South Guardian Angel
By: Burton A. Falk
South Guardian Angel, for me, was like grapes for Tantalus, like the .400 mark for a major league slugger, like Everest for Mallory. It had become an albatross hung around my neck, a scarlet letter on my shirt, a skeleton in my closet. My two previous attempts to climb the peak had resulted in abject failure, the first due to a nearly dying due to drowning, hypothermia and/or the Hanta virus (see Desert Sage, May/June 1998); the second, a year later, by managing to get lost in the early morning darkness and discovering ourselves over our heads in the deep pools of Russell Gulch too late in the day to rectify the situation.
This past May 23rd, however, along with Jim Scott, Richard Whitcomb and Judy Hummerich, the most admirable of climbing companions, I finally slew the dragon, vanquished the foe, won the blue ribbon. Now my conscience is clear, my dues are paid and the legitimacy of my birth is no longer in question.
To climb S. Guardian by the cross-canyon route is demanding, but it's also relatively fast. It takes just one day, as compared to the two or three days via hiking up West Fork Canyon, a route that is now impractical due the National Park Service's ban on overnight camping at the Subway campground. On the other hand, route finding on the cross-canyon approach is a bit of problem, so it's possible to wander, perhaps forcing the climb into two days. But let me tell you about our experience:
Following Route A of the DPS climbing guide for North Guardian Angel, we set off from the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead at 5:30 a.m. At the end of the North Gate Trail, between North Gate Peaks, instead of hiking to the base of N. Guardian, we headed cross-country to the top of the gully that drops into West Fork Canyon, just to the east of N. Guardian Angel. The DPS Climbing Guide, Route B for N. Guardian Angel, illustrates the route between here and the canyon's bottom as a straight dotted line, following along the right (west) side of a splayed-out nose. This may not be the best advice, in my opinion.
On our descent, for example, we stayed on the top of the nose, so we could see the lay of the land. We knew from an article in the Desert Sage (July/August 1998) by Patty Kline, who, with Ted Brasket as a guide, had climbed the peak by the cross-canyon route, that we needed to come out at the bottom of the canyon exactly opposite the route up the south canyon wall. When we finally where in a position to see the south canyon wall, however, it appeared that there were two climb-out routes possible. Nothing is ever simple. Agonizing over our choice, we eventually opted for the climb-out route to the west, and we continued our descent toward that point. Dropping down the steep, brushy slopes, we became increasingly concerned as we saw no signs of prior use, especially the ducks that Ted Brasket had mentioned in a pre-climb phone conversation. In fact, I now believe the route by which we descended had not been previously used by either man or beast. Fortunately, however, we came out right across the creek from the route up the south canyon wall, about 100 yards upstream of the infamous Slime Traverse.
Fortunately, also, the water in the creek was shallow enough so that we could rock hop across the flow-although one of us, who shall remain nameless, did manage to slip on a mossy stone, and, after an amazingly graceful wing and a buck, belly flopped into a cool pool. I gave it an 8.5.
Climbing up the south side of the canyon was fun, enlivened by one modestly taxing move, for which we did not use a rope. The rest of the ascent went according to Hoyle (or, more correctly, Jurasevich). Once on the summit, we spent slightly more than an hour snacking and relishing the perfect day in late May. Gosh, the views were spectacular. Zion is such a beautiful park. Maybe the DPS should (biting my lap top) consider adding a couple of more peaks in the area to the list.
On our return, we broke out our rope for one short rappel just below the summit area--we figured we'd hauled it all that way, we might as well us it. The steep section above the stream seemed a little dicier going down than coming up, mostly due to the fact that it was hard to see footholds. A rope here might provide comfort for an anxious climber.
Crossing the stream again, we began ascending the north canyon wall, only to find, surprisingly, that we were on a ducked route, which lay to the east of the way we had down-climbed. This ducked route follows along the east side of the nose, eventually crossing over to the west side near the top (at the beginning of the gully east of North Guardian Angel).
We arrived back at our cars at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead at 4:30 p.m. Total time to complete our venture, including a lunch break of a little over an hour on the summit--11 hours. Total elevation gain-approximately 4,000'. And as for me? Well, thank God I no longer have that monkey on my back, that hair shirt to wear, that row to hoe, that cross to bear, those miles to go before I sleep, etc., etc. Amen
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