South Guardian Angel


By: Henry Heusinkveld


The South Guardian Angel Peak climb (located in Zion National Park) I believe deserves being called the DPS trip of the year. The DPS added this peak to the list in 1972, hence this was the first scheduled Sierra Club trip thereto. The register on the peak was established in 1968 by Arkel Erb and several Compatriots.

The Sierra Club DPS trip was scheduled for Oct. 13-15, the season judged to be the best for weather. The trip had a goal of 25 persona, but 16 signed in. In addition a splinter group of 6 people led by Ed Treacy, departed at the same time, but limited themselves to two days rather than the three of the main party. Thus a total of 22 people signed the register on Oct. 14.

The schedule indicated Paul Lipsohn and George Hubbard as leaders, and it was to be this eminent peak on which Paul and Fred Bode had long planned to celebrate the completing of the DPS list. So all the participants were disappointed and saddened in that Paul Lipsohn had to cancel himself for impelling personal reasons. George Hubbard was advanced to the leader role, supported by Roy Ward as assistant. Thus the celebration honors fell solely to the remarkable and beloved by all, Fred Bode, who ably surmounted all obstacles and basked in the glorious fall weather that prevailed. He had thus climbed all 81 peaks on the DPS list, a noteworthy feat for a man 70 some years young.

Because of the technical difficulties, this trip requires a well-qualified leader, with a skilled mountaineer cadre, plus climbing accoutrements. On Saturday this able team scouted the up canyon trouble spots and coped with these by rigging climbing ropes and installing log bridges. Such preparation assured a safe, speedy and efficient canyon escape for the Sunday's climb.

A physical description of Zion National Park is important to this essay. Zion National Park (148 sq mi, 114 mi N*S by 11 mi E_W) is located in SW Utah and was declared a national park in 1919. The spectacular north-south Zion Canyon (branch of the Virgin River) cuts off the east one-third of the park. The Great Western Canyon with its several tributaries drains the west half of the park. The Right Fork and Left Fork are the tributaries, with South Guardian Angel located between the two. The Left Fork was the river of our interest as it cuts across the northwest part of the park. The Kolob Plateau Road skirts the west edge of the park. It intersects Highway 15 at the town of Virgin at an elevation of about 3500'. In travelling northward on this road one is continually climbing until the road leaves the north boundary of the park at 7600'.

This north corner of the park is known as the Kolob Plateau, and it provides an excellent vantage point to view the skyline panorama of high peaks. From here, North Guardian Angel and South Guardian Angel, are prominent in the foreground. Both being of white sandstone and conical, they appear as an elegant matched set guarding the surrounding countryside. Far to the east is a second matched set, West Temple and East Temple. These are easily identified as being capped off with a turret, the turret representing the more recent geological era of Carmel Limestone, and is more resistant to erosion than the Navajo Sandstone of which the Guardian Angels are composed.

The paragraphs here following provide guide type information:

From Las Vegas drive to St George, Utah on Interstate 15. A few miles east of St George pick up State 15, which is the entrance to Zion Park. Follow this for about 20 miles looking for the hard to find town of Virgin. At Virgin turn left on a blacktop marked "Kolob Plateau". Proceed northerly about 10 miles looking for an obscure dirt road junction which joins on the left. Proceed on the black top another half mile and turn into an ample parking lot on the right. Park here and befit yourself for the long hike. There is another roadhead, which provides a better more direct route into the canyon. It is found by going another 4 mi north on the same road and then doubling back into Lee Valley, but this route involves locked gates, so is discounted for this essay. The general area, where the cars are parked, is a lava field. It extends in a north-south direction and is an extension of the plateau that prevails to west and north. To the east is a precipitous defile containing the Left Fork. The roadhead would provide an overlook point, except for the enshrouding low pine woods.

The immediate objective was to descend into the river canyon. One can not proceed directly eastward because of a sheer vertical 140' drop-off. The party hikes northeasterly approaching a red craggy promontory. At the juncture of the red sandstone with the black lava a steep canyon or couloir runs down to the river 500' below. This is an easy hiking plunge, although SGA one must be careful not to bombard or be bombarded by loose rocks.

Thus the charming, lively Left Fork River is reached. The skies are still open for these lower stretches of the river. The stream bed is filled with boulders and rocks of all sizes. The banks are sandy, except that the higher benches are thick with willows, reeds and low trees--alders, willows, and pines. The party hikes upstream about 4 miles, darting this way and that, over and around large rocks, changing from one side of the stream to the other and then back again (Approx. 50 times), Presently one encounters a series of cascades in which the water is a sheet only an inch deep and the flow is over a series of stair-steps. Now one approaches a region of tremendously undercut sandstone. A railway locomotive could stand completely within this undercut. One climbs steeply over crumbly sandstone aggregate, and then emerges at a delightful pine studded plot larger than a city dwelling lot. This makes a perfect camp spot and actually the very last possible place to camp, as the canyon is highly constricted beyond this point and wet from wall to wall.

The hiking party is happy to unshoulder, back-packs and set up a cheerful camp. After an hour's relaxation the trip leader sets out with plenty of assistants to inspect and prepare the canyon for the morrow's peak climbing event. Going up canyon one very soon arrives at narrowing side walls with great undercuts on both sides. The undercuts are perfectly circular in cross section and quite dark in the chambers. There are numerous bath-tub sized potholes, one would plunge into if wading in high water.

Then the sky view widens, but looking ahead, one notes a small waterfall tumbling into a deep water hole, all between constricting side walls. A ledge 15' high offers a bypass, so the trick is to gain the bench. We'll call the place the Danish Loaf, since the bench on top one must attain by surmounting the steep side and then friction walking the rounded crust to the top. Three separate efforts were launched. John McKinley swam the deep pool and then climbed up the pile of splintered log debris. Tren Bartlett climbed a 12' long log placed vertically against the bank, whereas Dave King tied runners into two rock-embedded eyelets thus giving him footholds to surmount. These men then proceeded to install a fixed line by looping Ed Treacy's 150' rope around a pine tree located on a higher ledge. By tying a series of loops into the rope, all other members of the party are able to quickly ascend.

Next came a series of pools covering the entire width of the canyon. The sidewalls were latticed with more pools in the anterior chambers. The Hubbard engineers expeditiously placed two stout logs to traverse this gloomy place. The first log merely spanned a large pool, the second was a 35 ramp and was accompanied by a taut clothes-line rope handrail, secured by being tied into the lattice work of the sidewalls.

But then there was a double header 16' long pool for which there was no bypass, forcing each person to wade. By carefully picking routes one could protect his person higher than the knees. Getting off route one would go in up to the thighs.

The route was then uneventful. Albeit spectacular for a 200 yd walk before the next obstacle, which was another waterfall with ensconced pool. Again, a 20' high sandy bench allows a bypass. By scaling the steep rocks two young men, Doug Mantle and John McKinley, installed another fixed line around a small pine tree. Numerous hand-holds were tied into the McRuer gold colored line, thereby giving easy access to the ledge.

On walking this ledge, one soon encounters a large overhang which at first forces the hiker to bend, then crouch, then crawl. We'll call the place "Monkey's Crawl". One must maintain foot friction on the wet slimy sloping floor and proceed in a very crouched position for 50'. This seemed a bit dangerous, so a horizontal fixed line was installed, but the safety aspects of this route were suspect.

After Monkey's Crawl one drops a few feet back into the canyon with no more immediate obstacles. Two small parties of three each proceeded up canyon looking for a escape chute. Now that the right wall was somewhat receding and maintained a growth of brush and dwarf trees, the party headed by Ed Treacy imagined possibilities of scaling to the rim. First, a 15' rock must be surmounted, which took some doing. Then the party proceeded 200' up the steep hill through the dense brush and trees, to arrive at a smooth vertical wall that shot up to the sky. Failure? A good mountaineer doesn't know that word. What to do? What to do? Let's try skirmishing along the base of the wall for a ways and see whether we can find any kind of a chink. So, after blasting through several hundred yards of scratchy brush, ah, yes/ There was a beautiful rift, six feet wide and soaring way up to the very rim. On both sides of the rift were smooth vertical walls one hundred feet high. This certainly was a geological curiosity. The three scouts zoomed up to the rim and had thus attained the plateau. At any other place, this would not be called a plateau, but rolling countryside. Since the peak was not in sight, this party was at first attracted to Greatheart Mesa, and were trying to figure out route to same, but after trudging through valleys and over ridges, the real peak came into view. Elated with this scouting success the trio returned to camp at dusk. Everyone else had returned much earlier and were happily engaged with evening meal and campfire. The triumphal report was met with indifference. "Oh, we found a much better way", was the reply. And so they had.

The Classic Escape Chute is to be found immediately after Monkey's Crawl. It is downstream, just around the bend from Russell Gulch, which is on the opposite canyon wall and which leads to the north slopes of North Guardian Angel. The low end of Escape Chute is a double chute. Take the right hand one, The low end of the chute is very steep, and is a bit of third class rock climbing during which one erodes bushels of fine dirt. A fixed line was called for, so Doug Mantle tied his 7mm rope to a tree and prepared the usual hand-hold loops. After this, it was an easy 500' scoot to the rim of the plateau. The rim offered an outstanding view of North Guardian Angel, but South GA is masked by a red craggy sub-peak. The rim area is well ducked and gets one started in the right direction.

Then it's a rather leisurely trek through a sandy creek bed or its banks, that leads ever upward to a beautiful knoll. SGA comes into full view. It has a classic view appearing symmetric, conical and a dazzling white. But one is viewing the end dimension, so doesn't see the elongation from here. The white cone sets on a broad base of deep red sandstone, both the red and the white sandstone being of the Navajo Sandstone geological era and similar in composition. The red sandstone is intricately formed of cross-hatched striations deposited at various angled deviations from the horizontal. What was the agent for depositing these thousands of layers of sand, water or wind? I favor a wind theory to account for the forever changing pattern which might be attributed to the seasonal variations of wind. Also, the sand particles are very small and uniform in size.

So one tackles the rather steep red sandstone, always looking for the most gradual places, and one wonders how steeply he can friction walk before spinning out. Abruptly one leaves the red sandstone to climb the white sandstone, This is a steeper angle, but it is well fissured allowing plenty of footholds. Rapidly one shoots to the summit. The weather is golden, and one is exhilarated. Tremendous views are offered on all sides, It is a matter of how much can one comprehend and interpret from this tumultuous countryside. The Right Fork of North Creek is almost 3000' lower and is roughly synonymous with Great Western Canyon. The Right Fork is not as cliff constricted as the Left Fork for many miles, but in its headwaters it is highly constricted. This is claimed to be spectacular country by last years hiking party.

To the northwest one looks out to the Kolob Plateau with its various mountain ranges and conical peaks. Between the mountains the valleys are relatively level, and support grasses and grazing animals. But in all other directions the country is exceedingly tumultuous, making this a forbidden land except for the few, strong, persistent and knowledgeable hikers not to be denied the secrets of the hinterland. Because of man' s exclusion, Zion National Park is a wonderful sanctuary for exotic wild life.

On the descent from the peak one has satisfied his consuming ambition, that of mastering the peak, so now can divest himself of this drive, and can ruminate in the splendors of the natural scene, On the plateau in the sand filled watercourses was written a tapestry of the wild life abounding. Most remarkable were pawed footprints the size of man's clenched fist. These were seen over wide areas, and were judged to be mountain lion, cougar, or the like, Smaller footprints were of smaller cats, rabbits and very small clawed animals. Interspersed were bird tracks. Several deer skeletons with bones scattered about may well attest to a slaughter by a ravenous mountain lion. No animals were actually seen, but one had the feeling that a host of cunning little eyes were watching our every movement.

The most dramatic bird seen was the water ouzel. These birds were seen flitting low above the lively stream, always alone. Apparently they derived their sustenance from the water creatures. The water ouzel is annoyed at being disrupted from his favorite spot. He zooms away, but seconds later he shoots back again, chirping his displeasure. John Muir had been entranced with the water ouzel and watched the little bird for long periods of time. In the sunlit lower portions of the Left Fork, were seen a host of small frogs. These were no longer than one inch in length.

So, its hiking the five miles back along the Left Fork, surmounting to the Lava Ridge and shucking off the hiking psyche for the city dweller role. This is a painful transmutation.

We were much impressed and stimulated with the great wonderful country called Zion. It is a little used or abused country.

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides

DPS Archives Index | Desert Peaks Section