. Thus we are forced to downclimb the upper part of the north ridge, a task which might have been more scary without our level of mountaineering experience.
At last we discover a single-bolt rappel station and use it to exit the north ridge. While slipping comfortably down the overhanging east face of Morning Glory Spire, we hear camera-clicks and exclamations of surprise from a large pack of day-hikers at the saddle.
The first rappel deposits us on a wide ledge, but we are still not off the mountain. Giselle locates a two-bolt anchor station and I rig a setup for us to abseil, hoping our rope will be long enough to reach the ground. Amazingly, our rope is exactly the height of the cliff, and we land safely on the sandy saddle.
Declining interview/photo requests from the day-hikers, Giselle and I jog down the slabs from the spire down to the vehicle. At the base of the spire itself, we stumble across a gigantic sinkhole! The national parks sign informs us that it is called the Devil’s Kitchen, and formed by natural geologic cause in the late-1800’s due to karst collapse of Redwall limestone deep underground.
It’s incredible to see the large stratigraphic section (layers of red rock) exposed on the spire and also the sinkhole below. It’s even more incredible to see the house-sized boulder that collapsed from the walls of the sinkhole in the collapse of the late 1800’s.
Our 4pm return to the car marks the end of our three-hour roundtrip climb of Morning Glory Spire. There’s still a couple hours of daylight left, so we begin to eye up the routes on nearby Thunder Mountain.