The day begins early, beneath the dusty, cloudless April sky in the southwestern Utah desert, on the western fringes of Zion National Park.
The relentless winter rains of 2005 have left a record snow pack in the Virgin River basin. Remnants of the winter still remain as isolated snow fields on this portion of the Colorado Plateau, interrupted by patches of mud not yet baked into submission by the relentless desert sun. A few more weeks will remove all traces of both.
Today is not about having an epic in the mountains. The North Guardian Angel is but a few miles from the trailhead, and despite its proximity it is not in our field of vision.
Instead, it is a celebration of friendship through the common thread of climbing, the best way to mark the completion of the decade long transition from carefree college kids to family men.
The three of us have gathered in the desert to celebrate the impending arrival of Matt’s first child. Dave and I are welcoming Matt into the fraternity of fatherhood on this trip, dubbed the “farewell to freedom tour.” The irony of the title has not been unnoticed by our wives, as Dave and I had no problems in obtaining the weekend passes.
The three of us have been on many trips together, some epic, some not so epic. The day’s ascent of the North Guardian is far less about climbing and more about experiencing the best of life, laughing with the best of friends, reminiscing about days gone by, discussing the pleasure of having the attractive young ladies at the restaurant in town serve us pizza back in Springdale.
After our trudge through the mud and snow, we scale the Guardian’s northern stair step slabs on our approach to the east ridge. The lingering snow fields on the north face of the Angel provide a source of ice cold water. This watering hole too will cease to exist much longer.
At the top of the approach, expansive views of Zion abound, the precipitous depths of the Subway canyon just below, the elusive but prominent South Guardian Angel twin peak dominating the airspace a few air miles to the south of us, the great cliffs of the Red Yosemite, Zion Canyon, off to the distant southeast.
The warm, yellowish-white Navajo sandstone of the North Guardian’s steep east ridge skyline contrasts with the blue-gray sky. We begin to climb, Dave leading up the crux of the route, having prevailed in the Rochambeau tournament for the first lead.
Leaving the chocks and cams back in the truck was a good move. The millennia of compression have left the rock solid but without usable joints. However, stately and sturdy pines provide a cafeteria of benefits on the way up and down, providing shade, belay anchors, rappel anchors, and protection along the way.
We climb slowly and inefficiently. There isn’t a cloud in the sky or any reason at all to rush the day. Any thoughts of alpine siege tactics have been abandoned.
After a few hours, the three of us attain the flattish, narrow summit ridge, a sidewalk in the sky to share with the angels. We reach the summit cairn shortly thereafter, hovering above the sun-baked Colorado plateau, a 360-degree panorama at our feet.
Shortly thereafter, we share in an embrace to revel in the day’s small victory. The clicks of our expensive digital cameras record the moment. The summit register reveals that the successful journeys to the top of the North Guardian are few and far between, relatively speaking.
After a half-hour of lounging, we began the journey back down. Pizza is but a few hours away. Truly the best of times.