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Hangover Loop Day Hike
November 21, 2015
by Chuck Parsons
  GPS Map by Sandy 
  GPS Map by Dave
  GPS Map by Jim
The Lucky 13 pose in front of Cow Pies Trailhead. [photo by Dave]
Front Row: Kim, Rudy, Christina.
Back Row: Lance, Jim, Sandy, Mark, Wendy, Cyd, Shaun, Rebecca, Chuck, Dave.

Bladder Buster. Kidney Crusher. Hell Road. Never Again! Good Grief!

During our usual round of introductions at the trailhead, these are just a few of the more descriptive terms that some of our hikers use to describe the grueling and bone-jarring 2.5 mile stretch of lower Schnebly Hill Road that runs between the Huckaby / Marg’s Draw Trailhead and the Cow Pies Trailhead. This short stretch of “road”, and I use that term rather loosely, obviously hasn’t seen any sort of maintenance whatsoever in the past ten years or more and takes nearly 45 minutes to navigate.

The “easy” part of Lower Schnebly Hill Road. [photo by Wendy]

That works out to a blistering 3.3 MPH.

With vehicles bouncing and swaying violently and erratically over large boulders, 8-10" high ledges and drop-offs, and deep water-filled craters in the road, suspension systems groan and protest under such extreme punishment and passengers are tossed and slammed around like crash dummies.

We slowly and painfully creep along on this stretch of road that must have been designed by a couple of diabolical road engineers whose primary objective was to see how quickly both vehicles and passengers would break down and self-destruct.

Cow Pies Trail marks the beginning of
the Hangover Loop. [photo by Wendy]
The Lucky 13 strikes out on the Cow Pies Trail. [photo by Chuck]
Trailblazers steadily work their way up the Cow Pies Trail. [photo by Wendy]
Sandy and Chuck peer deep into Bear Wallow Canyon. [photo by Wendy]
Trailblazers navigate the steep trail to Mitten Ridge. [photo by Wendy]
    At least twice along the way we’re forced to come to a screeching halt to let out frantic drivers and panic-stricken passengers whose kidneys and bladders have been put to the ultimate test and are dangerously close to exploding. It’s a race for the trees, as Trailblazers waste no time bolting from vehicles and running desperately like turkeys trying to evade the Thanksgiving ax for the biggest trees they can find.

Oh, mercy — what sweet relief! Then it’s back into the vehicles for more bouncing and swaying until the next emergency pit stop.

All three of our drivers — Sandy, Cyd, and Rudy — are seriously beginning to wonder if their vehicles are going to make it to the end before breaking down or breaking apart and scattering vehicle parts along the road as we carom along to an unknown destiny. At any moment we expect to see broken down and abandoned vehicles pushed off to the side. We also have to wonder if any tow truck driver would be bold or foolish enough to even attempt to come out here and pick up the remains. Just how much longer can we take such punishment?

Sandy and Wendy pause for a quick photo-op. [photo by Cyd]
Rudy leads the charge up the Cow Pies slickrock. [photo by Wendy]
A mountain biker navigates up the Cow Pies. [photo by Wendy]
Admiring the view into Bear Wallow Canyon
from high on Mitten Ridge. [photo by Wendy]
Wendy practicing her morning
yoga routine. [photo by Wendy]

After enduring nearly 45 minutes of abuse, courtesy of Lower Schnebly Hill Road, we finally arrive fully intact at the parking area for the Cow Pies Trailhead. Miraculously enough, not a single vehicle has fallen apart or lost any major parts along the road. The few minor parts that fell off along the way don’t seem to matter. And thankfully not a single bladder or kidney has exploded. Under clear blue skies with the crisp bite of fall in the air, the Lucky 13 strikes out from the Cow Pies Trailhead, directly across the road from the parking area. The time is 10:15 AM on a perfect late November fall morning in the low 60s for hiking Red Rock Country, Arizona.

Lichens like the Cow Pies.
[photo by Wendy]
This little cactus is now well-protected
from trampling. [photo by Wendy]
Interesting formation with two caves and a dog’s head (upper right). [photo by Wendy]
The colorful cliffs and buttes of Mitten Ridge. [photo by Lance]
The colorful cliffs and buttes of Mitten Ridge. [photo by Lance]
The power of gravity and erosion is clearly on display here. [photo by Lance]
Anyone for a nice slice of pie after lunch? [photo by Lance]
    So just what the heck are these Cow Pies anyway?

Unlike more than a few of the trails we’ve hiked over the years where one has to sidestep genuine cow pies smack in the middle of the trail, these pies are more of a geological nature consisting of very large and circular multilevel red rock mound type formations.

The classic Sedona hiking guide, Sedona Hikes by Richard and Sherry Mangum, describes them as “hardened blobs of soft warm red mud, dropped into Bear Wallow Canyon the way you’d drop cookie dough onto a baking sheet.” That’s pretty darned descriptive for these red rock cow pies. The previous picture of the biker navigating his way up the slickrock is a good example of just what these particular cow pies look like.

Almost from the start there is no defined trail to the top of Mitten Ridge. Instead, the Cow Pies Trail follows a long series of periodic small white footsteps spray-painted onto the slickrock for about 1.5 miles to the junction with the Hangover Trail, as it contours along the base of the ridge. Although rated as “Easy”, there is some significant scrambling up large expanses of slickrock, as seen in several of the pictures, before finally reaching the saddle of Mitten Ridge. And since much of the entire Hangover Loop involves traversing up and down over these large expanses of slickrock, with steep drop-offs in some areas, this is a hike you definitely want to avoid in wet or icy conditions.

Trailblazers continue making their way up Mitten Ridge. [photo by Cyd]
Trailblazers switchback their way up to Mitten Ridge Saddle. [photo by Chuck]
Massive red rock formations on Mitten Ridge. [photo by Chuck]
A towering wall of sandstone columns stands guard on the ridge. [photo by Lance]
Soaring cliffs and buttes dominate Mitten Ridge. [photo by Chuck]

Still below the Mitten Ridge Saddle, we decide to break for lunch a little before noon. Large slabs of limestone that have broken away from the ridge above serve as perfect bench seats with spectacular views in all directions. Mitten Ridge itself is a long band of towering red rock formations that form the northwest wall of Bear Wallow Canyon.

Both the Cow Pies and Mitten Ridge are considered by some to be major vortex sites, which could explain the mysterious picture taken by Wendy of rocks arranged in a straight line on one of the large limestone slabs. Another possibility is someone simply playing with the rocks. Draw your own conclusions on that one.

Handy slabs of limestone make perfect seating benches. [photo by Wendy]
Taking a lunch break before tackling the
top of Mitten Ridge. [photo by Dave]
Vortex symbol or someone simply
playing with rocks? [photo by Wendy]
Trailblazers on the final approach to the saddle. [photo by Wendy]
Standing on Mitten Ridge Saddle at last!
[photo by Dave]

One last push up the long gently sloping south face of Mitten Ridge and we are standing on the saddle at last, with spectacular views of Steamboat Rock soaring to 5,200 feet and Midgley Bridge in the distance and close-up views of the massive red rock formations along the ridge itself.

With brilliant cobalt blue skies forming the backdrop, this scene is the perfect Arizona Highways moment or what used to be called the perfect Kodak moment back in the days of film cameras.

After soaking in the scenery and taking lots of pictures, we make our way through the trees to our right and carefully work our way down below the north side of Mitten Ridge. Most of the Hangover Trail contours along the northern side of Mitten Ridge along massive expanses of slickrock.

This caution sign is not to be ignored.
[photo by Cyd]
Making the descent below Mitten Ridge Saddle. [photo by Wendy]
Rudy and Kim deep in discussion on an unknown topic. [photo by Cyd]

Mitten Ridge, with its towering band of cliffs, buttes, and columns, Steamboat Rock, Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Butte, and Capitol Butte, along with all of the other countless red rock formations throughout the greater Sedona area, are made up of nine separate layers of rock from different geological periods going back hundreds of millions of years in time. This compares to 21 separate rock layers in the Grand Canyon.

An endless expanse of slickrock. [photo by Wendy]
View 1 just below the saddle. [photo by Chuck]
View 2 just below the saddle. [photo by Lance]
Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can. [photo by Wendy]
The views just don’t quit along the Hangover Trail. [photo by Lance]
Trailblazers carefully navigate over the slickrock. [photo by Wendy]
This picture should clarify any questions about
the name Hangover. [photo by Wendy]

These rock layers consist of six layers of sandstone and two thinner layers of limestone, all topped off by a single layer of igneous basalt deposited by a long series of volcanic eruptions 14.5 million years ago that blanketed what we know today as the Verde Valley under ten feet of lava and ash.

Erosion can be a beautiful thing to behold.
[photo by Lance]
This is approaching artistic natural wonders.
[photo by Lance]
Trailblazers continue making their way
along the Hangover Trail. [photo by Wendy]
This is a rock slide just waiting to happen.
[photo by Lance]

The sandstone and limestone layers were all formed much earlier by a combination of wind-blown sand dunes and sediment that was deposited by several periods of marine deposition from inland seas that advanced and receded over the millennia.

Altogether these ancient rock layers record the advance and retreat of seven inland seas that covered most of the western part of the country and two major periods of mountain building that lifted the entire Colorado Plateau to its present mile high elevation. The iconic red sandstone layers the Sedona area is most famous for are the result of iron oxide staining the rock over millions of years of time. Sedona, along with much of Arizona, is a true geologist’s wonderland.

Strange formations along the Hangover Trail. [photo by Lance]
These formations are really “Hanging Over”. [photo by Lance]

Writer and adventure hiker Roger Naylor describes the Hangover Trail as “what I consider the best non-stop views in Sedona.” I think almost all of us would agree with that as we carefully continue to make our way along the trail and take in the stunning scenery all around us. On the north side of Mitten Ridge we’re in complete shade and notice the temperature gradually becoming cooler and cooler as the wind begins to pick up.

A quick check of the thermometer attached to my camera bag reveals a bone-chilling 50 degrees, a full 15-degree drop from our starting temperature earlier this morning. Compared to the 100+ degree temperatures we desert dwellers have been enduring these past few months, 50 degrees is downright chilly.

More of nature’s handiwork along
the Hangover Trail. [photo by Lance]
Chuck and Wendy pause under an
ancient juniper tree. [photo by Cyd]
Making a final steep descent on the Hangover Trail. [photo by Cyd]
Four distinct windows greet us along this ridge. [photo by Wendy]
The Hangover Trail just keeps
going and going. [photo by Wendy]
Taking a break in the warm sunshine.
[photo by Cyd]

Until relatively recently the Hangover Trail was the exclusive territory of hard-core mountain bikers and rated as double black diamond. If you happen to be a serious mountain biker you know that designation means for experienced bikers only. As challenging as this trail is just to hike, I can’t even imagine tearing through this terrain on a mountain bike. You definitely have to know what you’re doing or risk serious injury. This trail is definitely not for novice bikers or even novice hikers, for that matter.

We round one last bend in the trail and begin dropping in elevation, traversing across more large expanses of slickrock at the base of a series of high cliffs and bluffs, as the Hangover Trail quickly descends into a small canyon and soon links up with the Munds Wagon Trail, the third leg of the loop. In the mid to late 1800s the Munds family operated a thriving ranching business between Sedona and what is now Munds Park, south of Flagstaff.

This is a very popular area for rock climbers.
[photo by Chuck]
    They eventually built a cattle trail linking their ranches outside of Sedona and Flagstaff so their large herds could move more easily between summer and winter ranges. By the early 1900s a joint effort between Sedona and Coconino County resulted in a more substantial wagon trail running roughly parallel with the old Munds cattle trail. The wagon trail was named the Munds Wagon Road in honor of the Munds family and then later renamed Schnebly Hill Road in honor of Carl Schnebly who spearheaded the drive to build the wagon road.

When we finally reach the junction with the Munds Wagon Trail, eight of our hikers decide they would rather hike back to the Huckaby Trailhead where we had left two vehicles earlier instead of facing the daunting return drive from the Cow Pies Trailhead on Schnebly Hill Road. So at the junction we split up into two groups, with eight hikers hoofing it back to the Huckaby Trailhead while the rest of us continue hiking on the Munds Wagon Trail.

Jim would later tell me that his group followed the Munds Wagon Trail almost all the way back to the Huckaby Trailhead, before deciding to take the road for the last quarter mile. Meanwhile, the rest of us decide to stay the course on the Munds Wagon Trail to the Cow Pies Trailhead as originally planned for the full loop hike. But about a half mile before the trailhead, we also decide to take the road back at a point where the trail runs very close to the road. Despite a slightly longer route for the larger group, they actually beat us back to their trailhead and wonder what took us so long before we finally arrive at the Cow Pies Trailhead at about 2:30 PM.

The perfect break spot. [photo by Jim]
Shaun is deep in thought.
[photo by Jim]
Rudy and Kim steadily making their way
down the Hangover. [photo by Jim]
One last grand view along the Hangover Trail. [photo by Lance]
These look like they could bite back.
[photo by Wendy]
Close-up view of rock climbers and their ropes.
[photo by Wendy]
Crossover point where we leave the main Hangover Trail. [photo by Lance]
Trailblazers enjoying a Mexican dinner at the Javalina Cantina in Sedona. [photo by Wendy]

It’s debatable whether the return trip on Schnebly Hill Road was better or worse than the morning drive to Cow Pies, but time-wise it’s just about the same. By the time we finally arrive at the Huckaby Trailhead, the rest of the group is long gone and heading for the Javalina Cantina in Sedona where we had earlier agreed to meet for lunch. So we all gather to break bread (or I should say tortillas) at one of our favorite Sedona restaurants, as we wind down from yet another great Sedona hike and one that has quickly become a favorite for some of our hikers.

Hike Statistics, by Jim Buyens
Total Distance:6.03miles
Starting Time:10:20AM
Moving Time:3:02hrs:min
Stopped Time:0:56hrs:min
Finishing Time:2:19PM
Avg. Speed Moving:2.0mph
Avg. Speed Overall:1.5mph
Starting Elevation:5,050ft
Finishing Elevation:4,527ft
Minimum Elevation:4,527ft
Maximum Elevation:5,223ft
Total Ascent:865ft
Total Descent:1,246ft
Starting Temperature:  51°
Ending Temperature:63°
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updated December 5, 2015