Sedona Westerners Summit Capitol Butte

May 03, 2019

By Kelly-Leigh Thomas

Capitol Butte (AKA Thunder Mountain) can be clearly seen in the foreground. Wilson Mountain, the Fin, Sail Rock, and Steamboat Rock can be seen in the background. The Sedona Westerners hike to the summit of Capitol Butte once a year. Photo by Brad Bell

What a wild round of weather we have had this winter, all four seasons in the month of March!  The Sedona Westerners were forced to cancel many hikes due to the weather extremes in late February and early March.  Once the snow melted and the trails dried up, our hiking groups were enthusiastic to get back on the trail.  The Saturday hiking group of the Sedona Westerners, the Rough Riders, have enjoyed three challenging hikes in March. Two of these hikes involved the leviathan, Lee Mountain, and the other was Capitol Butte, no shrinking violet either!

A beautiful, sunny day brought out a significant number of Westerners hikers to the Dry Creek Vista parking area.  The goal was to climb up to Lizard Head, 1,800 feet up, then onward and upward to summit Capitol Butte, at an elevation of 6,355 feet.  This dome-shaped, white Coconino sandstone butte is hard to miss.  It towers over Sedona and impressed Walt Disney enough, when he visited Sedona, to inspire him to create his most adventurous ride at Disneyland.  He coined it “Thunder Mountain” and this is why you may hear Capitol Butte referred to as Thunder Mountain.

A physical and technical challenge, this hike should only be attempted with experienced guides, such as those that exist in the Sedona Westerners.  There have been many unfortunate stories of hikers that needed to be rescued, some with happy endings and others with fatal outcomes.  Our veteran leaders, Walter Krywucki and Colleen Barcus [who is also the Rough Riders’ hike boss this year], were supported by our tailgaters, Brad Bell and Randy Barcus, who celebrated his birthday on Capitol Butte with us…now that’s dedication!

Once we divided up into two smaller groups, our two groups headed up the Lizard Head trail, a steady, winding climb to the top of this iconic and easily identified rock outcropping.  We stopped for a break there to enjoy the views and we were happy to have reached this leg of the journey.  I have enjoyed hiking with the Westerners over the past four years and I was quite content with achieving this step of the journey.  When I looked up to our final destination, the Capitol Butte summit, I thought the only way this is happening is…one foot at a time.  I was right!

Putting the “Rough” back into the Rough Riders was the mantra of our hike boss, and she has achieved it!  The steep steps, lateral long traverse, and huge ascent was sure to slowly get us to our destination.  Head down and shoulder to the grindstone, faith in those we followed, led us to the top, and I mean the very top!  You know you have reached the summit when you see all of Sedona, for 360 degrees, and enjoy a snow-capped view of Humphreys Peak in Flagstaff.  When you reach these amazing heights, a “Sign-in Jar” lets you add your “Jane Doe” to the list of those that have summited Capitol Butte, hands shaky…you add your name to the list.  Lunchtime!  Then the descent began, slowly and carefully, maybe harder than the climb up, but equally rewarding.  This was a terrific group of hikers sharing the most amazing experience.  You will push yourself and know that you have the backup you need to achieve it; join the Sedona Westerners for an exhilarating hiking journey, I am so happy that I did!

P.S…. I have driven by Capitol Butte three times this week and looked up, asking myself every time… “Did we really make it to the top of that butte?”  

I still can’t actually believe it!    

 If you are interested in joining the hiking club, please visit the Sedona Westerners website at   Written by Kelly-Leigh Thomas. 


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