South Guardian Angel


By: Susan Cooper


Susan Cooper, Jim Long, Laurie Loshaek and George Kazynski

Jim and I were lucky to hit Zion during a cold front. It was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and we had been told that Lava Point campground would be a zoo. We arrived a day earlier than planned to find the campground nearly empty - we had our pick of any 5 of the 6 sites. That night the temp dropped to below 25 degrees. The next day, after enjoying a peaceful campsite, we scouted out the route. When we got to the base of N. Guardian, the route was not obvious. We evaluated a few potential drainages but none were viable. There was a lesser sandstone bump east of N. Guardian that turned out to be the key. We passed through an E-W trending slot on this bump to get to its slopes. We wandered all over this until we found cairns marking the route. The cairns were more to your left side while descending the slab - further left than we expected. We were glad we did reconnaissance as this would have consumed precious time during the actual climb. We had recent route descriptions from other non-DPS sources, but when we put them to use, we found them to be short on useful details. We actually found the old DPS description (pre-Subway closure) more accurate than any later descriptions! After scouting the route, we then climbed West Northgate via a ramp on the eastern side and returned to camp.

That night our two friends, Laurie and George, met us at the campground and we made plans to do South Guardian the next day while temperatures were still reasonable.

We headed out at sunrise, hiking down the Northgate Peaks trail to the low point between the two. Below is the description of the route. I will add that on the way down, we made the mistake of not trending left on the slopes of the sandstone bump, missing the cairns and ending up on the wrong rib. We were one rib over! Fortunately, there was a place where we could crossover to the easternmost rib about half-way down so we were able to correct our mistake without retracing our steps. We also carried orange survey tape, at the suggestion of a friend who had previously climbed SGA, and used it to mark our way from the Subway to the peak - that turned out to be extremely advantageous. If you are not alert and good with route-finding, it is very easy to lose your directions when descending from SGA. This could cost you a lot of time route-finding during an already very long day. All-in-all, it took us 12 hours to do SGA. What a fine peak! My only regret was that I did not have my camera when we did the final pitch to the summit - I had left it at our belay point for the final summit pitch, along with my pack. Don't repeat that - the views are too stunning to miss. Fortunately, George kept his wits about him and had his camera on-hand for summit photos. One other interesting note, the summit register had an entry of two people who had climbed the peak in April, claiming to have done the peak in 2 hrs 45 min!

Here is a detailed description of the route: Hike down the Northgate Peaks trail to the low point between them. Head S to an area between NGA and East Northgate. You'll be east of NGA. Look ahead and see a red sandstone bump NE of NGA (see photo). You will start your descent on the slopes of this bump. Find a slot trending EW on this bump (walking around to the left of the bump to find the slot), walk thru the slot and head down its sandstone slopes, trending somewhat left until you pick up cairns. Don't descend more than 200-300 feet without locating the cairns - otherwise you are off-route. Follow the cairns, watching for a sharp left turn about half-way down that will lead you off the left side of this ridge. Follow the cairns down the easternmost rib to the canyon bottom. You must end up on the east side of the east rib to descend to the subway. As you get close to the subway, it will get very steep and brushy. You will be hanging onto vegetation sometimes to negotiate the steep slopes. If you come out right, you will be directly across from the ascent route. The ascent route is marked by a large jug-handle arch at the start (see photo). Go up past this arch and up the gully, past difficulties, to the top of the gully. Drop down into a little depression and up the other side. Drop into a sandy wash and follow it all the way to its end where you will climb and navigate sandstone slabs to the ridge. It is important to find and follow the sandy wash to it's end at the sandstone slabs - don't try to get on the ridge too soon. The sandy wash is on the SE side of SGA, before the Hoodoos. As you navigate the sandstone slabs to the ridge, look for cairns to follow. There was one difficult step-up where we placed long slings to assist the ascent and descent. Ascend the ridge to near the summit where steep slabs may require a fixed line (anchored to bushes) - this is just beyond a step-across crack (not wide but it goes down a long, long way). Summit and enjoy the views. Carefully retrace your steps back to the subway and back up to the sandstone bump. We rappelled the final few hundred yards to the subway, avoiding difficulties by the jug-handle arch. Orange flagging to mark the route from the subway is highly recommended and will expedite your return.

We used 1 rope (needed only for final pitch and rappel back to subway - good climbers might not require), a #3 friend (above the jug-handle arch) and several 20' slings. We left 2 packs with water and food at the canyon bottom and took only 2 packs with essentials to the peak. A minimum of 3 quarts of water is recommended - 4 probably needed for hot weather.

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