Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

April 1, 2011

Hiking with the Sedona Westerners
My First Impressions


by Jim Winnerman

We have been coming to Sedona for ten years to hike, and arrived in January for a two-month stay. This visit we joined The Westerners, even though the club schedule included many hikes we had done previously on our own.

Our first Westerner trek was “Mescal Mountain and Beyond.” After carpooling to the trailhead we split into two groups and began the hike on a familiar forest trail. Soon, however, our group detoured onto a trail unknown to us.

After about fifteen minutes, we heard voices from above. The second group was calling from a high ledge to inform us we were on the wrong trail! Our first suspicions that we had made a mistake in joining the Westerns surfaced.

Bushwhacking to the correct trail took us through a forest of cat claw bushes. Breaking out of the thorns, the arms and legs of those hiking in shorts and short-sleeved shirts looked as though the gray, leafless plant might live on fresh blood.

Our Objective — Mescal Mountain and Beyond. Photo by Alan Gore.

After a hand-over-hand scramble upward, I recognized some makeshift chairs fashioned from stone slabs I recalled from an earlier visit. The group enjoyed a short pause before we started off on a trail I had also previously scouted. I already knew it would take us out to a ledge that was a dead end, but I kept quiet

Of course it still was a dead end….if you went straight. The Westerner’s route was to climb up an even higher rock wall to the top of the mesa. There, hike leader Bob Dannert lead us to an edge for a view of a steep green crevice, and nonchalantly said: “That is the way we will go down.”

Now there was no question we had made a mistake joining the Westerners. The ominous sounds of an organ bellowing the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack began to play in my mind. I imagined the headline in the St. Louis paper: “Local residents found among heap of hikers at bottom of Arizona canyon.”

To get to what I whispered to my wife was “The Crevice of Doom” proved easier said than done. Paths led everywhere as though others had been lost where we were, and had wandered aimlessly for weeks from one side of the mesa to the other. Coyotes had eaten them, I reasoned.

But, the possibility of a helicopter rescue also seemed likely. However, the experienced hikers scattered like a disturbed ant hill until the proper egress was found. Fear of what lay ahead returned. Now I was hearing the soundtrack to the movie “Jaws.”

Arriving at the spot above The Crevice that I anticipated would be my first and last Westerner hike, our group discovered many of us were still bleeding from the cat claws. Someone contributed green phosphorescent bandages that made the group appear as if a family of praying mantis’s had landed on the injured.

When it was time to depart, instructions for a safe descent delivered by hike leader Bob Dannert and “tailgate” Liz Sweeney were calm and reassuring, and their good sense got us to the bottom safely after a 20-minute descent. The arrival of each hiker on an outcropping of red rock at the bottom was celebrated. Soon we were safely inside our cars.

A mile after we left the parking lot, The Crevice of Doom had, in our minds, increased in length from perhaps an actual 150 feet to well over a thousand foot downward adventure. Our non-hiking friends were in for a wonderful story of heroic frontier survival.

Now we know there is not a green crevice we cannot handle as long as we are with the Westerners. We understand our prior hikes were for tourists! Bring on the cactus, the cat claws, and the agave! Lead us to the next impossible descent or difficult climb! Let’s get lost together again and again! We are ready to get some cactus in us! Count us in as life-long members!

Thanks for two wonderful months!

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, April 14; at 7 pm. Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley Center, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona.