Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cindy Crawford is my Guardian Angel

South Guardian Angel

Contrary to my own beliefs and likely the beliefs of all those who enter Zion National Park, many if not most of the giant walls and peaks that tower above the Virgin River can be summitted by less than technical means, i.e you don't have to own a helicopter or be a super hard free or aid climber to access a lot of what appears to be untouchable terrain. All it takes is some googling, astute route finding skills, moderate fitness, a distaste for directness, and a love of slickrock scrambling and manzanita thrashing to get to some pretty dang remote and seemingly improbable locations. We were lucky enough to experience two new such adventures this past weekend.

With the addition of little Timbre to our family, hiking has become one of the easiest and best activities we can pursue together. We may have pushed the envelope of what would be considered normal "hiking" with a 7 month old child in a backpack, but who wants to hike Angel's Landing for the 15th time? While thousands of folks summited the place where the angels land, we were off all alone with the actual angels. 

Our first objective was South Guardian Angel, a peak on the Kolob Terrace side of Zion, separated from North Guardian Angel and the Northgate Peaks trail by the uber classic must do canyoneering route, the Left Fork, aka the Subway. 

superb if not overly specific route beta:

If you know anything about canyoneering, generally the premise is you access the canyon from the top, and emerge out the bottom, and rarely is there an escape from its bowels anywhere in between due to hundred or thousand foot walls on all sides. So if a slot canyon separates you and your objective peak, chances are you'll have to find another way around, which may or may not exist. Luckily for us, some creative and ingenious pioneer created a fantastic and suprisingly direct route that descends into the Subway and back out the other side with nothing more than a short 4th class section. No ropes required! Really cool. The route itself is almost as intriguing as the peak. 

Pete, Court and Steve hadn't done any of the other peaks in the Wildcat Trailhead vicinity so they opted for the longer, 5 peak linkup while the Weiler clan departed for SGA, with hopes of meeting up at some point. We had some minor trouble finding the correct path into the Subway, but inevitably found it, though it took quite a bit longer than expected. Joe's directions state that there are many cairns that leads you down, but we failed to find very many on either the up or down journeys. The boys met up with us just as we entered the canyon proper, having summited 3 peaks already(they did not have a kid) and we all fought our way up the escape gully together. An hour later we found ourselves on the summit after some cross country thrashing and slickrock calf burners. Very cool summit.
Me and Timbre in the Subway

View of North Guardian from SGA

The girls on top
The entrance and exit to the Subway is definitely "off trail". Heck the whole route is. 

The boys took off to bag the 5th peak while we embarked on the identical return slog back. Timbre had been doing ok for most of the day, despite being whipped from time to time by sharp branches that I did a poor job of avoiding. We had to employ what we are now calling a "Timbre Toss" on the 4th class section descending back into the Subway, which is essentially handing Timbre down a short obstacle for fear of slipping and killing the child while downclimbing. This is just good parenting. 
Riding the log

It was a long day but we arrived back at the van 8 hours after departing, 15 miles, 4k', and a bunch of scratches later. Annie and I alone no doubt could have done it in half the time and it would have been way less stressful, as anything is a little more committing with a child, but we managed. 

Sunday after the most crowded sacrament meeting I've ever attended, we went out and found the once-secret-but-now-the-locals-don't-care Utah hills crag, Sunset Alley. Looks fun. 

Monday we set out with Pete and Court to find Crawford Arch, a very subtle but easily seen formation( if you know where to look) high on Bridge Mountain. Despite being visible from the visitor center and within 1 mile of the tunnel road, it ironically takes either a 10 pitch 5.10 or a 10 mile, 4k' totally indirect scrambling route to access it. Court had done the route before, so we recruited him to guide us which was nice of him considering the ample opportunity Zion holds for non-repeatable adventures. Whoever discovered this route to the arch is even more ingenious than the SGA dude. 

More great beta:

The author's description starts off by saying, "this is NOT a hike for the entire family!". Well you don't know our family Joe. We started from the tunnel around 9 am and took our first break down near the entrance to Hepworth wash after Annie had an unfortunate accident jumping off a log into the sand with her back extended, causing acute sharp pain in her back.

Navigating down the canyon to Hepworth Wash
We continued on despite her discomfort(tough mother) and made a slight mistake picking the wrong notch(the correct one is the furthest left) to ascend but corrected without too much delay. This next part of the hike is the craziest. We descended down a steep brushy gully towards the tunnel road, using our full arsenal of Timbre Toss skills, then wrapped around on a ledge to a 5.6 chimney.  The chimney requires the only climbing skills of the outing and allows access to a flat saddle of sorts, then some mild loose sand traversing lands you improbably at the arch.Timbre didn't make it up the chimney, so we took turns watching her while the others went up and saw the arch. The chimney was fun and easy with a fixed handline, and we all escaped without injury. The return trip went well, with only minor Timbre face whippings until a serious one pushed her over the limit, so we took her out of the backpack and carried her the rest of the way. 
5.6 chimney

Under the arch

Looking down towards the visitor center

Court doing what Arches National park won't let you do

This was a 10 mile, 3800' vert adventure that took us about 8 hours. 

We aren't sure if our current justification of what is considered "hiking" in the form of Zion peakbagging with Timbre will increase or decrease the likelihood of her enjoying future outings as she gets older. Maybe we'll tell her she doesn't have a choice. 

The next question we face is whether we can convince ourselves an easy slot canyon like Orderville isn't considered child abuse.