On my way to Las Vegas, Nevada for a week-long solo vacation, I took a
detour to visit Kolob Terrace in Utah's
Zion National Park. In particular, I had ambitious plans to climb a
couple of peaks there--North Guardian Angel and South Guardian Angel.
Both are challenging ascents, and South Guardian Angel also entails a
complicated approach which requires descending into and climbing out of a
deep canyon. Naturally, South Guardian Angel was my primary
objective when I arrived at the Wildcat Canyon trailhead on the morning of
18 November 2018 after camping the previous night at a nearby Bureau of
Land Management (BLM) campsite.
From Highway 9 near the east end of Virgin, Utah, turn onto Kolob Terrace Road
and drive north for 25 kilometres to the signed turnoff for the
trailhead. Turn right and drive another 100 metres to a large
parking area with a vault toilet nearby.
In my haste to leave home, I had neglected to upload GPS tracks or bring printouts of the
route descriptions for both peaks. Nevertheless, I had previously
studied the routes at length and felt confident enough in my
route-finding ability to just "wing it". I would soon learn the
folly of my ways.
When I arrived at the trailhead, I met a woman from Oregon named Serai
Furlong who was planning to do a one-way solo canyoneering trip through
the Subway, a very popular canyon in the vicinity. In fact,
this is the very same canyon crossed by the approach route for South
Guardian Angel. Since both our routes shared the same trail for the
first couple of kilometres, we agreed to hike together at the start just
for some company. I learned that Serai was in the midst of a
two-month long road trip all over the southwestern United States and that
she had taken climbing lessons and bought all the requisite gear
specifically for the trip through the Subway. Since she would end
up at a lower trailhead far from her car, I offered to give Serai a lift
if she could not find one at the end of her trip. At this point, I
was planning to spend another day in the area anyway (possibly to climb
North Guardian Angel), and it would not have been a great inconvenience
for me to wait for her. We eventually parted ways as she began her
descent into the canyon via Russell Gulch while I continued along the
trail to Northgate Peaks.
The official trail ends at a rocky viewpoint situated between the two
Northgate Peaks (East and West). I dropped down some beaten paths below
the viewpoint and worked my way southward passing the east side of North
Guardian Angel. This is where the route-finding became challenging.
I was expecting to find some cairns but saw very little evidence of human
passage. Already worried about being off-route, I descended an obvious
ridge which ultimately led to a maze-like zone of rock ribs and thick bushes.
Without GPS tracks or a detailed route description, I floundered for quite awhile here trying
to guess where to go next. I thrashed through a fair bit of nasty
vegetation and also got cliffed out a couple of times. Having already
squandered a great deal of time, I decided to pull the plug on my attempt of
South Guardian Angel and began climbing back up the ridge I had descended.
||On the previous day, the moon rises above a ridge near a
free BLM campsite just outside the town
of Virgin, Utah.
||Late in the afternoon on the previous day, a low ridge near the BLM campsite offers this glimpse of some peaks to the
northeast including Pine Valley Peak (far left), Tabernacle Dome
(left), Northgate Peaks West (centre) and North Guardian Angel
||In the morning at Wildcat Canyon trailhead, Serai
Furlong is ready to embark on her solo canyoneering trip through the
||The early morning sun illuminates Pine
Valley Peak near the trailhead.
Out of curiosity, I wandered into the canyon next to North Guardian Angel and
worked my way upwards from there. I actually got more than I bargained for
when I encountered a chockstone in the canyon that proved to be very difficult
to climb over. It took me a few tries, but by employing some
stemming, I managed to get over the chockstone--just barely. I felt
a measure of relief when I finally escaped the canyon and started working
my way around to the northeast side of North Guardian Angel which was now
my "Plan B" for the day.
North Guardian Angel dominates the view to the south from the
viewpoint at the end of Northgate Peaks trail.
||The sun peeks over Northgate Peaks
||South Guardian Angel sits across a
seemingly impenetrable canyon.
||This is looking back up at a difficult
crack that Sonny descended while attempting to reach the bottom of the
||Here is the southeast face of North
The slope on the northeast side of North
Guardian Angel is much steeper than I was expecting, and a few slings
left on some trees attest to the difficulty of the terrain here.
With a bit of careful route-finding, I was able to climb onto the east
shoulder of the peak, and soon I was at the base of the upper east ridge. Unfortunately, the ridge proved to
be a bit too technical for my liking. I was confident that I could have
climbed up, but without a rope, I would not have been able to descend
safely. Prudently, I decided to back off, and I was now eyeing the
Northgate Peaks as my "Plan C".
||Sonny would abandon his attempt to
climb North Guardian Angel at this technical section along the east
The east shoulder of North Guardian Angel grants this view to the north
of (L to R) Red Butte, Pine Valley Peak, and Northgate Peaks West.
Dropping down the northeast side of North Guardian Angel,
I worked my way back to the beaten paths I had used to descend from the
viewpoint at the end of Northgate Peaks trail. Instead of climbing
back up to the viewpoint, I circled around to the north side of Northgate
Peaks East and found a good trail leading all the way to the summit
without any complications. After coming up empty with my first two
objectives of the day, I felt some joy in finally reaching the top of
Already turning my attention to Northgate Peaks
West, I kept my summit stay short and promptly descended the same trail I
had come up.
From the bottom of the trail, I hiked back to the viewpoint at
the end of Northgate Peaks trail before scrambling down the other side
into a shallow valley below the east face of Northgate Peaks West.
Just as I had done on Northgate Peaks East, I circled around to the north
end and started to climb up easy terrain there. Some steeper
sections higher up near a false summit felt a bit airy,
but generally, the north slope of Northgate Peaks West is just a Class 2
hike. I had no problems climbing over the false summit and
subsequently reaching the true summit.
||Here is the southwest face of
Northgate Peaks East.
||Contouring along the edge of the
forest leads to easier terrain on the north side of Northgate Peaks
||Sonny stands on the summit of
Northgate Peaks East (2174 metres).
From the summit of Northgate Peaks East, the view to the northwest includes
Northgate Peaks West and Pine Valley Peak.
I took a slightly longer break
on this summit before retracing my steps back down the north slope.
Instead of returning to the viewpoint, I continued hiking northward and
then turned east
through open forest to eventually intersect Northgate Peaks trail.
The rest of my hike back to the trailhead was uneventful.
Upon returning to the trailhead, I noticed that Serai's car was
still there. Just in case we missed each other in transit, I left
her a note before driving to the lower trailhead to wait for her.
As it turned out, I had just missed her by a few minutes, and she had
managed to get a ride back to her car with the help of some hikers she
met in the Subway. Fortunately, she found my note and quickly drove
back to the lower trailhead to let me know that my services were no
required. Feeling really hungry, she invited me to join her for
dinner somewhere, and we eventually settled on a restaurant in the nearby
town of La Verkin. Over dinner, she regaled me with tales of her
adventures so far on her road trip including that day's eventful journey
through the Subway. Even though Serai did not require me to drive
her back to her car, she thanked me anyway by
picking up the tab for dinner.
||The grooved terrain on the north side
of Northgate Peaks West makes for generally easy scrambling although
it gets steeper near the false summit ahead.
||From the false summit, the remainder
of the route to the top of Northgate Peaks West is straightforward.
||Sonny smiles upon reaching the summit
of Northgate Peaks West (2190 metres).
||To the north, Red Butte and Pine
Valley Peak are worth another look.
||Here is a comprehensive view of
Northgate Peaks East.
||Immediately south of Northgate Peaks
West is North Guardian Angel.
||This is a close-up of some of the
grooves on the north slope of Northgate Peaks West.
||Here is a last look at the northern
aspect of Northgate Peaks West.
Parting ways with Serai after
dinner, I hit the highway and ultimately drove into Nevada to camp for the
||At the end of the day, Serai would
treat Sonny to dinner at
this restaurant in the town of La Verkin, Utah.
Distance: 16.0 kilometres
Round-Trip Time: 8 hours 33 minutes
Net Elevation Gain to East Peak: 137 metres
Net Elevation Gain to West Peak: 153 metres