Queen Victoria Spire (5,331′) via Regular Route (3-pitch 5.7+ Trad Climb)

Looking north at Queen Victoria Spire (right) and Pointed Dome (left) on the approach.

Looking north at Queen Victoria Spire (right) and Pointed Dome (left) on the approach.

Queen Victoria Spire is a 5,331-foot (1,625-meter) peak located in Sedona, northern Arizona. Of the fantastically shaped red-rock towers aligned atop Schnebly Hill, it boasts the most slender geometry. It stands immediately adjacent to Pointed Dome, whose bulbous form contrasts starkly with the needle-like profile of Queen Vic. The circular summit measures only 2-3 meters diameter, serving as a prime pedestal from which to observe nearly all of the iconic formations of the region.

It is rumoured that Queen Victoria Spire was the first of the major Sedona towers to be climbed, which would be a remarkable fact considering that today it remains to be the most classic moderate route in the area. The Regular Route consists of three pitches of fine climbing at the 5.7 grade, with a short crux section of 5.7+ offwidth on a limestone band of the second pitch.


SUMMARY: I climbed Queen Victoria Spire with Giselle in late January of the year 2016, on a day trip from our home in Flagstaff. We drove up Schnebly Hill Road until the seasonal closure point, at which point the road becomes impassable due to mud and rocks. This forced us to walk approximately 1.5 miles down the road to the normal trailhead. We then followed the usual approach up a deep wash to the saddle below the spire. Despite the presence of a twenty-person group rigging fixed lines on Queen Vic and Pointed Dome, our ascent went smoothly and without delay. Upon climbing the Regular Route, we spend a good deal of time relaxing on the summit before descending by the same route back to the vehicle.


January 24, 2016

Since moving to Flagstaff five months ago, I have driven down to Sedona on countless occasions. Each time, upon completing the descent through Oak Creek Canyon and entering Sedona proper, I am greeted by the red-rock spires that line the top of Schnebly Hill. Each time, I fantasize about climbing the most attractive of them all, Queen Victoria Spire – but always I am there to do another spire or another activity altogether. Now, at last, I can look up at the beautiful ridgeline with the anticipation of climbing right to the top of that wonderfully slender pinnacle.

Looking south at the towers of Schnebly Hill from Hwy-89A. The pair of formations on far right consists of Pointed Dome (thick) and Queen Victoria (thin).

Looking south at the towers of Schnebly Hill from Hwy-89A. The pair of formations on far right consists of Pointed Dome (thick) and Queen Victoria (thin).

Giselle and I drive into the heart of town, turning east onto Schnebly Hill Road. The dirt portion of the road is blocked by signs that tell of the deteriorating conditions beyond, so we’re forced to park the car and walk the remaining 1.5 miles to the actual trailhead. Traveling the road on foot is a nice way to savour the tinkling creek that cascades down the southern side of the ridgeline.

Looking northeast at Moose's Butte (left), The Spout (center), and The Teapot (right) from Schnebly Hill Road. Note people alongside creek for scale.

Looking northeast at Moose’s Butte (left), The Spout (center), and The Teapot (right) from Schnebly Hill Road. Note people alongside creek for scale.

Looking northeast at the towers of Schnebly Hill from the namesake road. From left to right: Pointed Dome, Queen Victoria Spire, Moose's Butte, The Spout, and The Teapot.

Looking northeast at the towers of Schnebly Hill from the namesake road. From left to right: Pointed Dome, Queen Victoria Spire, Moose’s Butte, The Spout, and The Teapot.

Looking northeast at Pointed Dome (left) and Queen Victoria Spire (right) from Schnebly Hill Road.

Looking northeast at Pointed Dome (left) and Queen Victoria Spire (right) from Schnebly Hill Road.

We have some difficulty finding the trailhead, so eventually we just start bushwhacking up in the general direction of the spire. Soon enough we find ourselves in the main wash that drains directly from the base of the pinnacle. The going from here is mellow and carefree.

Looking north at the author (bottom center) beneath Pointed Dome (left) and Queen Victoria Spire (right).

On a boulder beneath Pointed Dome (left) and Queen Victoria Spire (right).

Just below the ridgeline, we scramble up a section of class-3 and -4 slabs… classic Sedona slickrock approach.

Looking southwest at Giselle scrambling up the slabs on the south side of Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking southwest at Giselle scrambling up the slabs on the south side of Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking southwest at Giselle scrambling up the slabs on the south side of Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking southwest at Giselle scrambling up the slabs on the south side of Queen Victoria Spire.

The spire rises above us in magnificent form, and were it not for the Regular Route being the most frequented line in Sedona, I would doubt the feasibility of being able to free-climb to the top.

Looking west at Queen Victoria Spire from the south side of the saddle.

Looking west at Queen Victoria Spire from the south side of the saddle.

At the saddle we meet the group of twenty folks who have organized some kind of BBQ at the saddle. Luckily they’re focused on getting everyone up Pointed Dome instead of Queen Vic, so our route is totally clear. Craning our necks up to the spire-tops, we notice that several of them are making their way between the towers via an outrageous Tyrolean traverse.

The author and Giselle standing below the east face of Queen Victoria Spire.

With Giselle below the east face of Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking up at an unknown climber making the Tyrolean traverse between Queen Victoria Spire (left) and Pointed Dome (right).

Looking up at an unknown climber making the Tyrolean traverse between Queen Victoria Spire (left) and Pointed Dome (right).

With the route clear, we start up the first pitch. It’s a relatively sustained 5.6 chimney, nearly 100 feet tall, with ample protection. The angle steepens near the top of the chimney and the grade becomes 5.7 for the final sequence of moves.

Looking south at the author preparing to lead the first pitch of Queen Victoria Spire.

Preparing to lead the first pitch of Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking up at the author leading pitch 1 (5.7 chimney) of Queen Victoria Spire.

Leading pitch 1 (5.7 chimney) of Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking down at Giselle climbing pitch 1 (5.7 chimney) on Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking down at Giselle climbing pitch 1 (5.7 chimney) on Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking down at Giselle climbing pitch 1 (5.7 chimney) on Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking down at Giselle climbing pitch 1 (5.7 chimney) on Queen Victoria Spire.

Reaching the top of the chimney, we transition from frigid shade to glorious sunshine. The ledge here is comfortable for belaying.

Looking east at Giselle belaying from the top of pitch 1 on Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking east at Giselle belaying from the top of pitch 1 on Queen Victoria Spire.

The second pitch is mostly a left-diagonal class-3 scramble, but contains the crux section: a vertical 5.7+ offwidth crack ascending a 12-foot band of limestone. With only one #4-sized cam in my arsenal, I bump it up the crack as I go along. In this sense, it feels more secure than sport climbing!

Looking down at Giselle nearing the top of the crux offwidth (5.7+) on pitch 2 of Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking down at Giselle nearing the top of the crux offwidth (5.7+) on pitch 2 of Queen Victoria Spire.

The top of the second pitch is a broad ledge on the south side of the formation. We now have an unobstructed view of the big group making their way up Pointed Dome. I haven’t even been watching them for more than two minutes when suddenly a climber dislodges a block of limestone half the size of a refrigerator and sends it rumbling down the cliffs with that horrible crashing sound that frequents my mountain nightmares. With terror I watch as the cluster of climbers (“sitting ducks” on the ledge 100 feet below) scramble frantically to get out of harm’s way. The block absolutely obliterates a backpack on the ledge, not five steps from the nearest person. It startles the living hell out of me, and a strong sense of relief washes over me when I realize that, miraculously, not a single person has been injured.

Calm returns to the scene as the final pebbles trundle down the crumbly sandstone escarpment. The group continues upward while the sitting ducks rearrange themselves into a sheltered alcove.

Looking west at an unknown climber jumaring up the south face of Pointed Dome.

Looking west at an unknown climber jumaring up the south face of Pointed Dome. Several people can be seen on the ledge below. If you look closely below the ledge, you will see a climber working his way up the chossy limestone layer. This photo was taken mere seconds before the frightening rockfall, which originated from the climber on that limestone band.

Swallowing my anxiety, I turn my attention up toward the final summit pitch of our own route. What’s been described as a “5.7+ trick dihedral” turns out to be a simple 5.7 jug haul. Surmounting that obstacle, the only thing separating us from the amazing summit pedestal is a few meters of class-3 scrambling.

Looking up at the author leading pitch 3 (5.7 dihedral) on Queen Victoria Spire.

Leading pitch 3 (5.7 dihedral) on Queen Victoria Spire.

The 5,331-foot summit is a circular platform measuring 2-3 meters diameter, providing phenomenal views of almost the entire Sedona region. We can see virtually all of the major formations of the area, from Wilson Mountain on the northern horizon down to Bell Rock on the southern horizon. Some of the climbers atop Pointed Dome yell congratulatory phrases across at us. An army of helicopters carrying wealthy tourists circles our perch repeatedly; I’m tempted to show them the bright side of the moon just for a laugh, but Giselle urges me otherwise. Instead, we play some reggae tunes from my phone and lie back to gaze at the swirling clouds.

Looking north at Wilson Mountain from summit of Queen Victoria Spire. Midgley Bridge is visible in bottom center.

Looking north at Wilson Mountain from summit of Queen Victoria Spire. Midgley Bridge is visible in bottom center.

Looking east at the author and Giselle on the summit of Queen Victoria Spire.

With Giselle on the summit of Queen Victoria Spire.

Panorama looking west from the summit of Queen Victoria Spire. Fixed ropes lead across to Pointed Dome (center). The town of Sedona on distant left side; Wilson Mountain on distant right side.

Panorama looking west from the summit of Queen Victoria Spire. Fixed ropes lead across to Pointed Dome (center). The town of Sedona on distant left side; Wilson Mountain on distant right side.

Looking west at the author on the summit of Queen Victoria Spire, with a fixed rope spanning the gap to Pointed Dome.

On the summit of Queen Victoria Spire, with fixed ropes spanning the gap to Pointed Dome.

Looking southeast from the summit of Queen Victoria Spire at Moose's Butte, with The Pope's Dick protruding from the south face.

Looking southeast from the summit of Queen Victoria Spire at Moose’s Butte, with The Pope’s Dick protruding from the south face.

Although the descent from the summit is normally done in two separate rappels, the twenty-person group says that we are welcome to utilize their fixed 70-meter rope to reach the ground in only one rappel.

It’s nice to be back down at the saddle, mostly removed from the ferocious breezes that batter the tower-tops.

Looking northeast at Giselle on the saddle below Queen Victoria Spire.

Looking northeast at Giselle on the saddle below Queen Victoria Spire.

On the way down we discover an alternate means of approach that includes a fixed rope to lower oneself down the slickrock slabs.

Looking northwest at Giselle using fixed ropes to descend the slabs south of Pointed Dome (left) and Queen Victoria Spire (right).

Looking northwest at Giselle using a fixed rope to descend the slabs south of Pointed Dome (left) and Queen Victoria Spire (right).

In hardly any time at all, we find ourselves back on Schnebly Hill Road, marching back to our vehicle under the bright winter sun.

 

THE END.

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