Summit Block on South Ariel
South Ariel Peak is a roadside objective on the spectacular and relatively obscure east side of Zion. Despite that, it doesn't see the traffic one might expect (though it is far from unknown or semi-unknown), probably because most people passing through the east side are windshield tourists and probably because the steep, exposed slabs closer to the summit frighten some people off. With a one-way route coming in at under a mile and 700' of elevation gain, with Class 3 terrain and quite likely Class 4 as well, plus fantastic views, South Ariel Peak might offer more bang for the buck than any other peak in Zion offers.
An excellent introduction to the type of scrambling found on many Zion peaks without being too long or too scary, South Ariel makes a fine destination for seasoned scramblers as well.
South Ariel Peak, which is unofficial name to begin with, is actually misnamed. There once was a mistaken notion that Aires Butte
, the higher and more technical peak directly north of South Ariel and separated from it by a saddle, was called Mount Ariel or Ariel Peak. Hence, we got South Ariel Peak.
On some maps and photos (one such map is displayed on this page), South Ariel is labeled as "Ribbon peak." Despite multiple Internet searches, I have been unable to find anything more about this name.
Although I've climbed the peak twice, I can't remember if there's a register up top. The first time, I probably didn't look, and the second time, it was really windy and I had taken two of my kids up there, and they were more interested in getting down and away from the wind than they were in writing their names in some log even though it was their first Zion peak.
Unfortunately, some asswipes have seen fit to scratch their names into the rocks of the summit, serving as a reminder that the more accessible something nice is to the masses, the more likely it is to be defaced. Please don't join the jackass club and do what these clowns did.
South Ariel Peak and Aires Butte, Dawn
From Zion Canyon, drive east through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which many people apparently see as a highlight of a Zion trip but which I have always found tedious since so many drivers feel compelled to go very slowly and to honk their horns in the tunnel as well. Tip: go through before 8 A.M. to avoid most traffic and to avoid being subject to traffic control in order to let RV's and other oversized vehicles through.
Continue east to a second tunnel. About 1.9 mi past that second tunnel, park in a pullout on the south (right) side of the road. It holds maybe 5-6 cars. Early in the morning, you should not have trouble finding a place to park here, but this spot is a popular stop from mid-morning through late afternoon. Most of those who stop here seem to do so in order to scamper 20-30 feet up the slickrock slabs north of the road and have their pictures taken, but some are there because this is one end of the Keyhole Canyon route (technical slot whose lower end is less than a five-minute walk north up the wash on the other side of the road) and because this is the starting point for approaches to Aires Butte, South Ariel Peak, and Nippletop
. And others simply seem to like exploring the wash on the south side of the road.
Should the parking area be full, try to use one of the smaller turnouts nearby; there is one just 0.1-0.2 mi east and another about the same distance west.
South Ariel Peak not far from the parking area
Basically, you cross the road and start heading up the slopes along the path of least resistance, aiming for the summit but eventually finding yourself at a small saddle just north of the summit, from which you make a quick scramble up the Class 3 summit block.
South Ariel Peak - low on the SE side
However, some have identified two somewhat distinct routes:
- Southeast face-- Class 4. Head up the southeast face. Maybe 200-250' below the top, you will reach a steep section of slabs. Work up the slabs (Class 4) and then use a system of ledges to make your way up to easier terrain, and then attain the saddle north of the summit block.
- South slopes-- Class 2-3. Hike west from the parking area and then head straight north for the summit. Bypass a steep section that goes Class 4-5 (actually a fun scramble, and a solid tree above it provides a nice anchor for belaying followers). When you reach technical terrain below the summit ridge, work left (west) and then north. Keep going until you can scramble up bad rock to the saddle just north of the summit block.
Summit block of South Ariel from the south-- work left of here to use the south slopes route or right to intersect the southeast face route.
Route-finding is important on either course. Those not already familiar with slickrock need to know that it can quickly turn into sketchy, frighteningly exposed terrain.
It should be noted that when approaching from the southeast, the last 100' or so below the saddle that a climber faces is some pretty nasty stuff-- sandy, broken, and very loose-- that many climbers would call garbage, junk, crap, or shit. Rockfall is a serious hazard here for anyone following. Many people rappel this section on the descent; I recommend a 60m rope. Another thing to note-- pictures on this page show a large tree in that section, and one would think that tree would make a great anchor, but that tree is now dead and fallen. In April 2014, it was still solid enough to rappel from, but my sling wasn't long enough to wrap around the main trunk, and I had to take my chances with some seemingly sturdy but still-iffy limbs. For maximum peace of mind, have the means to make a long sling if you want to wrap the trunk.
South Ariel Summit, with the now-fallen tree and some of the nasty junk
Following is a climbing report by the original author of this page, bobeck
We began at the parking area described above and crossed the road to the north. We pretty much made a bee-line up the slab toward the summit. Total elevation gain to the summit was around 700'.
The route we followed put us on the ridge line, 30 metres north of the actual "cap" summit. We found the hike to be mostly 2nd and 3rd class scrambling with some very short sections of 4th class, however the rock was wet in many places, which made the normally easy friction scrambling a bit unnerving at times, but with a bit of short-rope method, we all were able to achieve the snow covered summit ridge. The 2.5 metre boulder problem to arrive at the summit was testy to say the least! The plated, snow covered soft sandstone required a spot from below, and short-rope belay from above. Once on top of the actual summit after less than 1/2 mile of scrambling, the views were outstanding. For a relatively easy hike that can be done in just a couple of hours, the rewards are Grand!
I would recommend this hike be done in dry conditions. It consisted of mostly 2nd class scrambling with a bit of 3rd class and very short sections of 4th class toward the summit ridge and a short boulder problem (4th class) to access the summit.
Gear: Good sticky rubber shoes, a short 25' piece of rope or webbing to belay those less surefooted and a camera of course!
Red Tape and More Info
There is no red tape other than the park entrance fee.
- America the Beautiful Pass and Fees-- $80 (annual) Pass
- Private Vehicle-- $25 (7 days)
- Zion Park Pass $50 (annual)
- Pedestrian/Bike $12 (7days)
- Backcountry Permit: $10
If you are bringing a camper or bigger vehicle into the park, you need to know that there is a $15 escort fee (good for 2 trips in 7 days) for anything 7'10" wide and/or 11'4" tall or larger when going through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel.
There are no campgrounds on the east side of the park, but the Watchman Campground, near the Visitor Center, is not far away. This campground is open all year, and you can make reservations for certain months at recreation.gov.
The South Campground is also located near the south entrance and is open March through October. All sites in the South Campground are first-come, first serve. $16 per site, per night.
Both of these campgrounds provide restrooms, picnic tables, RV dump, drinking water and utility sinks. There are no showers.
Less than a mile from the park's east entrance, there is a campground/RV resort right off the road, with a store and restaurant across the street. I have never stayed there, but I have stopped there for snacks and showers, and the staff have been very friendly.