Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

January 27, 2012

Capitol Butte: “Challenging,” By Any Name


by Curt Kommer

Just don’t call it “Thunder Mountain”. The official name is Capitol Butte, but some old Sedona hands still refer to it as “Greyback”. At 6355 feet its pyramid-like bulk towers over West Sedona, demanding the respect of local hikers. Over the years Capitol Butte has had its share of rescues, injuries, and even a rare fatality but, for the experienced hiker, it remains a great adventure rewarded with remarkable views.

As a group, the Sedona Westerners have been climbing Capitol Butte for fifty years, and have put a priority on safety. A recent Saturday continued that tradition as leaders Walter Krywucki, Michael Nelson, and Paul Sullivan led club members to the summit and back.

It is not a long hike, perhaps four miles round-trip, but it involves 2000 feet of climbing uneven, rocky, and slippery terrain, and it is a trail that can easily disappear from casual view.

The peak known as Capitol Butte or “Greyback,” a prominent Sedona landmark, lures photographers, as well as climbers seeking a challenge. The view above looks across Long Canyon. Sight-seeing helicopters frequently can be seen circling along it. Photo by Alan Gore.

As the climb begins, hikers are treated to panoramic views toward Bear Mountain, Doe Mountain, and Cockscomb, with Sycamore Canyon beyond. The view slowly rotates with the trail, next looking down on Chimney Rock (with its three distinct spires), and Little Sugarloaf, and, after some difficult scrambling, 360-degree views from the summit.

A number of the Club’s newer hikers had not been to the summit before, and they marveled at the dramatic city views of Sedona, looking down on pinnacles and rooftops alike. There is a sign-in jar at the rockiest high point, and after documenting our visit it was a perfect place to have lunch before starting the long journey down.

The climb up Capitol Butte remains a local icon, and it is a perennial favorite for the Westerners, but the challenges are many and the potential danger is real, so we try to follow some simple rules:

1. We do the hike as a Saturday “Rough-Rider” hike, offering it for fit and experienced hikers only. (The rest of these “rules” apply to everyone attempting a challenging hike in Red Rock country.)
2. Hike in a group, and only with a leader who knows the trail.
3. Attempt the hike only if the weather is excellent and the forecast clear.
4. Notify others of the expected plan and timetable.
5. Carry food and water sufficient for a strenuous hike.
6. Turn back if you are not sure of time, position, or your condition. (The Westerners require a person experiencing illness or difficulty, who needs to go back to be accompanied by two persons.)
7. Do not write on rocks, paint on rocks, or destroy vegetation to mark the trail, as these actions are contrary to our local regulations and standards. Find your way with dignity.

And remember, don’t call it “Thunder Mountain”.

The Westerners always welcome new members. If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website,, for membership information. You may also join at one of our monthly meetings. Our next one will be on Thursday, Feb.9, beginning at 7p.m. at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona.