Days 243-244 – Sedona’s Highest Point

During most of our Sedona hikes, we’ve been walking around rocks, in canyons but not up mountains. Sure, we’ve hit some high spots on our Turkey Creek, Hangover Loop, Brins Mesa Overlook and Cathedral Rock trails but every time there’s still been mountains above us with no trail to the top.

So today we’re headed to the highest point in Sedona, Wilson Mountain. At nearly 7,000 feet, we’ll be towering over downtown Sedona just to the south of us. There won’t be anything higher nearby. The San Francisco Peaks, which we’ll be able to see, north of Flagstaff are taller (in the 13,000s) but they’re some 60 miles away.

Not only does this hike have the views, it also has the advantage of being a hard hike. So when we park our car in the Encinoso picnic area to access the trailhead, there’s only one other car in the lot on this cool, slightly overcast day. And the couple that gets out is carrying a cooler to a nearby picnic table.

We are alone on the trail. Yippee!

We almost immediately head up a steep pitch but then the trail eases off and we’re walking back through a canyon. It reminds me of the start of the Sterling Pass Trail, which is located just a little north of where we are today.

As we head west, we realize it’s a long ways to the top of the canyon and we’re not exactly sure how we get there. It’s big red rocks ahead of us with no visible trail.

Abruptly the trail turns left into another canyon and now the red rocks are to our right. I still don’t see a trail as we head south into the canyon.

A few hundred yards later, the trail switchbacks to our left and it all becomes clear. We are headed up the left side of the canyon. The pitch becomes pretty steep and we keep switchbacking for nearly a mile until we finally step up on what’s called the First Bench of Wilson.

We’re still going uphill but at a much gentler grade south across the mesa. We can see the top of the mesa to our left (east) on the other side of Route 89A. It’s the first time we’ve been high enough to look down on other mesas. After a bit, we stop and turn around and, just as the guidebook promised, we can see the tops of the San Francisco Peaks to our north. There is no mistaking those snow-covered mountains.

We keep going – the mesa part feels much longer than the ½ a mile the book says it is – and the trail gets muddy. Sedona had a snowstorm a few days ago; nothing stuck on the ground because it was too warm but apparently we got enough snow to saturate the ground pretty good. I’m used to Adirondack mud, which is pretty gooey, but this stuff has got a lot of clay in it. It sticks in clumps to my boots so much that I can feel the weight accumulating. I stop and scrape off my boots and the tip of my hiking poles (or try to). This stuff is awful!

So now we’re trying to walk just on rocks or on the grasses of the trail. Hikers are supposed to stay on the trail but this is ridiculous. The mud just collects and sticks like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

I am getting frustrated and cranky. The wind is blowing, the mud is sticking and we’re still nearly 2 miles from the peak. Nothing to do but continue.

After what seems like a long time, we come to a junction – the peak is accessible from the south and the north and we’re at the point where the two starting points meet – and we turn up a long series of switchbacks. We haven’t entirely left the mud behind but it is rockier here and easier to dodge the mud, although it still seems like a lot of work.

We keep looking up at the mesa that’s still above us, trying to figure out how the trail accesses it, when the trail takes a turn southwest, away from the peak. I re-check my map and realize that we’re headed up a small valley toward a junction point. When we reach it, we turn left and go another half mile up to the peak and down a little to the lookout point south of the peak.

The views are amazing of all of downtown Sedona, Cathedral Rock. We’re looking down on the mesa where the airport sits. We can see views out to the Hangover Trail, where we were just a couple of days ago.

It’s pretty overcast and windy, so we head back up to the peak and down to the junction, where we sit on a huge downed tree for a little snack. We are out of the wind here, which is nice.

We have seen a few other people on this part of the trail and there was a large group at the top but all of them seemed to have come up from the south trailhead.

We continue our downward journey. It’s much easier to navigate around the mud on the downhill, although the trek across Wilson’s First Bench is still annoying; it’s just very hard to dodge the mud and once it accumulates on my boots and poles, it is very difficult to remove.

Once past the mud, the switchbacks seem easy and then it’s just another mile or so out to the car, where we take off our boots and unzip the muddy bottom half of our hiking pants so we don’t get too much mud in the car. I have a trash bag in my pack that we throw all of our muddy gear into.

We’re hungry and decide to pick up a pizza on the way home. We’ve found a little place near us that serves a variety of draft beers and makes a good pizza. I have a pair of clean sneakers to slip on in the car but Walt is just wearing his socks into the restaurant. If anyone noticed, they didn’t say.

We enjoy our beers while we wait for our pizza and then head home.

I don’t know that it was our favorite hike in Sedona but it sure was nice to be on the highest point of Sedona.

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