North Guardian Angel, South Guardian Angel


By: Dale van Dalsem


(a.k.a. "Deliverance" without banjos!!)

John & Dale picked up permits at Zion N.P. Hdqtrs at 0800(12 max per permit & we can't hike together' or climb together - so the groups stayed a good 3 ft. apart - permits must be picked up in person) and had a bit of red tape "Of course we've climbed on sandstone before. We have 5 ropes & miles of slings and loads of water & we're' all rock jocks & Reinhold is my middle name, and -" Ron Jones had to work that weekend, so we decided on a car-shuttle traverse, cancelled last year because of heavy snows: North Guardian from the north on day 1, descend into the canyon to camp, climb South Guardian and out the canyon on day 2. Great plan; it didn't quite work out that way.

We met, 15 of us (25 cancellations & two no-shows were clairvoyant!!) in virgin, caravaned to the NGA roadhead just past the hairpin turn about 17 miles up the road, unloaded all vehicles, then drivers took vehicles back to the SGA roadhead, halfway back to Virgin, & returned in one vehicle.

Pleasant cross-country to base of North Guardian, a dome strikingly similar to Starr King, but much easier (except for crumbling sandstone). Up into the saddle from the north, then three or four pitches of good class 3, one of which was marginal cl 4. Trees for belay points. Leave chocks home; they're worthless in this sandstone. Used 4 ropes, leaving one at each belay point. Can be done readily sans protection, but most DPS groups will want belays for at least two of the pitches.

Back down the north side, then east several hundred yards & then onto the ridge that descends SSE from the "6500" notation .4 mi E of North Guardian. Follow this ridge on an azimuth of approx 170 toward Great West Canyon. Come to steep drop-off near two large ducks. These ducks mark the end of the gentle ridge. We went right or west; correct route is to drop off this ridge left or east, then continue on 170 bearing to edge of cliffs that drop off into G.W. Canyon. There is a heavily brush-covered class 3 route which again leads left (east) and drops down to the bottom of the canyon. We again went right (west) to a 60 ft overhang. We all did a 60-ft free rappel down into the Canyon floor.

First ever for Renee Spargur & Jackie. We found several shelves to sleep on, all about 5 ft above the canyon floor. Doris Golden built a fire, & we ate & crashed. About 11 P.M., all the heavens descended. Torrential rains & lightning so close it cracked. Only one tent was up & it leaked; we all got soaked. A second storm followed a couple of hours later, and a third before morning. Those not wet by the rains got wet from the water cascading down on us from the sandstone cliffs. a big (100 lbs?) rock fell down upon one of the shelves, missing several of us by a few feet. It shattered with a great crash.

About 3 or 4 AM, we heard an ominous roar. Water coming down the narrow (20 ft average, w/100 ft+ sheer walls) canyon we were in. Nervously checked rising water level. Only a foot or so but rendered creek pools too muddy to drink. Weather didn't look too bad as the morning rays lightened our defile. We packed up to climb the south wall & do South Guardian Angel. The 4th electrical storm, followed by a drizzle, changed our minds. Abort SQA. Pack out. Which way? Down the canyon, of course, the water wasn't that bad. Yet. Waist-deep in places. Hauled packs up on the ledge on the south side, went down the ledge, then lowered packs again into the canyon where the ledge ended. Walked down to the Narrows. Canyon stream necks down to two ft wide w/4 ft waterfall. No go. 4 ft waterfall was a spout 2 ft high. Dana Burks & Ron Webber scouted ledges. Class 4+ & slippery. Then all hell broke loose. The water level suddenly went up several feet. Waist deep where the stream was 8 ft wide. Deeper where it narrowed. Rain continued to drizzle down. Barely got everyone up on high ground with pack. Several jaws contained chattering teeth. 10 AM. Clothes on. Get under overhangs. Huddle together. Check sagging spirits & possible hypothermia. Watched water level. Knew we had to walk out that afternoon/night; too many people sans dry clothing. Most sleeping bags wet. Drizzle stopped. Seat harnesses on. Rope up. Three 5-man ropes. Wait for water level down. 1;30 P.M. down enough. Walk up stream to last nights camp. Water chest-deep on some, mostly knee-deep. Pat Holleman turned her knee. Dale's back went out schlepping sodden packs up onto the ledge. Bob Emerick & everyone did yeoman work on packs.

Back to camp by 3 PM. Jerry Hollerman & Don Hudson found the 3rd class route back up toward North Guardian, the way we came in. Much hand-boosting & helping as we slipped & slid up, with 40 lb packs now weighing 60 lbs with much water, but none to drink. Route went well, as the last light disappeared when we passed Northgate Peaks. Found old road on line due north of 7267; this joined westbound road thru the Valley & we stumbled into the roadhead (NGA, just N of Pine Valley Peak) at 8PM. We huddled & danced against the cold in our soggy clothes while drivers fetched vehicles from the other roadhead, drove to St George, where we all moteled it, slept for many hours & drove home Monday.

Other survivors, all of whom were still drying sleeping bags & washing sand out of everything for a week were Norm Rohn, Jon Lutz, Emanuel Molina, & Kathy Bowman.

Lesson learned: With even a hint of a rain cloud, Get the Flock Out of Great West Canyon.


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