The Fin (5,667′) via Mars Attacks (4-pitch 5.9 Trad Route)

Looking northeast at The Fin from Dry Creek Road.

Looking northeast at The Fin from Dry Creek Road.

The Fin is a 5,667-foot (1,727-meter) peak located in Sedona, northern Arizona. It is the first prominent formation north of Thunder Mountain, tucked several miles up the Dry Creek drainage in an area of open red-rock scenery.

Although the formation is known for a number of fine routes (including the 5.13 finger crack Red Planet), it is best known for the ultra-classic Mars Attacks. This memorable 4-pitch 5.9 line offers a remarkable variety of slab, crack, and face climbing. The grade carries a PG13 suffix thanks to the second pitch, an exposed 100-foot horizontal traverse across a narrow limestone band.


SUMMARY: I climbed The Fin with Giselle in late January of the year 2016 on a day trip from our home in Flagstaff. We arrived to the Dry Creek trailhead mid-morning, left our vehicle there and walked the 1.5-mile jeep track to the Devils Bridge trailhead. We approached the formation along the lower west ridge and scrambled up to the base of the route. After climbing all four pitches to the top, we made two double-rope rappels down The Big Corner back to solid ground, jogging back to the vehicle in the mid-afternoon.


30 January, 2016

Leaving our vehicle at Dry Creek trailhead, we walk 1.5 miles along a popular jeep track to Devils Bridge trailhead.

Giselle looking north from Dry Creek Road.

Giselle looking north from Dry Creek Road.

There are dozens of happy hikers at the Devils Bridge trailhead; we leave them all behind as we continue north toward the great red wall that towers across the valley. When it seems like a good idea, we depart the jeep track and begin whacking up a gully to the base of the wall. The base of the formation is guarded by a band of vertical cliffs that we circumnavigate on the left side.

Looking northeast at The Fin from near the Devils Bridge trailhead.

Looking northeast at The Fin from near the Devils Bridge trailhead.

Looking northeast at The Fin from near the Devils Bridge trailhead. The route Mars Attacks is located in the center of the face.

Looking northeast at The Fin from near the Devils Bridge trailhead. The route Mars Attacks is located in the center of the face.

Looking up the 1st pitch (5.9 slab) on Mars Attacks from the base of The Fin.

Looking up the 1st pitch (5.9 slab) on Mars Attacks from the base of The Fin.

The first pitch of the climb tackles a bulging slab of crimson sandstone. The first 15 feet follow a shallow crack system up to a line of six bolts striking diagonally up the blank slab. This low-angle ramp looks deceptively easy, yet the 5.9 rating is justified due to the stark lack of holds. This pitch presents an obstacle of both physical and mental dimension – requiring a blend of technique, balance, composure, and “micro-routefinding” skills.

Looking up at the author leading the 1st pitch (5.9 slab) of Mars Attacks.

Leading the 1st pitch (5.9 slab) of Mars Attacks.

Looking up at the author belaying from the limestone band atop the 1st pitch of Mars Attacks.

Looking up at the author belaying from the limestone band atop the 1st pitch of Mars Attacks.

Looking down at Giselle climbing the 1st pitch (5.9 slab) on Mars Attacks.

Looking down at Giselle climbing the 1st pitch (5.9 slab) on Mars Attacks.

The slab terminates at a 3-meter-thick band of chunky limestone, setting the stage for the second pitch. Instead of continuing upward, the route makes a completely horizontal traverse along this solitary layer for almost 100 feet. Getting around some of the little bulges requires fumbling blindly for holds with fully outstretched arms, but rest assured, the jugs are right where they’re needed. Although the grade is only 5.8, this pitch has a definite risk factor: a fall from either the leader or the follower could potentially leave one stranded in mid-air.

Looking across at the author leading the 2nd pitch (5.8 traverse) on Mars Attacks.

Leading the 2nd pitch (5.8 traverse) on Mars Attacks.

Looking across at the author leading the 2nd pitch (5.8 traverse) on Mars Attacks.

Leading the 2nd pitch (5.8 traverse) on Mars Attacks.

Looking across at the author leading the 2nd pitch (5.8 traverse) on Mars Attacks.

Leading the 2nd pitch (5.8 traverse) on Mars Attacks.

Looking across at Giselle following the 2nd pitch (5.8 traverse) on Mars Attacks.

Giselle following the 2nd pitch (5.8 traverse) on Mars Attacks.

Upward progress continues on the third pitch, which is the only pitch without a single fixed bolt. It’s a beautiful crack slicing through sculpted Martian stone replete with enough features to keep the majority of the climbing in the 5.6-5.7 range. The difficulty ramps up to 5.8 for a bulgy offwidth section before easing off to a low-angle 5.5 crack above.

Looking up at the author leading the 3rd pitch (5.8 crack) on Mars Attacks.

Looking up at the author just below the 5.8 bulge on the 3rd pitch of Mars Attacks.

Looking down at Giselle belaying the 3rd pitch of Mars Attacks.

Looking down at Giselle belaying the 3rd pitch of Mars Attacks.

Looking down at Giselle climbing the upper 5.5 crack on the 3rd pitch of Mars Attacks.

Looking down at Giselle climbing the upper 5.5 crack on the 3rd pitch of Mars Attacks.

The ledge atop the third pitch makes for a supremely comfortable belay with a phenomenal view of western Sedona.

Giselle seated on the belay ledge atop the 3rd pitch of Mars Attacks.

Giselle seated on the belay ledge atop the 3rd pitch of Mars Attacks.

I start the 4th pitch on a large flake, placing behind it a small cam and then mantling to its top edge. As I stand upon it to reach for holds on the main wall itself, the entire flake wobbles beneath my feet, enough to shake the cam from its place. A side-effect of this wobble is that I nearly soil myself in fear, shuddering to think what would happen if the entire feature came ripping off the great wall.

Calming my nerves, I continue up the remainder of the pitch, following four widely-spaced bolts across a low-angle slab. This section has elements of the freaky slab on the first pitch, yet although it’s more exposed, the difficulty stays below 5.9.

Giselle making the final steps across the slab to the top of Mars Attacks.

Giselle making the final steps across the slab to the top of Mars Attacks.

The summit provides a superb vantage point of western Sedona that spans from the upper reaches of the Dry Creek drainage down to Cockscomb Butte, the southernmost formation in this red-rock canyonland. Directly below us, we hear the whoops and hollers of the daily throng of day-hikers getting their prized photos standing on Devils Bridge.

The author and Giselle at the top of Mars Attacks.

With Giselle at the top of Mars Attacks.

Looking east at the author hanging out at the top anchor station for The Big Corner.

Hanging out at the top anchor station for The Big Corner. The natural arch on far right, below the cliffs of Thunder Mountain, is Devils Bridge.

We descend by making two double-rope rappels down the adjacent 5.10 route, which is appropriately called The Big Corner.

Looking up at Giselle rappelling The Big Corner.

Looking up at Giselle rappelling The Big Corner.

The author hanging out at the first belay station of The Big Corner.

Hanging out at the first belay station of The Big Corner.

There’s no time to rest at the base of the wall because we’re late for dinner! Hurriedly we gather our gear and jog all the way back to the vehicle.

Giselle descending from the base of Mars Attacks. The limestone band of the 2nd-pitch traverse is clearly visible.

Giselle descending from the base of Mars Attacks. The limestone band of the 2nd-pitch traverse is clearly visible.

 

THE END.

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