Zion National Park – Day 2

Day 2 in Zion began with the sunrise at Lava Point campground. We walked to the overlook to see what the high country looked like in different light – it was a great view.

Lava Point in the morning
Zion Canyon

We then caught a ride back to the Wildcat Canyon trailhead for a couple of quick mountain climbs – East and West Northgate Peaks. It looked to be a perfect weather day – barely any clouds in the sky and no chance of rain in the forecast. We left the rain jackets in the car and packed light.

East Northgate Peak

7153′
300′ gain
Class 2 (walkup)

To access the Northgate peaks, we hiked about a mile along the Wildcat Canyon trail and then took a spur for about another mile. This led to an overlook between the twin slickrock domes. An easy bushwhack to the east takes you to the base of a beaten trail up East peak. We elected to pick a bit more interesting route left of center which stuck more to the rock than to the dirt and trees.

East Northgate Peak summit shot

While most of the East peak is covered with trees and brush, the summit affords a 360 view of the Kolob Terrace. It is so accessible that I would recommend that anyone traveling through the area consider hiking to the top for a unique view. We were alone on the summit and it did not look like many visitors spend time up there.

Russell Gulch and the “Subway” from E Northgate Peak

We cooked an oatmeal breakfast on the summit, sat for a while, then headed down to tackle the West Peak. We followed the beaten trail down the center of the north slope, traversed below the lookout to avoid unnecessary elevation gain, then linked up with the base of the West Peak.

West Northgate Peak

7267′
350′ gain
Class 3-

West Peak is a massive slickrock dome with steeper dropoffs than its twin to the East. Apparently there is a scramble route on the steep east face – we chose the more moderate north slope.

West Northgate Peak from the overlook
Difficult East Face scramble route

From the base of East Peak, we traversed around the base of the West Peak dome along slickrock. It was cool to see how the rock interacts with the forest – a very stark contrast exists between the life of the forest and the dead zone of the mountain.

Traversing to the north slope

The climb was straightforward. We found a system of ledges to take us to the false summit where the climb steepened a bit, but nothing more than Class 3. The consequences of a fall wouldn’t be too terrible unless the slickrock were wet.

Beginning the north slope climb

What made things interesting is that clouds started to roll in from the northwest. The clouds looked like they would avoid us, but Simon and I rushed to the top just to be safe. Right as we summited, I started to feel rain drops. Normally I wouldn’t have been too concerned (no lightning) but with the nature of slickrock, water can make the down climb super treacherous. We took a couple of photos and dashed down as quickly as safety would allow.

Beautiful summit view to the southwest desert
Pine Valley Peak

We avoided descending while the rock was too wet – it was still quite steep. I found the view down the route pretty exciting and vertigo-inducing.

Descending in the rain

Needless to say, we made it down in one piece, with three new summits in hand for the weekend. As we bushwhacked up the hill back to the overlook trail, we met up with a group of lovely ladies from Las Vegas who were similarly unprepared for the rain, so we all chatted as we dashed back to the trailhead to get warm. As we traversed the Ponderosa forest, graupel started to fall. I was not amused.

We left the park by about 1pm and were back in SLC by 5:30. It was one of the best weekend trips I can remember, and I hope that I get a chance to return to the area one day, maybe in the fall when conditions make the park look completely different.

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