New-wave Sedona Multi-pitch Climbing - By Mad Rock Athlete Joel Unema

New-wave Sedona Multi-pitch Climbing - By Mad Rock Athlete Joel Unema

Joel Unema on The Cousin of Death.  Photo Blake McCord


Until recently, climbers knew Sedona, Arizona mostly for vortexes, Pink Jeeps, and chossy climbing.

Low angle, high adventure.


Sedona mud cracks at their finest


High adventure on low quality rock is the essence of Sedona’s climbing history.  While I dabbled in climbing the red rock classics, they never grabbed me or kept my attention for long.  After nearly a decade of climbing elsewhere in Northern Arizona, I have returned to Sedona to seek out hard climbs on good rock.  Could they exist?


Zach Harrison on the hero headwall of Dickel’s Delight.  Photo Blake McCord


In recent years, the story of Sedona climbing has been rewritten by a handful of local climbers.  I’ve jumped in with the leaders of the new-wave push, Blake McCord and Zach Harrison, and added several of my own first ascents.


Two of the finest new routes I’ve opened with Blake are The Cousin of Death(5.13+, 5 pitches) and Dickel’s Delight (5.13c, 6 pitches). 

Bouldery laybacking on The Cousin of Death.  Photo Blake McCord


The tenuous stemming on The Cousin of Death.  Photo Blake McCord


Both of these routes climb the Coconino sandstone, a harder rock layer better suited for climbing than the red rock of many of the Sedona classics.  The rock quality of the Coconino is excellent for western sandstone and forms splitter cracks, clean corners, and sculpted crimps. 


The Cousin of Death is an incredible new free line with three crux pitches; a technically demanding and grueling 40-meter stemming corner, a tips crack roof featuring ‘ballistic laybacking’, and an overhung splitter seam and finger crack. 


The right shoe for each pitch was key to my success.  The original Remora was perfect for the desperate smearing and insecure stemming of the corner pitch, while the Drone LV edged perfectly on the tiny chips and small crack holds of the splitter seam.


In Spring 2020, during quarantine, I began working on freeing Dickel’s Delight, an aid line established by Brian Smith and John Govi in 1997


The Dickel’s Delight buttress. 


The route turned out to be an incredible free climb with a 45-meter crux pitch featuring thin seam layback and double-crack compression cruxes. 


Twin-crack compression on Dickel’s Delight


The Drone LV was my go-to not only for the technical seam climbing of this pitch but the entire route.


Rope soloing on Dickels Delight


Once lockdown restrictions loosened, Blake joined me on the wall and we were able to open the route as a free climb.


Each pitch of the route is unique and excellent. 

The thin seam crux on Dickels Delight.  Photo Blake McCord


The excellent rock, beautiful setting, and intricate movement of these new climbs makes them truly special. 


Sedona’s climbing story is changing slowly, and these new difficult and excellent routes are just the beginning.


Creative stemming on Dickel’s Delight.  Photo Blake McCord


If you are interested in learning more about these climbs, visit or check out @joelunema on Instagram.  Feel free to contact me for more information.

Huge thanks to Mad Rock Climbing for supporting development by providing hardware and footwear to make these new lines possible.

Thanks also to Blake McCord, my climbing partner, and incredible photographer and videographer.  Check out his work at

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.