North Guardian Angel
By: Burton A. Falk
SUMMER VACATION, D.P.S. STYLE
My third and last climbing trip of this past summer began on Sunday morning, Sept. 7, when I drove off to pick up Jim Scott at the Las Vegas airport following his flight down from Reno. The two of us then drove on to Zion Nat'l Park, arriving in time to apply for a permit for the six camping spaces at the Subway Camp in the Great West Canyon for the evening of Tuesday Sept. 9. After securing the required paperwork, Jim and I hiked quite a way up Hidden Canyon, a trail which takes off from the Weeping Wall parking area. Still later we had a so-so dinner at the Bumbleberry Restaurant in Springdale, then drove up to the Lava Point Campground, where Charlie & Diane Winger and Steve and Shane (Steve's petite wife) Holonitch were already camped. About 3 a. m. it began to rain, and, since Jim and I hadn't erected a tent, we were forced to spend the balance of the night side by side in the back of the Pathfinder.
Monday, Sept. 8, the six of us climbed North Guardian Angel, a nifty class 4 climb, on which we roped up for three pitches. On the way out, we also climbed Northgate Peak, a friendly unroped friction ascent. That night, we once again camped at Lava Point Campground.
Tuesday, Sept. 9, we descended into the Great West Canyon, and hiked three boulder-strewn, brush-choked miles upstream to the Subway Camp. (Jim and I staying at campsite # I, the Wingers and Holonitchs settling in at campsite #2). At 4-30 p.m., after setting up our tents, all six of us set out upstream to set several ropes in place in the narrows of the canyon in preparation for the next day's climb of South Guardian Angel. Unfortunately, after getting three of the four ropes fixed, it started to rain--and rain hard. Water began pouring into the canyon via waterfalls that hadn't existed just moments before. In ten minutes the creek was in full flood, and there was no way we could descend the waterfall which we had climbed only a half an hour earlier.
After thirty minutes or so the rain let up, but we still had to wait another hour for the creek to lower sufficiently so that we could rappel down through the waterfall. As dusk was falling, and we were about to get started on the descent of the waterfall, the creek began to rise rapidly once more (no doubt from rain continuing to fall in the same drainage to the east). We scurried to, high ground and waited. This time however, darkness overcame us, and we were forced to bivouac in a cave situated about 100' up the canyon wall. My entire wardrobe consisted of a pair of trunks, a pair of surf waders, a long-sleeved Solumbra shirt--all of which were wet, and a pair of dry boots and socks in my day pack. Jim didn't have much more. Fortunately, the Holonitchs were experienced canyoneers and between them and the Wingers, we possessed more emergency gear than I could have hoped for. I borrowed a pullover shirt from Steve and a pair of wind pants from Charlie. Jim got a jacket from Charlie. We huddled together on the floor of the cave, shivering. just as we were in the process of drifting off, Jim, at the back, of the cave, said, 'It smells like rodent droppings back here. Probably Hanta virus." After that, sleep was impossible. Dawn finally did arrive, however, at which point we recovered our ropes and made our way back to the Subway Camp. The cold shower we all got while rapping down through the waterfall was not highly appreciated, I can assure you. Since we didn't have our campsite reserved for a second night, and because we were all wet and discouraged, we scrubbed the climb.
Next time we try--hopefully next year--we'll do it a bit later in Sept. (about the 20th, we concluded). Personally, I'll take along plenty of fast drying clothing and an aluminum hiking pole (the hike in is treacherous as it involves a lot of boulder hopping with a heavy pack). I also resolve not go up the canyon to set ropes without plenty of emergency clothing, gear and food. Oh yeah, one other thing. It isn't necessary for the entire party to be involved in setting the ropes the evening prior to the climb. In fact, the more people that are involved, the longer the job takes.
We hiked out to the trailhead that afternoon, where we said goodbye to Steve and Shane (a very nice couple in their late thirties from Colorado). Jim and I in my Pathfinder and Charlie and Diane Winger in their Subaru station wagon then traveled on to Beaver, Utah, where we rented rooms at the Paice Best Western Motel, took long hot showers, and had an excellent meal at the restaurant next door.
Thursday, Sept. 11, we drove to the base of Wheeler Peak in the Great Basin National Park, and by mid-day we were on top the 13,083' mountain. The interesting aspect of this climb was that the wind was gusting up to 70 m.p.h. on the exposed upper slopes, and on several occasions we were literally blown off the trail. Later that afternoon we enjoyed a 90 minute guided tour of nearby Lehman Caves, after which we took off lickity-split (via Ely, NV, where we had dinner) for Elko, NV.
We car-camped at the trailhead for 11,387' Ruby Dome that night, and got started on the ascent of that N.E. NV peak by 7 a.m. the following morning, Sept. 12. The climb was beautiful, ascending through a grove of aspen, following along a babbling brook, passing a lake (where Diane stopped) and finally scrambling up the rocky summit ridge. Very reminiscent of the Sierra Nevada. The views from the top were outstanding. That night we stayed at the Days Inn in Elko, and dined at an excellent Basque restaurant next door, Toki Ona.
Sat. Sept 13, found us speeding south, via Battle Mtn, Austin, Manhattan and Belmont, then along miles of progressively crummier dirt roads to the ridge below Mt. Jefferson, the 11,941' high point of central Nevada's Toquima Range. Although we did see a good deal of the spacious Great Basin that day, Mt. Jefferson itself is not a particularly pretty peak. Still later that afternoon, we drove on to Tonopah, where we ate dinner at a fairly good Mexican restaurant (La Marquises?), and where Charlie and Diane rented a motel room for the night (Charlie's back was beginning to bother him and he decided to forego the climb of Arc Dome the next day so that he would be in better shape for Boundary and Montgomery the following day).
Jim and I continued on to the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, arriving there about 9:30 p.m., where we car camped. Next morning, Sunday, Sept. 14, the two of us climbed Arc Dome, the 11,788' highpoint of the Toiyabe Range. Once again, the ascent was quite picturesque, passing through a splendid aspen grove, gaining a barren 11,000' plateau, dropping down 500' to a saddle, then winding up the final 1,000' on an excellent switch-backed trail. The sky was a cerulean blue, and we could see both Mt. Jefferson, our previous day's conquest, and Boundary and Montgomery, our primary targets for the next day, from the summit. At 5 p.m., Jim and I met Charlie and Diane as planned at the Coaldale junction on Route 6 and Route 95, west of Tonopah. We then car caravaned to the fork between the roads leading up Trail Canyon (the trailhead for Boundary and Montgomery) and Middle Creek Canyon (the starting point for Mt. Dubois), Jim, Charlie and Diane taking the former, myself taking the latter. Before leaving, we agreed that we would met at the same junction the following afternoon. If one of our cars wasn't down by 4:30 p.m., the other would drive up the opposite canyon to begin searching for the missing party.
Next morning at 6 a.m., I started my solo attempt on Mt. Dubois. I took route A, as described in the DPS climbing guide, ascending a ridge to the south of the spot at which I had car camped, near the end of the poor canyon road, then followed that ridge west to the Dubois, Montgomery, Boundary Crest. At 10 a.m., approximately at the 12,500' elevation (after 4,000' of gain), dark clouds began pouring over the crest to the west. After waiting 10 n-minutes, during which time the clouds became even darker and more ominous, I started down. At the same time, Jim, Charlie and Diane were summiting on Boundary. Charlie and Jim, in spite of the threatening weather, decided to try for Montgomery, located about 45 minutes south of Boundary, across a saddle (through which, by the way, runs the Nevada-California border). Charlie suggested to Diane that she start down to the car, where they would meet her later. (see accompanying article by Diane Winger)
The weather got better as I descended, but by then it was too late for me to start climbing back up again. I wasn't totally bummed out, however, as I had been feeling uncomfortable in such a remote location without a climbing partner. I got back to the car about 1 p.m., whereupon I changed clothes and drove to the meeting place to await the others. Our plan was for Jim and myself to drive to Bishop that night, where Jim's wife Gail would pick him up at the Baskin-Robbins shop at 6:30 p.m., after which I would drive on home in Palm Desert.
When nobody met me at 4:30, 1 drove up Trail Canyon, where I found Charlie's empty car at the trailhead. I figured there must be trouble, as I had climbed Boundary and Montgomery a few years before with a couple of novice climbers, and we had easily gotten back by 4 p.m. I walked up the trail a way, where I found Jim coming down. He informed me that Diane was lost, and that Charlie had gone back up the mountain to look for her. We then went back to the cars, where I changed back into my hiking gear, and then we took off up the trail to take part in the search. About a mile up the brushy canyon, we met Charlie also coming down. It was about 6:30 p.m. and the sun was sinking behind the mountains to the west. We agreed that Diane was either lost or injured, and that Jim and I should drive my car down to Dyer, NV, where we would call 911 or the Sheriffs Dept. to inquire about launching a search and rescue mission. Charlie would stay at his car to hopefully wait for Diane's return. As we left, Charlie was plainly distraught, blaming the incident all on himself.
Jim and I got to Dyer about 8 p.m., where we called the Sheriff's Dept. of Esmeralda County, NV. Sheriff Benson told us to wait at the nearby Country Attic--one of the three commercial establishments in tiny Dyer, where he would meet us soon. We then called our respective wives to let them know that there had been a change in our plans. Both Gail Scott (who was already in Bishop and fortunately had a cell phone) and my wife Jo, were quite upset with the news. Half an hour later, the very competent Sheriff Benson pulled in, informing us that a S & R mission was being set in action even as we spoke. A little after 9, Jim and I headed back to Trail Canyon to let Charlie know what was going on. We then tried to get some sleep before what we presumed would be a long day. About 3:30 a.m., we were awakened when approximately 15 volunteers from Esmeralda, Mineral and Nye Counties arrived at the trailhead to begin a search. At 4 a.m., a helicopter equipped with heat seeking infrared began making passes over the bowl and saddle to the northeast of Boundary, either of which Diane could have descended. A professional tracker also got involved, however, as we subsequently determined, he started off following the wrong set of tracks.
Since the officer from the Nye County Sheriffs Dept. who was managing the S & R mission wouldn't let the three of us go up the mountain, we decided to try and get some rest, sitting in our respective cars, turning on the heater every once in awhile to keep warm.
By dawn, the helicopter hadn't found any signs of life on the slopes, nor did the search party find any dues as to Diane's whereabouts. Over flights with fixed wing planes from the NV Civil Air Patrol in Sparks, NV were in the process being organized and another search group, presumably including the three of us, was being planned to cover the mountain in a grid-like fashion. At approximately 9:45 a.m., however, we received the good news by radio that Diane had been found walking up the Trail Canyon road. She had descended the wrong ridge and had spent the night in Middle Creek Canyon, the area in which I had car-camped the previous night.
Fortunately, she had a lot of clothing in her pack, so she was able to spend the long night without getting too cold. Charlie was beside himself with relief. Tears were running down his face. After Diane's arrival at the trailhead, the Sheriffs group quickly dispersed, and the four of us stood around in the bright morning sunshine recalling our fears of the previous evening.
About 10:30 am., with considerably lightened hearts, Jim and I started our drive into Bishop, where we had an excellent brunch at Jack's Waffle shop. Gail was scheduled to pick him up there later in the p.m. Charlie and Diane, in the meantime, had left for their home in Littleton, Co. At 6:15 p.m. I arrived back home in Palm Desert, where, after a relaxing long shower, J0 and I enjoyed a tasty meal at City Wok followed by dessert at Goldmine Yogurt.
It was a trip with much more excitement than anyone had anticipated. All's well that ends well, however. I have no doubt that this summer's adventures will be the subject of many an ever-exaggerating tale as the days, months and years roll by.
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