Dry Creek Spires (~4,000′) – Multi-pitch Trad Climbing

Looking up at The Beer Bottle (left) and Dry Creek Spire (right) on the approach.

Looking up at The Beer Bottle (left) and Dry Creek Spire (right) on the approach.

The Dry Creek Spires are a collection of three unique rock formations located in Sedona, northern Arizona. Situated below the west face of Thunder Mountain, they include Dry Creek Spire, the Beer Bottle, and Corndog Spire.

The tallest of the three is Dry Creek Spire, requiring 3 or 4 pitches of 5.8 climbing to reach the top. A narrow saddle connects the west side of this spire to the Beer Bottle, an aesthetic pinnacle featuring a single pitch of 5.10 climbing – a high-quality route known as “Free Beer” – on its east face. The conspicuous form of Corndog Spire stands below these two formations, with a unique 2-pitch 5.10 route spiraling around its western aspect.


SUMMARY: I spent a fine day climbing the Dry Creek Spires with Kirk in late January of the year 2016, on a day trip from our home in Flagstaff. The approach from the Devils Bridge trailhead lasted only half an hour. We climbed Dry Creek Spire first, then The Beer Bottle, and finished with Corndog Spire.


23 January, 2015

Around 11:00am, the two of us arrive to the Devil’s Bridge trailhead. This is one of the prime locations for witnessing the laughable spectacle of tourists who pay $100 per person for Pink Jeep Tours that take them to destinations that they could hike to in less than an hour. Immediately out of the parking lot, Kirk and I step eastward into the brush and begin whacking our way up a juniper-choked gully to the cluster of aesthetic red-rock spires below the white-washed west face of Thunder Mountain.

Looking east at Kirk approaching the Dry Creek Spires. The individual towers are virtually indiscernible, but the main Dry Creek Spire stands in center.

Looking east at Kirk approaching the Dry Creek Spires. Look closely to differentiate the towers: The Beer Bottle (left), Dry Creek Spire (tallest formation in center), and Corndog Spire (tiny pillar on lower right).


 

DRY CREEK SPIRE (3-pitch 5.8)

Our first objective is the monarch of the group, which stands roughly 200 feet tall. The simplest route ascends the north face, meandering between the most featured sections of the cliff.

Looking up at Dry Creek Spire from the saddle on the west side. The regular route ascends the right side of the formation.

Looking up at Dry Creek Spire from the saddle on the west side. The regular route ascends the right side of the formation.

The first pitch starts on a soggy class-4 slab that feels very insecure due to the crumbly nature of the moist sandstone. About twenty feet off the ground, there is a short but steep hand crack that requires two or three poorly protected 5.8 moves. Beyond that, a simple class-3 traverse across the slab leads to the one-bolt anchor.

Looking west from the saddle between Dry Creek Spire (left) and The Beer Bottle (right). The small formation in distance is Cockscomb Butte.

Looking west from the saddle between Dry Creek Spire (left; pitch-1 slab) and The Beer Bottle (right). The small formation in distance is Cockscomb Butte.

We switch leads for the second pitch; Kirk steps out onto the steep face above us, traverses right below a bulge, and enters a decent 5.8 crack system that takes him 25 feet to the next anchor point. The final move of this pitch involves a thrilling lieback mantle on good-quality sandstone.

Kirk leading the second pitch (5.8 hand crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Kirk leading the second pitch (5.8 hand crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Looking down at the author nearing the top of the second pitch (5.8 hand crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Looking down at the author nearing the top of the second pitch (5.8 hand crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Looking down at the author nearing the top of the second pitch (5.8 hand crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Looking down at the author nearing the top of the second pitch (5.8 hand crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

The third pitch contains the crux section: a 15-foot-tall arching offwidth crack that takes our only #4-sized cam. I lead the pitch, twice backing off of the most awkward move before finally committing to jamming my way through it. Following a short hand traverse, this crack terminates at a comfortable ledge where I am able to set another piece of protection and proceed romping up a clean class-4 corner to the summit ridge.

The author looking up the third pitch (5.8 wide crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

The author looking up the third pitch (5.8 wide crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Looking up at the author leading the third pitch (5.8 wide crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Looking up at the author leading the third pitch (5.8 wide crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Looking up at the author leading the third pitch (5.8 wide crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Looking up at the author leading the third pitch (5.8 wide crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Looking up at the author leading the third pitch (5.8 wide crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Looking up at the author leading the third pitch (5.8 wide crack) on Dry Creek Spire.

Previous climbers have recommended to set a belay from this point along the ridge, but the remaining terrain looks easy enough that I continue on to the teetering summit block. The final obstacle is a 10-foot-tall 5.6 headwall made slightly more arduous thanks to rope drag.

Looking down at Kirk climbing the final 5.6 headwall beneath the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking down at Kirk climbing the final 5.6 headwall beneath the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

The summit is a precarious stack of thin sandstone pancakes that doesn’t inspire much confidence but still affords stellar views of the western part of Sedona, out to Cockscomb Butte and the hills beyond.

Looking west at the author on the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking west at the author on the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking north at the author and Kirk on the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking north at the author and Kirk on the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking southwest at Kirk on the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking southwest at Kirk on the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

Knowing we’ve got two more spires to climb, we don’t waste any more time than necessary on the unstable summit block. A speedy double-rope rappel deposits us safely at the bottom of the tower.

Looking southwest at the author on the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking southwest at the author on the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking down at Kirk rappelling the north face of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking down at Kirk rappelling the north face of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking up at the author rappelling the north face of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking up at the author rappelling the north face of Dry Creek Spire.


 

THE BEER BOTTLE (1-pitch 5.10)

From the base of Dry Creek Spire, its a stone’s throw to the start of our next little adventure: Free Beer, a 5.10 route on the Beer Bottle. It’s a single pitch of less than 100 feet, but arguably one of the finest in the Sedona region. Kirk leads the route, which starts with a walking traverse along a band of limestone before making a diagonal charge past four bolts on vertical rock with crimper holds.

Kirk making the traverse at the start of Free Beer (5.10) on The Beer Bottle.

Kirk making the traverse at the start of Free Beer (5.10) on The Beer Bottle.

Looking across at Kirk leading the 5.10 crux on The Beer Bottle.

Looking across at Kirk leading the 5.10 crux on The Beer Bottle.

Looking across at Kirk leading the 5.10 crux on The Beer Bottle.

Looking across at Kirk leading the 5.10 crux on The Beer Bottle.

The bolted section turns out to be the most challenging, but the meat of the climb is the long section of beautiful 5.9 dihedral climbing above. Graceful overlapping hand-jams lead comfortably to the cap of the Beer Bottle, where we enjoy a similar (slightly lower elevation) view as from the top of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking northwest at Kirk and the author on the summit of The Beer Bottle.

Looking northwest at Kirk and the author on the summit of The Beer Bottle.

We descend using a single-rope rappel from a fixed station, and land on the ground with enough time to continue on for the hat-trick of Sedona spires.


 

CORNDOG SPIRE (2-pitch 5.10)

Corndog Spire is the lowest of the three spires, but holds some of the most adventurous climbing. Kirk and I decide to play to our weaknesses, designating myself to climb the initial 5.8 trad pitch while he takes on the 5.10 sport pitch above.

Looking down on Corndog Spire from the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

Looking down on Corndog Spire from the summit of Dry Creek Spire.

So I start up the first pitch, passing one retrofitted bolt en route to the mouth of the gaping chimney. The movements are rather unorthodox – for example: at one point, it is necessary to dive headfirst into the chimney in order to place protection in the deep crack inside. I make my way to the top relying on solid handholds lining the faces on either side of the gap.

The author leading the first pitch (5.8) on Corndog Spire.

The author leading the first pitch (5.8) on Corndog Spire.

Looking up at the author leading the first pitch (5.8 chimney) on Corndog Spire.

Looking up at the author leading the first pitch (5.8 chimney) on Corndog Spire.

Looking up at the author leading the first pitch (5.8 chimney) on Corndog Spire. For those wondering what the heck's going on, this section requires a headfirst plunge into the depths of the chimney.

Looking up at the author leading the first pitch (5.8 chimney) on Corndog Spire. For those wondering what the heck’s going on, this section requires a headfirst plunge into the depths of the chimney.

Looking down at Kirk climbing the first pitch (5.8 chimney) on Corndog Spire.

Looking down at Kirk climbing the first pitch (5.8 chimney) on Corndog Spire.

Looking down at Kirk climbing the first pitch (5.8 chimney) on Corndog Spire.

Looking down at Kirk climbing the first pitch (5.8 chimney) on Corndog Spire.

A short walking traverse along a limestone band takes us from the north side of the tower to the south side, where the second pitch begins. The crux of the route is presented immediately in the form of a bulbous 5.10 crack system severely lacking in positive handholds. A retrofitted bolt protects the most committing move; with some effort, Kirk transcends this obstacle and cruises up the bolted 5.9 slab to the summit.

Kirk leading the second pitch (5.10) on Corndog Spire.

Kirk leading the second pitch (5.10) on Corndog Spire.

Looking up at Kirk leading the second pitch (5.10) on Corndog Spire, with the crux move just above him.

Looking up at Kirk leading the second pitch (5.10) on Corndog Spire, with the crux move just above him.

Now that we’re on a lower spire than the two before, the massive western walls of Thunder Mountain tower directly above us. The summit block is wide and flat, creating a nice spot for us to rest and reflect on our fun day in Sedona.

The author and Kirk on the summit of Corndog Spire with the west face of Thunder Mountain behind.

The author and Kirk on the summit of Corndog Spire with the west face of Thunder Mountain behind.

Looking southeast at the author and Kirk on the summit of Corndog Spire.

Looking southeast at the author and Kirk on the summit of Corndog Spire.

A single-rope rappel takes us down the east side of the formation, thus making for a nearly complete circumnavigation of this aptly named pillar.

Looking down at Kirk rappelling the east face of Corndog Spire.

Looking down at Kirk rappelling the east face of Corndog Spire.

Three spires under our proverbial belt, Kirk and I follow the wash back down to the vehicle and drive back to Flagstaff just before sundown.

 

THE END.

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