Streaker Spire is a ~5,040-foot (~1,536-meter) red-rock tower located in Sedona, northern Arizona. It is the southernmost formation along the eye-catching string of pinnacles rising above the Chapel of the Holy Cross, the famous church built into the mountainside. One can derive many meanings from the name: the shape of the formation (body parts, anyone?), the location relative to adjacent spires (“streaking” around The Minister, The Pulpit and Christianity Spire), and the location relative to the underlying neighborhood. The latter comes from the visibility of Original Route climbers when viewed from the perspective of the perennial crowds visiting the Chapel: it’s a position that begs one to give the church-going tourists something “cheeky” to photograph.
Following a stout approach through a series of class-4 slabs, the Original Route starts with two traverse pitches along a horizontal limestone band to access a pronounced offwidth crack system leading up the north face. Moves at the 5.7 grade are encountered early in the 3rd pitch, as well as in the entire 4th pitch, which also includes a 5.7+ crux bulge.
SUMMARY: I climbed Streaker Spire with Ethan, Ronny, and Steve in early February of the year 2016 during an afternoon trip from our home in Flagstaff. Finishing work/school just before noon, we drove down to Sedona and made the summit at precisely sunset. Two adventurous after-hours rappels brought us back down to safety by the skin of our teeth, and we finally got back to Flagstaff at 9pm.
9 February, 2016
It’s just past noon on a warm winter day and we’ve arrived to the red-rock wonderland of Sedona. We park the vehicle outside the entrance gate to the rock-mounted Chapel of the Holy Cross, load up our rucksacks with trad gear, and head off in the direction of Streaker Spire.
The base of the Church Spires are guarded by a row of beautiful slickrock slabs. In search of the most simple path of ascent, we encounter some dicey angled slabs as well as a short class-4 chimney. Fine teamwork is employed in organizing an assembly line to shuttle the rucksacks up the chimney.
At last, the four of us emerge onto the final set of flat slabs below the imposing spires. A short bushwhack leads up from the slabs to the deep notch between Christianity Spire and Streaker Spire. In fulfillment of the classic elements of a Sedona spire approach, this final stretch to the base of our route is infested with prickly pear cacti.
So there we are at the saddle between Christianity Spire and Streaker Spire, looking down both directions (east and west) to the sight of garish pink jeeps bumbling through the sagebrush. We catch our breath and start racking up for the climb.
The first pitch follows a limestone band as it wraps around the northern aspect of the formation. Protection is sparse on the chossy rock face, and the exposure is a tad unnerving. Each meticulous sideways shuffle-step along the unstable ledge brings me further and further out over the abyss until finally I reach a ledge on the northwest side of the spire. Here I use two pitons and a small shrub to build an anchor from which to belay the other three. This fully horizontal pitch is understandably unnatural and freaky for Steve and Ronny, who have minimal experience climbing outdoors.
It’s worth noting that the first belay ledge is a luxuriously broad slab; a prime spot for sunbathing!
The second pitch continues along the lifeline limestone band as it wraps around a vertiginous corner. Ethan leads this pitch and links it with the third pitch, where the route switches from horizontal to vertical, entering a cruxy 5.7 offwidth crack that eases off into a mellow corner.
The setting sun begins to dapple the sandstone playground in a soothing orange glow, and now only the fourth pitch separates us from the top. This section is sustained at the 5.7 grade, starting with a braided system of shallow cracks right off the belay. The crux is about midway up the pitch, taking the form of a nasty, bulging roof that feels burly for the 5.7+ grade. Positive face holds and deep hand jams are the ticket to pulling the roof. Above the crux, 20-30 feet of determined, cursed squirming through a tight offwidth lead directly up to the summit platform.
We couldn’t arrive to the summit at a more opportune time, with brilliant alpenglow bathing the sedimentary landscape all around us. Steve can’t help but grin from ear-to-ear as he performs his first guide-style belay with surreal, five-star scenery all around.
Watching the sun set from the top of Streaker Spire is a sublime experience, with a sweet 360-degree panorama of the Sedona mountainscape and a clear-shot view northeast to the darkened Mogollon rim rising behind a sea of fantastic red pinnacles.
And of course, a trip to the summit of Streaker Spire wouldn’t be complete without at least one brave soul 😉
I’m the last to make the double-rope rappel down the steep north face; by the time I lower myself over the lip of the overhang, the crescent moon is glowing brightly in the night sky above the twinkling lights of Verde Valley communities.
In an effort to avoid the class-4 chimney below the spire, we decide to take a different path down. Our shallow gully abruptly turns into a cliff that in the darkness looks to be a bottomless pit. The lights of Sedona still look at least 250 feet below us, so it’s a great unknown.
“If only we could rappel this somehow,” Ethan remarks, and then as if by divine intervention a faded sling appears just a stone’s throw uphill from us. It’s wrapped around a fallen tree that is completely ripped out of the ground, no roots (no soil here on the slab anyway) and simply wedged into the side of a two-meter-diameter boulder. The boulder itself rests improbably atop a barely consolidated pile of debris, apparently left over from the last flow of water in the gully. Inspecting the suspect anchor setup, I lift the sling and find that I can very easily lift the small juniper tree clear off the ground. Ethan points out that rappelling will put a totally different stress direction on the tree (down the cliff, not upward), and the boulder is there to hold it. Still not an overly confidence inspiring setup; at least the sling seems to be in decent condition.
So Ethan is the first to the drop of faith, 70-pound steel-filled rucksack and all, on one of the ropes. Ronny and Steve follow suit, leaving me alone on the edge of the cliff under the full night sky. Several minutes later I get a call to my cellphone and it’s Ethan’s voice on the other end, sounding calm and collected despite describing a potentially heinous situation. The 60-meter rope has evidently left them stranded on a ledge, still an uncertain distance of pitch-black abyss blocking his perception of the hypothetical ground below.
Ethan brings out our second rope from his rucksack and ties it to the other, extending our rappelling potential by twice the length. He calls for me to descend, but I respond that it’s better I stay up top, in case this added length is still insufficient to reach the ground and a rescue operation is needed.
“Good idea,” he replies, and sets himself up to rappel. I pace back and forth on my ledge, anxiously awaiting the conclusion of this rappel. A series of whoops and hollers indicates the overhanging nature of the cliff, and an ultimate celebratory yodel announces his arrival to terra firma. Overjoyed and full of relief, I rappel the first hundred feet down to the ledge. I’m happy to see Steve and Ronny, yet it’s here that I realize our troubles are far from over. The cliff is so overhanging that, were I to let go of the rope, it would be sent dangling in midair, almost fifty feet out of reach – and we would be totally stranded on the ledge. Quickly I brainstorm an idea to create a chain-link of all of the slings and cordalette together, and use that to “hold on” to the rope while the first person rappels. I scramble to assemble every piece of webbing and rope on my harness, and am able to stretch the system to the full 40-50 feet.
Steve hooks himself to the rope, traverses carefully along the narrow, sloping ledge, and drops off the edge of the cliff below. My jerry-rig setup extends fully, injecting a horrible vision into my brain of Steve suddenly swinging out to the right and taking me into the void with nothing stopping me from hitting the ground. Frantically I take two slings off Ronny’s harness – our only remaining slings, nothing else left – and attach it to the contraption. It takes conscious effort not to white-knuckle the lifeline, but instead hold it loosely enough that I would be able to let go at a moment’s notice.
“Remember, you can let go of it if you have to,” advises Ronny. “It’s not worth your life; we can call for help later.” I agree with the sophomoric Buddhist proto-monk, but continue holding the stringy contraption steadfast. Amazing: the system pulls within inches of full tension several times, but never actually goes taut. It seems as though my shoes achieve barely enough friction to counteract the pull from the rope, the pull off into the void. I wish there were any crack in the wall that I could wedge a cam into and secure ourselves, but there is nothing, and so we stand highly vulnerable on the sloping, chossy slab. The suspense makes Steve’s rappel seem hours in length. Finally he hits solid ground and yodels his success upward to us.
I frantically pull the rope toward me in determined arm-lengths until finally the rappel line is within my grasp. Ronny and I laugh at our good fortune, but the situation is not yet resolved. Instead of sending Ronny off to rappel and having another round of anxious cliff-side white-knuckling of the jerry-rig, I determine that we should simul-rappel. The two of us hook ourselves in, one on each side of the rappel line, and sidestep carefully along the ledge until we’re directly above the drop-off. Right as we lean backward over the edge, Ronny asks curiously, “Do you think the tree-trunk talus-pile anchor will be able to hold the weight of both of us?”
I shudder at the thought, and consider it a moment, but relying on the tree seems like a worthwhile risk compared to praying and clinging to the jerry-rig another time. Besides, Ethan must have nearly 250 pounds of total weight on his person (including rucksack), and he made it down alright. So Ronny and I initiate our simul-rappel, and soon find ourselves danging above 100 feet of open air while Ethan and Steve laugh from below – what a funny sight, and what an immense relief to be returning safely to the valley-bottom.
We take a moment to revel in our utter happiness – a moment that morphs into a psychedelic star-gazing session. The night sky above Sedona this evening is mindblowing, and with our troubles behind us, we agree that this is a better reward than any couch with a television.