South Guardian Angel
By: Bob Greenawalt
It was a last minute attempt for me to pack and seek Utah transportation, after Ron Jones had invited me to join a small private group to do the Guardian Angels in Zion NP over the 1992 Memorial Day weekend.
As it was, on Sat afternoon we eight climbers first met as a group under the huge red sandstone overhang at Subway Camp, in the North Fork of Great West Canyon. This deluxe spot is about 3+ miles from the trailhead on the Kolob Reservoir road--that pavement which darts northward in and out of the Park, above Virgin, Utah. In our party were Ron, along with Jim Conley, the Mamedalin family-- Igor , Suzanne and Tanya, Dean & Pat Acheson, and this writer. Subway Camp is a couple of swim suit minutes short of The Subway, and lies enroute in the DPS Road & Peak Guide's direction.
To me, the watered canyon at this point rivals anything along Yosemite's Merced River. Here the Cascades form a majestic backdrop to equal any mountain scene! We were favored along the way in meeting jovial NPS Ranger Jennifer Gillette, who have us tips on the locale.
The remaining daylight hours found leaders Ron and Igor, with helpers, setting the necessary ropes for Sunday's climb of South Guardian Angel. This was no easy chore, as four positions were to be secured. The first pitch was a freebie, however, since a fixed webbing strap was found to be already in place--much to Jennifer's concern. One never knows the history and condition of these attractive setups! But this one worked fine.
It was a wet PM for the leaders and helpers, as the current flow rate was not in their favor, and later in the evening it began to rainólasting all night in a gentle mood. The overhanging red walls were a blessing, for sure. By Sunday AM, at least three nearby noisy waterfalls had developed, and the main stream had swollen considerably, perhaps 500% more water. In semi-drizzle we gave the goal a whirl, and in a few minutes gave up at the route's waterfall. SGA would have to wait. NGA much later! Some of us dried off and went back to bed while the storm continued off and on. We kept hoping for a weather turn that day but it did not happen. We relaxed around most of the afternoon with happy hour munchies, and a play was staged by several dramatists in the group, led by thespian Suzanne, all on a big camp rock. We exchanged talk with several soaked parties of passers-by.
The main wildlife representatives (field mice excluded) were the popular water ouzels that inhabit the canyon and use it as a flyway. Back and forth they darted--always doing reverse deep knee bends while standing--a trait which deems them "Dippers" The ouzels are birds that like to walk on the bottom of water bodies to seek food, and seem to be everyone's friends. At the 90 degree left curve, going upstream, and just short of the first rope pitch, there is a water ouzel's nest. It reposes about a dozen feet above the rather smooth rock floor of The Subway, and should remain there indefinitely. I do not know if ouzels return to old nests, but Jennifer advised that there were young ones in there a week or so before. We did not see any inside, and with their Subway channel chatter it would seem the young had just begun to fly.
During Sun. night the stars came out and Monday seemed feasible for an ascent. The nearby waterfalls had ceased. We left early and did the four rope pitches--with varying degrees of grace. The waterfall proved the most challenging, along with the well-documented Slime Traverse, also known as the Duck Walk. As it is a two-minute creep-on-all-fours section with limited headroom, I found that using my daypack as a pad on the slick outboard downside provided better friction than did my bare fingers.
At the easy approach out of the canyon, where we had placed a rope for safety, Ron slipped 3 feet off the ground, spun and dislocated his right shoulder. This placed him at a small disadvantage but he completed the climb.
Then it was an easy mile or so overland trek to the base of the red and white sandstone mountain. The circa 45-minute, 45-degree friction ascent involved now seems more terrifying from this home position,' than it did during the climb, and everyone made the top in good order. It was Ron's 6th visit--the first for most of us. NGA at el. 7395', boldly stands less than two air miles away and a couple of hundred feet higher to the NE! We enjoyed the superb views, usual ladybugs, lunch, and register entries from the Van Dalsem-placed register from last October. While on a split break near the summit, Tanya found two old register books, discarded and soaked. Ron took them down for reconditioning. Experiencing a steep friction descent is more sobering than an upgrade one, and with much caution, we all endured it well. Once off the main rock body, thunder pealed, and before we got our rope retrieval duties finished, drizzle began. Lugging the damp ropes added about ten pounds each to our walkout. Gentle moisture kept on throughout the rest of the afternoon, and we all reached the vehicles in good Mon eve daylight. It was a wonderful experience--I copped another hard Desert Peak and was with a good bunch all weekend. Only 3 "ropers" to go for me. Thanks go to the leaders for their efforts in getting all of us to the summit. We agreed, along with other parties, the Memorial Day weekend is just an unsure time to try the Angels. One person told me it was his third Memorial Day scratch! It would seem that late Sep-early Oct is prime time in this deep canyon slot.
On exiting the Kolob road we could not help but relate to our friends' tragic auto accident last fall on the quarter-mile long hogback we were passing on Hurricane Mesa.
My only regret is that we could not include NGA in our plan, as it was so close to us. A lot of coordinating is necessary for future days to capture that "roper" sister-peak. One must be with competent leaders to attempt either of these great summits.
For one of our most exciting adventures, try a Guardian Angel thru North Fork! You won't believe you are near a desert, and maybe you'll wish you were! I know of no other Desert Peak that involves so much liquid to buck.
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