Epitaph has some hard-to-follow approach beta on MP.com. Unless you are familiar with the area, you could easily be led to believe that Flying Buttress and therefore Epitaph, is located on Moose’s Butte. It is not. In actuality, you can get a great view of the Flying Buttress heading north bound on 89A towards Oak Creek Canyon, from the span bridge. Flying Buttress is an independent large wall to the north of Moose’s Butte and Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria and Moose’s butte share a col. From there, Moose’s Butte forms a long wall that runs east, turns north and then forms a col with Flying Buttress which is a feature similar in size. It is from this col that you want to approach Epitaph. Epitaph faces as much south as it does west meaning you will lose shade on the first two pitches well before noon. I advise an early start during warm temperatures and thus a later start during cooler ones. The considerable roof pitch shades itself regardless of time of day. Epitaph is a Mike Lawson route from 1984.
Epitaph actually consists of six pitches but the remaining route beyond three pitches does not involve sustained climbing nor is recommended. The third pitch includes one of the larger (exceptional) roof pitches in desert climbing. With the proper rack, the entire three pitches protect well. The first two pitches are quite mellow. The first pitch has one or two layback type moves at the grade. The second pitch is more entertaining, running up a flake that gets a bit delicate and wide at the top before setting up a hanging belay on fixed gear. The third pitch is full on for the grade and where the “5.9+++” comes from on MP.com. The wide crack up to the roof traverse is the crux taking all the C4 #3’s and 4’s you brought with you. The traverse below the roof still eats wide gear but takes a few medium pieces as well. Every placement must be well extended to allow the leader to pull out of the roof and finish the last 30’ up a thin corner.
As before-mentioned, The approach beta on MP.Com is lacking. First and foremost don’t confuse Moose’s Butte as having anything to do with Flying Buttress or Epitaph. Flying Buttress and Moose’s Butte are two distinct and separate features in Sedona’s skyline although they do share a col. Moose’s Butte has a huge extended buttress itself that we had mistaken for Flying Buttress by reading the approach beta we had. In reality you want to ascend from Schnebly Hill Road to the eastern col formed by Moose’s Butte and the Flying Buttress. Drive Schnebly Hill Road east 2.6 miles from the roundabout in Sedona. Most of it is a dirt road, but well used by the tourist jeeps. Hike up to the obvious slick rock col formed by Moose’s Buttress on the left and the Flying Buttress on the right. Once at the col, a good trail angles off right towards the base of the climb which is comprised of an obvious corner-roof system (photo).
Route Description350’+/-, 3 Pitches, 5.9+
1st Pitch- 30m- 5.9/ This is by far the easiest pitch of the three. Start up easy but loose ground in the corner. The crux comes at a short blank wall that you lay back for a few meters just below the belay. It is all well protected to a comfortable gear belay.
2nd Pitch- 35m- 5.9/ This is another fun and laid back pitch with a bit more moves at the grade than the first pitch. It ends up following a cool flake/corner that widens towards the top where it becomes a bit friable. A hanging fixed belay is out right. This belay stays shaded by the roof much longer than the corner below does.
3rd Pitch- 45m- 5.9+/ This pitch could easily be graded 5.10. It involves a sustained fist crack up to the roof. Directly off the hanging belay, place a C4 #5 in the wide flake and traverse left into the corner. It starts out C4 #4 and gives up #3’s intermittently. If I led this pitch again, I would take at least four of each and save one 3 for the traverse and one 4 for the roof pull itself, otherwise place most of them in the wide crack up to the roof. When traversing the roof, the crack allows you to place a few medium sized pieces. Every placement must be well extended to avoid extreme rope pull when pulling the roof and continuing for another 30’ to a fixed belay. Otherwise you will have to set up a hanging belay at the end of the roof on one piece (#4).