The Hourglass & The Right Fork...the Best Climbing/Canyoneering Combo Ever?!?

Where: Zion National Park, Utah
When: May 2008
Partners: DB & Randi Poer

Beautiful flowers near the Right Fork Trailhead

A month or so back, Randi Poer and I spoke about hooking up for a 3-day backpack of some sort in Zion. With talk of obscure peaks deep in the background, and my favorite, peak/canyon combinations, we finally settled upon an attempt at Peak 7,204 with a descent of the full Right Fork of North Creek.

Meeting early one Friday morning in May, Randi, DB and I spotted a vehicle at the Right Fork Trailhead and then drove up to the Wildcat Trailhead. With our packs heavy and ready to go, we started down the trail toward Wildcat Canyon. It was cool out but adventure was in the air! And I love a little adventure.

Soon reaching the mellow head of Wildcat Canyon, we left the trail and walked, er, bushwacked into the drainage. Initially, the going was unpleasant, but about the time we reached the confluence with Little Blue Canyon, things eased and progress picked up. Eventually leaving the drainage, we gained the shelf to our right and walked easily down to a point where we could drop into the upper portion of the Left Fork of North Creek near the seep marked on the map. We found ourselves wading through a cold slot.
Dropping into the Upper Left Fork of North Creek

Leaving the cold and wet drainage after 100 yards, we climbed up steep dirt and through brush to gain a rib that we quickly crossed and dropped down to the seep. There, we pumped some water and thrilled in the warmth and enjoyability of the day.

Collecting ourselves, we left DB on a sunny outcrop below a mature ponderosa and Randi and I set out for our mountain objective. With the going initially easy, it wasn't long before a ledge traverse past a sub-peak put us at the base of a strikingly colorful spire of rock on the crest of the ridge. A narrow ledge traverse south brought us around to an easy scramble through a notch amidst a collection of red and orange and yellow hoodoos and crags.
Halfway up the mountain...

Some route-finding issues dealt with, we left the ridge and worked through a couple dicey moves on a traverse over to the north face. There, we hopped into a steep chute that led us all the way (well, with a few detours here and there) to the flattish summit plateau. There, we meandered south among small trees and manzanita toward the brilliant red and orange summit cap...the same sort of cap one finds on summits like The East Temple, only smaller.

Gaining the summit cap via an easy scramble, I continued south toward the highpoint. And there it was! A small, yellow block jutting out above the brush of the top. Making a couple class 3-4 moves to surmount the block, I swallowed in the views. They stretched deep into Phantom Valley toward Church Mesa and the start of Heaps Canyon, to the southeast and Ivins Mountain, the Bishopric, Stevenson Canyon, on around to Greatheart Mesa, Rams Peak, and even little old Pine Valley Peak, where our car was waiting for us so many miles away.
Views toward Bishopric from the summit of The Hourglass

Randi reached the summit not longer after me, and soon enough, it was time to start heading back down. Taking a slightly different way down, we discussed the fact that there'd not been any indication whatsoever of prior visitation to the peak. Not a cairn, not a footstep, not a piece of litter, not a this, not a that...not so much as a sheep turd or game trail. We wondered if anyone had been up this obscure, hard-to-reach peak before. The difficulties in gaining the summit were not substantial, though route-finding in spots was tricky, the rock was occasionally loose, and the exposure noticeable.

While traversing north on slabs above a shallow slot on my left on the descent, I looked up on the high cliffs above me and saw an unusual rock feature that resembled an hourglass. With a little imagination, at least. And so a name for this peak came to mind.

Soon enough we got back to DB, lifted our packs, and continued south in the main drainage toward our intended camp at the col. Getting there, we found it delightful...and with views right down into the upper Right Fork and over to Phantom Valley.
Our camp at the col

Getting up the next morning, we blew off the bypass that would take us to the standard Right Fork drop-in and dropped right down into the Right Fork from the col. We immediately found ourselves immersed in a wonderful slot. A rappel soon came, then some easy walking, then a few sunny potholes...and then, a dark slot.

What followed was four hours of wonderful slot canyon, complete with several rappels, one from an arch, some swimming, some sketchy downclimbs, a couple anchor problems, plenty of shivering, and then, a brief widening of the slot that allowed us to sun ourselves on some slabs. Aaaah.

Eventually regrouping, we continued down the canyon, soon reaching the point where the standard drop-in joins the canyon.

The "main" Right Fork was delightful as well. We did a funky downclimb under a huge boulder to a wade, a rappel or two, and just when we were certain we'd somehow missed the infamous Black Pool, there it was - a 100-yard swim through a dark and cold channel. It was...terrific!

A bit more swimming and walking and we found ourselves passing through the Grand Alcove. There, we pumped some water and discussed whether we should continue on or bed down there for the night. As classic a bivy spot as it's sure to be, the frogs were simply too noisy to seriously consider spending a night there.

Doing three more rappels, including a nice 60-foot rappel down the slimy, steep slabs of Barrier Falls, we stopped at a wonderful area of flat slickrock and some cascades. It was the perfect bivy! Sharing a fine dinner and some chocolate for dessert, we were all asleep by 9.

The next morning, we packed up, downclimbed past the waterfall right below our camp, and started down the lower Right Fork. Climbing up, over and around boulders, splashing through constant water, and pausing for pictures with frogs and snakes, I sensed that none of us wanted to leave this magical place.

Soon enough, we reached Double Falls, a spectacular double waterfall that is the scene of many desktop wallpapers. A first for all three of us, we stopped for several minutes to walk behind the falls and snap pictures.

It was about this time, while we lunched on a couple boulders in the creek bed, that I thanked my two partners for what was proving to be the finest climbing/canyoneering combo weekend I'd ever had. Wonderful exploration and scenery, great partners who offered quality conversation, the richness of the whole package came together to form something very special.

But for the evil of work, we decided to move on. Another week of dreaded existence in a cubicle, another hefty handful of my life-time snatched away, was dawning. But not until we splashed for a few more miles, took a few more pictures, laughed, smiled, admired this wonderful place called Zion National Park.

When at last we reached the Right Fork Trail, just down-stream from where we'd stopped to soak in the cool waters at the confluence of the two righteous forks of North Creek, we headed up, and then, home.

Everthing comes full circle, eventually.