13 Year Old climbs 6460 and other Dilemmas

13 Year Old climbs 6460 and other Dilemmas

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Mar 27, 2010
Seasons Season: Spring


It was interesting that as I returned from my recent vacation that I read the many SummitPost forum entries about the ethical and moral dilemmas raised by the ’13 Year-old on Everest’ topic.

For the third year in a row my son Evan (now also13) and I used Spring Break to enjoy hiking and scrambling across Southern Utah. This year we would continually have our plans altered by the record snow pack still lingering in the upper elevations of Zion in late-March 2010. What follows is a series of miscalculations due to my almost continuous underestimation of the effects of the record snowpack on the Zion backcountry. And it is also a look into my own decision making about what was and wasn’t appropriate for my 13 year old son, and myself.

6460 ‘Lost Peak’ – Snow Problem

Arriving in Zion on a warm Saturday afternoon, my son and I were immediately struck by the amount of snow still highlighting the tops of the Zion towers and spires. But the canyon was warm and since our objective for the day was 6460, a minor peak only a mile or two from the road on the east side of the park, a mere introduction to a week of scrambling. So we packed our jackets but decided that gloves were overkill. Scrambling up from Clear Creek we were greeted by a mountain goat and patches of snow still lurking in the crevices of the canyon. As we clambered over waves of red slickrock on the initial slope out of the creek, we could not see our objective at first. We even wondered as we neared the top of the wavy rock plateau if we had already arrived. As we crested the top of the plateau we were greeted by the real summit looming up from the surrounding redness – a summit that had a some wide layers of snow draping over our expected northern approach.
Approach to 6460Approach to 6460
6460  Lost Peak  - Zion NP6460 'Lost Peak'

It all makes sense now, a north facing slope still retaining snow. But up to that point I had not thought there could be enough snow to make a difference to our route. Well it made a great deal of difference and we almost right away missed having our gloves. The snow made some parts easier but several other parts much harder than they should have been as ‘Class 2’ scrambling. At one point I thought we were well and truly stymied at a wall of rock beyond our abilities to surmount. And I was quite ready to turn back, as I was not suffering from summit fever and looking forward to a week of hiking. Just as we were about to call it off, we found a route around snaking around the wall on 8 inches of snow free ground poised over a steep snowy slope. It was a ‘parental safety moment’ and I determined that it was not-without-some-danger-but-still-in-the bounds-of-good-sense for my son and I. I am trying to teach Evan not to give up easy. Evan agreed we should give it a shot. We got up the route without incident, naming it ‘the Crack of Doom’. As we proceeded up, I could tell this peaklet was not something climbed often because of the vast quantities of bad plate-like rock that was always seeking to slide down on us. But we eventually celebrated the summit with great views across the east side of Zion.
Way up  6460 in ZionWay Up 6460 'Lost Peak'

Typical 6460 RockLoose, cracked and ready to slide.

Summit of 6460  Lost Peak  in ZionSummit 6460

Our descent was easy (avoiding the crack of doom by dropping down the barrier wall) and we detoured to the northwest to travel through a heart-stoppingly beautiful slickrock bowl to the canyon of Clear Creek, still frozen in some parts. The canyon descended past Cockeyed Falls and the remainder of the hike was easy. It was a great beginning to our vacation, even if a little more involved than the ‘introductory’ hike I had promised Evan.

Way down from 6460, Zion NPWay Down from 6460

Cockeyed Falls - Zion NPCock-Eyed Falls

Unedited comment from Evan: 'Half the mountain was rotten rock'

By the way, everything that I ever learned about 6460 and many other Zion summits I learned from Courtney Purcell’s book ‘Zion Summit Routes’. I also recommend this web site Here

Mountain of the Sun

Being a bit wiser now, I looked over maps the next day to see if an attempt on Mountain of the Sun would be stymied by snow. This was the peak that had seized Evan’s imagination during the winter. As we were going up a south facing side of the mountain, I thought snow would not be an issue there. I was right. But we would never end up getting to the Mountain.

We went up Pine Creek canyon to the falls and started up its western ridge. The approach to the Mountain of the Sun requires you to get up and over this beautiful but intimidating red rock ridge and drop into the next canyon over. The ridge itself was pretty severe but scenic slickrock heaven, and when we finally descended the other side of it, we thought the worst of the approach was over. We still had not even seen the Mountain of the Sun, as it is hidden by the bulk of The Twin Brothers.
Climbing Ridge on Approach to Mountain of the SunRidge on Approach to Mountain of the Sun

Going north up a mild creek to its head, our route required that we continue up and over the head of this south running creek, and descend into the north running Employee Lodge canyon to the base our objective. We easily reached the watershed between the two canyons…and stopped.

Snow Clogged Canyon cancels our ClimbSteep Canyon Snow ends our Approach

The steeply sloping canyon we had to descend was choked with snow, looking more like a bobsled run than a canyon, and the slope was intimidating. It would be quite an ordeal to descend the canyon, much less to ascend it. Parental Safety moment #2. I knew when we started that this was a very challenging objective for us, and we really did not have margin to deal with this obstacle. The climb over the ridge had been tougher than I thought, and our trip had reached what I felt was the point of ridiculousness, and I was not comfortable with the thought of having Evan retrace the steps alone in an emergency situation. To continue on would have made this hike epic – or idiotic. Turning back was the right call for amateur scramblers like us. But not right away. We ate our lunch at the watershed and had an enjoyable scramble back up and over the ridge back to our car. For the second day in a row, we had seen not one person.

Unedited comment from Evan: 'This was a good enough hike even without the Mountain of the Sun'

Kolob Terrace Snowed out – Return to South Ariel

The next day I thought I would show Evan the Kolob Terrace, which he had never seen. As we drove up the Kolob Resevoir road, I had plans for the Northgate Peaks or perhaps North Guardian Angel. Well, I was surprised by snow – again - when the road was closed a mile or so shy of Wildcat trailhead. You know, at some point you would have thought this snow thing would have made an impression on me. A couple of hikers reported 3-4 foot drifts of snow. Now I had expected snow, but not a road closure. We revised our plans for the day and drove back to the canyon. We would try again to surmount South Ariel peak, which we had come within 30 feet of summiting two years ago. Choosing a different line up, we kept ascending the progressively steeper surfaces. The gradually more extreme slick rock slopes near the top gave Evan the heebee-jeebees about down-climbing…and I had to admit he was right to be concerned.
South Ariel PeakSouth Ariel starts easy...

It looked so easy from down below - South Ariel..but gets much steeper

So Parental Safety moment #3 was a no brainer, and I turned around. After some tricky down-climbing, we sailed down to the car. South Ariel defeated us again. At least there was no snow…

Evan: 'Worse the second time around'.

Water Canyon/Canaan Mountain

Time for a change of pace. The next day we took dirt roads from Springdale south to Hilldale in order to hike up Water Canyon and maybe route find our way across vast Canaan Mountain to its summit. Ten minutes into our hike Evan objected (he despises trails and wants to scramble everything – and the sandy trail did not hold his interest). I talked him into continuing. 30 minutes later, as we reached the first of the wonderful waterfalls of Water Canyon, Evan completely rebelled. He had had a bad experience hiking up a cascade 2 years ago at Zion’s Subway hike. I had not realized how much it had affected him until we had to climb a few steps up a waterfall.

Watery trail up Water CanyonWatery beginning Water Canyon

He absolutely refused to go up. Parental Safety Moment #4. Another no-brainer. I went up without him and shamed him into following. Truly, that was it, as far as watery climbing went, but Evan had imagined an entire watery labyrinth ahead.

Water Canyon Trail - Careful HereOne of many waterfalls

After climbing up the incredible canyon, equal to any of Zion’s great wonders, we began our ascent to ‘the Top of the Rocks’, the end of Water Canyon itself and the beginning of a long route on the summit plateau to the highpoint of Canaan Mountain. As the trail elevated, we were again greeted by heavy snow drifts, and we were glad to have other deep boot holes to follow.

Incredible Views at top of Water CanyonKiller Views

Snowy trail to Top of RocksSnowy Trail

The Top of the Rocks was wonderfully scenic, and a great place to have lunch. But as I surveyed the snowy top of the plateau and the long route we had left, I knew that this was another snow-shortened hike for us. The route finding would probably be fine in a month but there was too much snow for me to be comfortable with. Parental Safety Moment #5. As Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations”.

 Top of Rocks  Water CanyonTop of the Rocks

 Top of Rocks  Water CanyonTop of the Rocks with plenty of snow

Evan: 'I don't like slick rock'

Last Day Scrambling... comes Early

Our plan was to drive to Capital Reef from Zion, and I had noted that a dirt road route existed as a scenic 4 WD ‘short cut’. The Skumtauph road was beautiful, but 30 miles or so into it a sign announced its closure due to…snow. We had to backtrack completely and this added much wear and tear on my back, which would massively spasm on me the next morning, cancelling the next two days of Scrambling.

I laid on my back for a day and could barely stand. We had to get back to Nevada and the drugs my wife had wired out to me. Evan offered to drive. Parental Safety Moment #6…

Evan Comment: 'It was a long boring day when he hurt his back - even with cable TV'


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-17 of 17

MoapaPk - Apr 25, 2010 1:16 pm - Voted 10/10


Wise decision. Good thing you had boot holes to follow. I went across that plateau in a snowy April, and got very very cold.

Stu Brandel

Stu Brandel - Apr 25, 2010 1:53 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Canaaneering

I was very tempted to try to go across that plateau. There were no tracks anywhere past the 'Top of Rocks' that I could see. What I saw of the plateau made me vow to come back some day - it is National Park material up there.

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Apr 26, 2010 2:58 pm - Voted 10/10

Acceptable Risks

Good story. Your son seems to have very sound judgment. I've turned back several times climbing peaks out here in California with my son when the route presented risks I wasn't willing to expose my son to. I find it a real challenge to know when you can push the envelope with your kids (after all, you do want to challenge them)and when to back off.

Also, I thought you had a great point when you mentioned assessing the route in terms of assuming your child might have to retrace it by himself in the event of an emergency.


Stu Brandel

Stu Brandel - Apr 27, 2010 1:47 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Acceptable Risks

Thanks! About pushing the envelope, you hit the nail on the head. I want Evan to learn to not quit easily, yet not to take foolish risks. Though we only ended up climbing one summit hat week, I think we made good choices throughout. One exception: I need to choose to talk with back country rangers before I set out.


inconsolable - May 2, 2010 3:52 am - Voted 10/10

Acceptable risks

Nicely done, both in the living of it, and the reporting. Finding that balance between challenge and terror isn't easy. Sounds as though your son has learned to make that judgment on his own -- vindication of your efforts. Great adventures ahead!

Stu Brandel

Stu Brandel - May 3, 2010 2:09 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Acceptable risks

Thanks! The next adventure we have planned is Glacier National Park at the end of July. Hopefully we will keep that balance.

Brad Marshall

Brad Marshall - May 2, 2010 3:42 pm - Voted 10/10

Epic or Idiotic

I like that statement. Often there's a fine line between the two. Sounds like you guys had a great week together in a fabulous area and made good decisions that should only be beneficial to Evan's decision-making process on future climbs. Nice to see you're teaching him to have a healthy respect for what could happen out in the mountains.

Stu Brandel

Stu Brandel - May 3, 2010 9:45 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Epic or Idiotic

We did have a great trip - despite it being shortened at the end. It certainly is a fabulous area and I can't wait to go back (and stay on the epic side of the equation).


dadndave - May 2, 2010 7:17 pm - Hasn't voted

What ....

....Mtn Impulse and Brad said.

I climbed Lembert Dome with my then 14 year old son, I climb regularly with my now 14 year old daughter. I think your judgement is pretty balanced and your son will most likely pick up on that.

Many people forget that driving to the trailhead is statistically more dangerous than what happens next.

Stu Brandel

Stu Brandel - May 3, 2010 9:58 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: What ....

I bet I will be much more nervous when Evan takes the car out on his own the first time than any climb we've ever been on.


cp0915 - May 2, 2010 11:01 pm - Voted 10/10

Great read

I really enjoyed reading your trip report and looking through your pictures. It made me smile to read how much you and your son enjoyed yourselves, despite the heavy snow. Zion's a great place, and you two seem to really dig it.

I think you guys are right about how infrequently Lost Peak is climbed. Those dinner plate rocks are funky. Nice views though, eh?

Have you considered looking for the ledge that works around the west side of South Ariel? While narrow and exposed in a few spots, it's overall quite a lot easier than the way up the southeast face. The exit from the ledge on the northwest side of the peak is short and probably the worst part of the route. Be careful on the final summit scramble too, as the rock's horribly loose and the exposure is bad. A nice summit though!

Thanks again. Great pics!

Stu Brandel

Stu Brandel - May 3, 2010 10:14 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great read

Thanks cp0915. The Zion Summit book made the trip hugely fun. The views from Lost Peak were extraordinary - with the combination of Clear Creek canyon and the falls, I'm surprised it isn't better known.

2 years earlier I beleive that Evan and I did take the ramp all the way to the west of South Ariel, but I may not have gone North far enough. We were just about 30 feet (it seemed)from the summit and I lacked the skills to go any further. [img:457080:alignleft:medium:South Ariel]


cp0915 - May 4, 2010 9:57 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Great read

Excellent. I'm thrilled you guys had a great time.


ChristianRodriguez - May 4, 2010 7:28 am - Voted 10/10


Nice history. I am school teacher, lots of my students (teens) hates to do something with their parents... They just want to waste time playing "virtual" games or chating with "virtual" friend on internet. Congratulations to Evan and you, you both are good example of nice relationship between father & son.

Stu Brandel

Stu Brandel - May 4, 2010 9:28 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice..

Thanks - Evan loves Xbox, Cable and Internet but, I am glad to say, also does Soccer, Clarinet and the outdoors. He is also quite handy to have around when one cannot walk.

Mark Doiron

Mark Doiron - Oct 14, 2010 9:22 am - Voted 10/10

Great Times With Your Son

I, too, have spent considerable time in the wilderness with my son, beginning when his mother died 12 years ago. Each summer we'd take an extended trip to visit the U.S. national parks. He's now a senior at Oklahoma University, so it's tougher, but we still manage to squeeze in a few days here or there to spend some "alone time" in the wilderness. I'm sure you already know, those will be some of the most precious memories that both of you have of each other. Too bad you didn't make Capitol Reef. If you haven't been there before, well, you're in for a treat. --mark d.

Stu Brandel

Stu Brandel - Oct 14, 2010 6:59 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great Times With Your Son

Someday I will be back to Capitol Reef, hopefully with Evan. I am glad to hear Father son trips extend into the College years!

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