Monday, December 29, 2008

Arizona: Hiking Coyote Buttes in the snow

This is part 2 - For part 1 see previous post Getting there: Coyote Buttes and The Wave

We were very lucky to see this area covered in fresh snow, because I don’t think it snows here a lot. I got bundled up for the hike. A thermal wicking turtle neck, a down insulated jacket liner, a heavy fleece and my light jacket shell. The high temperature for today was only support to reach 38 degrees and it was still in the low 30‘s right now. I have learned to always bring extra warm layers. You can always take layers off when you get hot, but you can’t put on layers when you get cold if you don’t have them. I didn’t bring any other extra layers with me on this hike since I knew I’d be taking some of this stuff off once it got warmer and I started hiking . But I didn’t know that I’d be taking it off this early. By the time we hiked down the wash to the “Coyote Buttes” marker and made it up the hill to the sign in box I was hot. I peeled the jacket shell off and the down insulated jacket liner. I only had the turtle neck on and the thick fleece. A few hours later I had to unzip the vents and the main zipper on the fleece jacket.

After climbing the hill Mike is visually checking to see if we're on track according to our printed directions

In some places the the rock was too steep and the snow too slippery, so we used the rocks to get up and down some of the sections

Another spectacular climb

The pictures don’t show the steepness of these rocks, the slick rock is covered by fine sand so it can be slick at times

Check all that ice at the bottom center of the photo, this was one of those sections where there was a lot of ice, you had to really find good footing

Mike tries to follow the footsteps in the snow but keeps sliding down, he ended up walking up the bare slick rock on the right

Huge snowdrifts

The sun was shining brightly and the sun's rays felt very warm on my face. The warmth of the Arizona sun in addition to generating body heat by hiking. It felt like 60 degrees out here.

Within the first half hour of hiking I realized I should have brought my trekking poles. The snow covered slick rock was well, slick. And the terrain was so uneven that at times we were crawling on our fours and holding on to rocks. And sliding. There was a lot of sliding especially as the hike continued and some of the snow started melting and turning in to slush. And there was ice in places that was also melting. The trekking poles would have helped a great deal on this hike if there was no snow but especially with the snow.

We left a bunch of these slide marks in the snow

So why didn’t we bring our trekking poles? We just didn't want to bring too much stuff with us on the trip, we didn't think we'd need them. And we still had the snow basket attachments installed on the trekking poles for snowshoeing and we didn'y feel like changing them out to the regular hiking attachment for one hike. Seems silly now. I really wished I had them here.

More beautifully snowy climbs, walking is snow is kind of like walking in sand except you don’t slide and fall as much in sand

I think this is the only action shot of me, getting ready to do a butt slide

Going to "The Wave" you are mostly hiking up but there are some down sections to hike also

This was a steep one and there was sand under the snow

Doesn't this rock formation on the left look like a sugar-glazed bun cake?

The snow made the hiking more difficult but the snow made this area even more beautiful. And the snow made it easier to find the route. We just followed the footsteps in the snow, at times the footsteps went two separate directions so we had to check the sheet with the directions or the GPS to stay on track. Basically, who ever was the first to hike to The Wave in this snow created a ’trail’ for the ones that followed.

Since there is no trail, when there is no snow, people end up hiking every which way to The Wave, basically choosing the best and easiest path. We were hoping that the tracks we were following were from someone that knew a good way to get there. The snow was too deep and walking in it too difficult to create our own route. I was wearing my Vasque backpacking boots, not my Salomon snow hiking boots, so I wasn’t interested in hiking through big snow.

This was the final climb before reaching "The Wave" it was the longest continuous climb of the hike

On the hike back to the car there was a lot more ice then on the hike up to "The Wave" one needed to step carefully

With lots of the snow melting, we could see more exposed rock on the hike back to the car

By the afternoon Mike is down to a wicking short sleeve shirt, a high of 38 degrees and the Arizona sun makes for a warm day when you’re working your body hard for so many hours

More breathtaking scenery

These rock formations are just "wow"

The hike was difficult at times. Not difficult as dangerous, just difficult as in trying to figure out ways of getting up the rocks without sliding and falling. Well, there was a bit of sliding as I mentioned before and yes, there was some falling too. We were not in any danger at any point and time.

This was a strenuous hike for us, by the time we arrived at The Wave we didn’t want to continue any further. And about The Wave? That's my next post. We passed a group of 6 people just half an hour from The Wave and there were two couples at The Wave when we got there, other than that we saw no one. That is probably the second best thing about this hike, the first best thing being the amassing scenery all around us.

The hike back to the car went a bit faster, since it was mostly downhill. At some point we realized that we were no longer on the same trail that we used to get to The Wave. We continued following the foot prints in the snow but those were not the same ones and we didn't see any foot prints going in another direction. We continued on this new 'trail' which allowed us to see more of this wonderful area. The rock formations were completely different here from what the ones we saw on the way up to The Wave.

I noticed there were the many animal footprints in the snow but no animals anywhere to be seen. Finally towards the end of the trail I saw one jack rabbit. After about 7 miles and about 5+ hours of hiking, with only 20 minutes of rest to eat a sandwich, we arrived at the car totally pooped. My waterproof boots were a little damp in the toes, and I was glad I wore my Mountain Hardware pants that have zip in gaiters. We also realized that our faces were sunburned a bit.

So having done this hike I have to say that this so far is one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. Hardly any people, tons of spectacular jaw dropping scenery - I must have taken over 400 photos during the hike. The hike was hard enough that you had to pay attention to what you were doing but no so hard that it wasn’t fun.


sylvia murphy said...

Hi Anna,

I see that you like to get out and explore too. How did you get a permit to the wave? Everyone I talked to now says it is bloody impossible with the new lottery system. Was it the time of year? I wonder how much the snow cover detracted from the scenery, covering up the striations in the rock etc.

I am off to Sedona in March, so I look forward to reading your posts.


Anna said...


My BF’s parents gave us one of their permits. They applied for the permit to the Wave over a year ago.

As for the snow. Since I haven’t been there before during the warmer months it’s hard to say. I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of the Wave and Coyote Buttes with out snow, I haven’t seen hardly any pictures of it with the snow. I don’t think it snows there very often so I’m glad we had this opportunity so see the area covered in fresh snow. Not so great to see and photograph the Wave but it sure made the hike so much more unique and exciting.

Have fun in Sedona in March. There is so much to do and see there, so many hikes and nice scenery.