The Mace, East Face

By: Frank Stock | Climbers: Frank Stock, Micah Lauer |Trip Dates: March 11, 2000

Photo: Gary Clark

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5.9+, My Ass!

Traveling to Phoenix from Boulder for work is getting old, but thankfully a query in rec.climbing resulted in a partner to satisfy my uh, hunger for climbing. After a trip to Queen Creek and Camelback, Micah and I decided that the partnership was ready for something a bit more committing than clipping bolts. The guidebook A Better Way to Die revealed the ill reputed Sedona classic 'The Mace' as a nice diversion - climb one sandstone tower and cross a four foot gap to a second tower, 5.9+ off-width, hand traverse around a blind corner - Perfect!

After much consideration ("Uh, it's a classic, I bet its crowded. How do you feel about leaving at 4:30 A.M.?" (Frank). "Sounds good, but maybe 3:30 A.M. would be better." (Micah)), we decided to make the earliest departure ever from Phoenix to climb the Mace! At 3:30 A.M. I arrived at Micah's place, and much to my joy, a fresh pot of coffee was waiting as promised. After filling up and loading the car, Micah ran back in and reappeared with a 4 gallon olive barrel - a wonderful invention that holds a couple bags of ice and some frosty refreshments!

5:30 A.M. found us in Sedona, sitting in the truck, waiting for the sun to knock off the chill. Finally, anticipation took over and we made the leisurely stroll up to the Mace, just before sunrise. Pitch 1 looked pretty straightforward, and since sandstone virgin Micah was a bit hesitant about the rock and gear quality, I took the lead after exhausting every possibility of pawning it off on him. About two thirds of the way up, after squirming out of the ugly chimney, I stepped on a big chunk of red mud that pummeled towards Micah - no need for anymore caffeine - Yikes! The small 5.7 move to pull the roof gave me the feeling that 5.9 was going to be tough today! Perhaps this was due to the 40lb off-width rack swinging from my side.

Pitch two was the "real deal" - part one. I've climbed a few hard cracks in the desert, but this was possibly the first 5.9 roof crack I've ever encountered. I protected the hell out of it, pulled over the roof, jammed a hand in the crack, and floundered my feet like Aquaman, kicking imaginary holds in the air. Uh oh. SHIT! - the gear still works. No need to worry about the red point now; survival climbing would dictate the day. I spent the rest of the pitch wishing we'd packed four or five more pounds of off-width gear, especially when running out the last 20 feet and on a scrawny #1 tcu pushed in an imaginary flaring crack - yah, that will hold!

Pitch three falls in the classic realm. The wonderful 5.7 blind hand traverse around the corner was great. The protection bolt was a wonderful sight, despite the comments in the summit register proclaiming the Mace to be a sport route. I re-detached my finger tendon by over-gripping, but with 200 feet of exposure below my ass, I hardly noticed the pop. Kiss (my ass) sport route! The pitch finished on a fine 5.8 (my ass!) chimney/off-width.

The fourth pitch began well enough - picking my way between two towers, stemming and protecting every five feet. This is how sandstone was meant to be climbed! The crossover into the 5.9+ (my ass!) off-width is where the "real deal" - part two, began. After much thrashing and squirming, I attained the bolt, which was pretty unnecessary as a #4 Camalot was primo, but I was happy, nonetheless. After a nice body wedge rest, the struggle continued. I backed up and down the crack three or four times and gave it a go, climbing up the narrowing off-width, placing another cam high. A struggle for life revealed a nice finger pocket for my left hand, with my right hand jammed to the top of the crack - Shit! Damn finger tendon - that ain't gonna work! I jammed both hands in the crack and attempted a high step, but to no avail. Back to the Aquaman-kicking-air scenario and then, uh-oh! - gear still works, part two.

I gathered myself up, repeated the act and managed to find a wonderful foothold below me. Pushing up, I looked down, realizing that the wonderful foothold was the bolt, and suddenly, uh oh! - gear still works again - damn! A close examination revealed two huge pockets high up on the right wall. After working up and getting a hold of one, I was able to throw my leg over the mantle and finish the pitch. Micah soon struggled through the same section. After a short fall, he was cruising through the crux off-width, although once on top, he revealed that a move of French-free (one hand on cam, one hand on the draw clipped to bolt) was put in practice. He did free the section immediately above the bolt to the top, though, which I found impressive!

Pitch 5 was truly memorable. Looking across the four feet of air separating me from the bolt on the other tower had me ready to piss myself. Even more bothersome was the fact that the small crack to the top appeared to peter out long before the angle rolled off. Shaking as I forced myself out to the sloping edge of the lower tower, I fell across the gap to the bolt, with my feet on the lower tower and hands on the wall of the upper tower. After clipping the bolt, I made the mistake of looking down - 200 FEET OF EXPOSURE under my belly!!! I slithered sideways 5 feet to the crack, pulled myself across, and climbed to the end of the crack. An ugly sloper turned into a nice thank-God bucket, and then it was over. What a summit! - red sandstone and junipers brought to life under clear blue skies, offset by the previous weeks snowstorm remnants. And we had the whole climb all to ourselves!

After lingering around for an hour and reading the register (four entries from Greg Opland, including "Eugene Miya will never stand on this summit" (presumably made the lower tower) and "I DID NOT step on that bolt" - Eric Coomer, and "I ain't jumping back, Inez") we signed and exited. "Wild Horses" may have been there as well, as an entire page of the register was dedicated to God. There were plenty of "5.9 my ass" remarks and a number of "too many bolts" comments. Better judgment and fears of bruised feet prevailed and we rapped back to the first tower, avoiding the classic heel-bruising leap. (yup, call me "Alice").

An hour later we were back at the truck, complimenting the classic nature of the climb and the beautifully functional olive barrel. After a few well received ice-cold refreshments (spare the lecture, mom) and a nice drive, we were soon reliving the adventure poolside at Micah's place in Phoenix.