Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

January 14, 2011

Cathedral Rock


by Mike Ward

In January, Hike Leader, Mike Ward, aided by Tailgater Frank Wirkus, led the adventurous Mustang hikers of Sedona’s Westerners on a circumnavigation scenic tour of Sedona’s famed Cathedral Rock.

Ward’s hike plan was to lead the group from the Red Rock Crossing parking area along the Baldwin Trail and then counter clockwise around the sides of Cathedral Rock to return to the Baldwin trail via the Templeton Trail. The 7.5-mile hike would involve a change in elevation of nearly 800 feet with a cumulative change in elevation of over 2200.

Mustangs scramble the wash to Napoleon’s Tomb. Photo by Kevin O’Connor.

The day dawned gray with the weatherman promising falling temperatures, blustery winds, and a minor threat for some much needed precipitation. Ward led the hikers from the trailhead along the Baldwin Trail that roughly follows the canyon narrows that separate Cathedral Rock on the east from a large rock feature commonly called Napoleon’s Tomb on the west. Midway along the length of Napoleon’s Tomb, Ward led the hikers on a difficult rock scrabble climb through a narrow wash to the top of Napoleon’s Tomb.

The hikers walked the length of the rock formation to the north taking a short break on the smaller of the two rock outcroppings on the formation to enjoy the great views of the creek and valley below. Ward then led the hikers to the south end of the formation and down a difficult and steep rock ledge stepped route back down to the Baldwin trail. Looking back at the route down, several of the hikers commented on the beauty of the rock formations and marveled that they successfully negotiated the descent.

Ward led the hikers along a track following the boundary between the CR Ranch and the National Forest. Continuing upward along a rock ledge on the south side of Cathedral Rock, the hikers paused for a second ten-minute break in a large scenic grotto cut by runoff water into the sandstone of the formation. Sheltered from the brisk wind, the hikers briefly explored the beautiful grotto and clamored over the recent rock falls.

Following the short break, the hikers climb up a rugged wash separating Cathedral Rock from the Big Park Ridge leading south to Castle Rock. As the wash narrowed, the hikers were faced with a steep, and in one place a near vertical climb, to the ridge separating the Cathedral and Big Park Ridge formations. Ward led the hikers on a scenic loop along the smooth rock flats on the south side of the spires that dominate Cathedral Rock. At the western end of the loop, the hikers stopped for a third short respite. The temperatures had dropped and the wind drove the hikers to the leeward side of huge rocks for the short break. Black clouds were visible over Bear Mountain, the Black Hills and Courthouse Butte.

Following the break, the hikers headed up and eastward toward a notch between two pinnacles of Cathedral Rock where a steep rock scrabble climb led the hikers to a high point overlooking the famous Mace of the Cathedral Rock formation. Tom Arni explained that the last time he was at this location overlooking the Mace, rock climbers were on top of the Mace. One of the climbers was stretched with his hands on the Mace and his feet on an adjoining panicle.

After climbing down the notch, Ward led the hikers along a 200-yard lateral transition on a very steep slick rock slope, up over the Fort Apache Limestone. The hikers wove between two saddles between the panicles above the Fort Apache Limestone saddle frequented by tourists. Carefully working their way back down below the Fort Apache Limestone, Ward led the hikers around the east and north sides of Cathedral Rock and down the ridge overlooking Oak Creek back to the Templeton Trail.

The Westerners always welcome new members. If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website: You may also join by attending the next monthly meeting, which will be held on Thursday, February 10th; at 7 pm. Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley Center, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona.