Virgin Peak, North Guardian Angel, South Guardian Angel
In a burst of possibly misguided late season enthusiasm, Lori and I hatched a plan to get four of the DPS peaks we still needed, Virgin, N & S Guardian Angels in Zion, and Moapa. We headed over Westgard Pass early afternoon last Thursday, to be delighted by a mother Chukar and five chicks fight next to the road. Down thru Las Vegas and out to Virgin, arriving at the corral a little before sunset. There were four cows actually in the corral. We walked up the road a bit, and not finding t too bad, decided to try and see how far we could drive In the morning. Later that evening, our friend Judy Hummerich from San Diego, appeared to join us. It was a warm evening and we never did get into our bags, only pulling a sheet over us.
At dawn it was still warm. This was to be the first DPS peak where I have started in shorts. Dennis Richards had told us that the worst sections of the road were lower down, that it improved considerably after that. This proved accurate. After about a mile there were some small steps in the bedrock where the canyon had narrowed. We got thru though, without even banging anything. We parked at the water tank on the left in an area with good shade for our vehicle, a 2wd Toyota. Up the hill out of the canyon and onto the main ridge which while technically very easy, was nonetheless tedious with brush. On the descent, we decided to leave the ridge sooner and head for the road at some ducks together with an arrow of sticks pointing down. The ridge and road are parallel and we had parked well before the end of the road. It is a tossup whether this was an improvement as we ran into some nasty brush near the bottom. Walking the last 1.2 miles down the road it was warm, although not brutally hot. A possibility for a much shorter route may be to drive up the canyon as far as possible, climb to the saddle at the head of the canyon ( and east of the peak ) and then directly up to the summit. This may involve some rock scrambling of indeterminate difficulty.
We bid Judy farewell and headed for Zion. The Lava Point campground was full, but we learned that there was unlimited free camping around Kolob Reservoir a few miles further north ( this right at the end of the pavement ). Our plan was to do South GA first as it is much longer. At 4am when our alarm sounded it was raining with thunder and lightning, so we went back to sleep. It turned out to be a nice morning; we even went back by Lava Point CG and were luck enough to get a site, so we decided to get NGA. This is an easy hike out two miles of flat trails to a point between the Northguard peaks. A use trail led down the draw between them and easy walking led across the flat to the base of the slabs leading to the NE shoulder. We put on our harnesses, but left our packs, and scrambled up to the start of the climbing. The first section up to a pine tree proved to be easily the hardest, perhaps 5.3. All told, we roped up for five pitches, although some were quite short. We were surprised at the amount of rubble on the route. To descend, Lori downclimbed and then I followed. We did one rappel from the tree down to the NE shoulder. One 9mm rope and three runners were ample for the climb. It rained briefly just as we regained the main trail. On the return, we had noticed a spur leading of the Northgate trail into Russel Gulch which clearly had plenty of traffic. We followed it down a little ways to where it became a ducked route across slabs. We learned that this was the main entrance to the Subway, and was a very popular downhill trip with parties either arranging a car shuttle or hoping to hitchhike back to their vehicles. From this fragment of knowledge, an unfortunate plan was spawned. We had previously heard that locating the down route into the subway from NGA was VERY ELUSIVE. So, we conjured up the bright idea that we would go down to the Subway on the trail, down the Subway 0.8 miles and then climb out on the standard route and get SGA. Although this section of the Subway was of unknown difficulty, we encouraged ourselves with the knowledge that it was done regularly and that we did have a rope. On the return, we would cross the canyon and take the NGA exit, and pick up the trails we had taken only yesterday.
At 5:05 am we are descending Russel Gulch. This went easily, including some long, spectacular sections of red slabs. The route was excellent use trail or plentiful ducks all the way to the final dropoff into the Subway which proved to be very steep. It reminded me of the central entrance to Owens Gorge, but steeper and with more 3rd class. Once in the Subway we are encouraged. Easy walking on sand and gravel bars extended down stream as far as we could see. The water was flowing only at a trickle. We are already congratulating ourselves at our cleverness. The first pools were no problem. We removed our shoes and waded them expeditiously through water mostly no more than ankle deep. Some other pools we were able to pass on ledges above them. This had its own hazard, however. The sand is like beach sand and sticks to shoes. Any step on rock must be done with great care; surfaces not exactly flat were treacherous. A few more pools and then we came to our undoing. The canyon narrowed and there was an 8 foot drop into a deep pool of black water. I still have no idea how everyone else negotiates this, but it was clear to us that there was no way we were going into that pool. We were finished. Reversing our steps, we had particular difficulty at a log we had slid down past a large chockstone. I was able to push on Lori's feet until she grabbed the top of the log. For me, she clipped our three runners together and hung them from the top of the log where I was able to use them as an etrier.
Demoralized, we left Zion and drove home. At the Carp - Elgin exit in Nevada it was way too hot for us to even think about Moapa.
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