Rustlers Encounter Snow and Ice Along the Transept Trail

March 22, 2024


By Sara Stiffler

Storm clouds move in from the east encroaching on the white fluffy clouds above the snow-capped mountains north of Sedona.

It was yet another cold winter morning in early February when the Rustlers hiking group gathered for a hike in the VOC. The forecast snow seemed unlikely as the blue sky was clear with a smattering of white fluffy clouds. There was no threat of the inclement weather previously predicted. Many of us commented that we hadn’t been sure the hike would happen – though now other than the cold temperature, there seemed no reason to cancel. In fact, another Westerners hiking group was gathering nearby for their hike around Cathedral Rock. Nothing seems to stop a determined Westerner.

We carpooled down to the Transept Trailhead parking lot of Verde Valley School Road. Ours were the first cars in the parking lot, but another car arrived soon after, scraping the bottom of their car along the raised red rocks in the parking lot. Trail leaders Jim and Sophia Sweeny led us across the road to the trailhead.

Most, but not all of the 750-elevation gain on the trail occurs with the first mile. As we climbed, we could see the white-capped mountains north of Sedona and to the south the snow-covered Mingus Mountains and the hillside town of Jerome. Seeing the white snow contrast against the red rocks of the mountains is definitely one of the treats of being in Sedona in the winter. Patches of snow lined the trail.

We soon found one of the downsides of hiking in the winter. As we traversed the shaded, west side of the trail, we began to see patches of ice on the smooth rock. Jim and Sophia were attentive to the trail conditions and offered guidance and a helping hand as we came upon other tricky spots. Soon, the trail moved out of the shade.

The trail opened up at this point and we walked along as the hillside to our right sloped high above us and to the left dropped downward. We walked the ledge and took in the expansive views of the Verde Valley School and flatlands between the mountains.

A few other hikers overtook us on the trail as we moved along, the trail rolling down and up as we approached the intersection with the Hiline Trail. Cathedral Rock was in clear view now. We took the final ascent to a flat overlook that offered stunning views to the north, west, and south. This was the perfect spot for an extended snack break.

We greeted a solo hiker who had reached the vista point from the Hiline trail starting at Yavapai Vista. He asked our advice on where to go next. He was planning on hiking all day. Knowing he needed a path that would lead him back to the parking lot, we suggested he continue on Hiline to the Baldwin and Templeton Trails.  He ascended with us as we reversed our trail and headed back down Hiline to the intersection with Transept. He waved goodbye as we parted ways.

While most of the elevation gains were achieved on the way up, the rolling grade of the trail reminded us that we were not done climbing – there were a few more hills along the way. Several of us had shed some of our clothing layers. Though it was likely still in the low 40s, we had warmed up in the sun. Most of the ice on the trail had melted by this point but we were still cautious of the wet slick rock. The patches of snow remained along the path, a reminder that winter was still all around us. We hoped that the recent rains and snow will produce beautiful wildflowers again this spring,

A while later, we looked to the east and the north and saw dark clouds overtaking the blue sky. Perhaps a storm was coming.  In the distance we could see the black veils of moisture. As we continued on light flakes of snow began to fall around us. We started to regret taking our layers off. Soon we saw snow falling around the Village of Oak Creek in the distance. A couple of hikers passed us heading up the trail. One guy was wearing shorts. I wondered how far he would get if the snow really started coming down. No judgement. The temperature had risen to 42 degrees. 

By then dark clouds hung over the snow-capped mountains to the south as well, providing an interesting contrast to the blue sky we had seen earlier. As we approached the parking lot once again, we were thankful that we had successfully completed the hike – one of our longer Rustlers hikes – and enjoyed the wonderful scenery of a Sedona winter. By the time we got back to our cars, the light snow around us had ended. A sweet coda for a winter hike and a simple reminder to be cautious when hiking in the winter, even when the sky is clear in the morning.

To learn more about the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club, visit our website at www.sedonawesterners.org. With over 40 hikes left in the hiking season, the membership fee of $30 is still a sound investment. Become a member of the Westerners today and join us for more fun events and hikes now through May 9, 2024.

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