12 June 2015

Signal Peak

Dixie National Forest

Signal Peak is a major peak in the south part of the Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, the highest point in Washington County, and looked like a good climb to me. One approach is via Oak Grove although as the summer heats up, the route from Browns Point becomes more popular. The road to Oak Grove is a well maintained graded dirt and the trailhead is full of informational signs including a cut wood map.

informational signs at the trailhead
The trailhead in Oak Grove Campground. The map is the middle sign behind the fence.

It is sunny and threatening to be warm already as I start, but I am quickly among the oaks. Above, it is hard to see where the trail might be going. Largely, there seem to be cliffs.

panorama of the peaks above
Panorama of the cliffs above. Signal Peak is off the ridge to the left.

I power up the trail, finding it to level off eventually, then running into a viewpoint with no trail out. This is confusing, but a little backtrack finds another option. It also seems time to run into the wilderness boundary, just half a mile up, but there is no sign. I also seem to have lost the footprints of the person who started up a few minutes before me and I seem to be heading southwest rather than south or west as trails on the wooden map are illustrated to go. Consulting my own map, my direction does make sense for the wrong trail. The signs seemed to indicate the junction is a mile up, but the distance on the map is very small. A lot of backtracking finds another option beside a flattened rock pile. This one has fresh footsteps on it.

mesas and water below
The start of views out over the plains.

This trail heads in the direction expected and climbs quite steeply. That is more like what I expect because the information indicates this trail will climb over 3000 feet before three miles is up.

Leeds Creek
Looking down the valley and to plateaus.

broken wilderness sign
Entering the wilderness.

cliff face with ridge running to it
Looking up at the cliffs above. It looks like perhaps there is a break in them just to the right.

There is a brief respite from the climbing as the trail tops out onto the large ridge among some rock outcrops. The mileage indicates nearly halfway. The respite is brief and the trail gets to climbing even more steeply above.

flatter section along the trail
A spot of rest from the steep climb with only a shallow climb for a moment.

increasing views of the plains
Looking out over the reservoirs of St. George.

steep trail and cliffs
Looking up a section of trail. There is a break off to the right of that cliff before after all.

Rock falls and tree falls present minor obstacles in the steep climb, but the trail is well used and there is always a fairly easy way. The climb seems to take forever, but eventually the miles, and more importantly the feet, pass and I come to the top. It is much cooler up here and there are patches of snow.

Leeds Creek
Another look at the valley below where the road is now very clear.

rocky top of the trail
Rocky, but not a cliff, at the top of this section of the trail.

white cliffs
Some cliffs that were part of my view for the last few days, but from much further north.

The trail drops, but not very far, down the back side into the valleys at the top of the mountain and meets the Summit Trail. There are much bigger snow drifts once away from the steep sides. I turn south for Further Water at the sign and start a few brief stomps through the snow.

trail sign at Summit Trail and Oak Grove Trail junction
The trail sign shows the way for destinations along the Summit Trail while a cairn in the snow marks the Oak Grove Trail.

green space lined with snow drifts
A wide bit of green along the way.

Further Water
The bottom end of Further Water, a massive meadow over a quarter mile long with reliable water.

The creek at Further Water is running quite well and a challenge to cross while keeping my feet dry. There are marshy spots along the trail that also threaten wet socks.

soggy piece of meadow
Still in Further Water finding the drier spots to walk on.

After Further Water, there are more snow drifts. There is a group of backpacking Boy Scouts coming down the other way and they seem to be enjoying the random chunks of snow, except the leader. He would like them to be more careful. He also suggests that after hitting the peak, I head just a little further down the trail to where there are better southern views. For now, I just continue up the trail until it starts down, then cut cross country upward. The peak is wide and easy to climb from this side and there seems to be no false thing to climb as long as the start is after Further Water and I arrive at the top.

Signal Peak
The top of Signal Peak, which is wide, flat, and tree covered.

The views are impossible from the peak itself. A few cairns go out toward the edge where the cliffs I was looking up at are. There is also a geocache being used as the register. The hiker before me and the boy scouts have all signed it for today. It amuses me that one of the adults put down that this was a bucket list item for him.

red cliffs among green
A bit of red cliff and a bit of city.

St. George
A little bit more of St. George.

I head down toward the next peak where the trail curls around it, but foolishly by the unknown, more direct route. The Summit Trail along this section is fairly well established, but it can still be fairly invisible in spots. It would be possible to miss it while climbing down to it and not knowing it well enough. My more direct route is very steep and I oscillate between trying to traverse the ridge, saving some of the climb back up, or dropping down to the trail that could be missed. Eventually hitting the trail wins and I head out to more views from the mountain. There are indeed views I could not have from Signal Peak over there.

St. George
More views over St. George.

green hills south of the mountains
Views out around the south end of the Pine Valley Mountains.

I gave myself a turn around time before starting and I could continue along the trail because I had not reached it. Getting to the far views gets me a few minutes past it, so it is time to head back. Things go much faster along the trail. Overhead, the thick clouds that have been gathering start to rain. They move quickly to hard rain and then add in plenty of hail.

big meadow again
Looking down to Further Water again, this time with a mist of rain.

The boy scouts are camped out at the bottom of the meadow. The boys seem to be resigned or enjoying themselves. The leader seems miserable. He was expecting dry weather, so I suspect he had been looking at weather reports for the low cities. The rain has been up here, but not really reaching down there. As I look around their camp, tents up, packs covered, dinners cooking, everyone in their ponchos, I cannot help but think he just needs to channel his inner Maxwell Smart. Not the part where he claims he has got someone surrounded, the part where he answers a list of things that are supposed to be misery inducing with the line, "And loving it!" I simply offer that it really is dry enough before going to discover what level the creek is at now.

rain shadow that does not reach the valley quite
Raining over, but not on, the area around St. George.

The creek is not much higher, so the crossing is not much more challenging. Going a little further downstream helps. The rain generally stops by the time I get back to the ridge to start the climb down to Oak Grove. I can see a thick rain shadow out over the plains, but it does not seem to be reaching the ground. The bushes near the trail wet my trousers for a while on the way down, but eventually they are dry. Further down, I meet another group of young men heading up to Further Water for the night before hitting the peak and other points. They, too, are unaware that it has been raining in the higher elevations.

There are a lot more people along this part of the trail than there were in the northern section of the wilderness, although it may have a little to do with being a Friday instead of the middle of the week. It is an excellent climb. The campground and roadside campsites are quite full as I pass. I stop by the Leeds Kiln on the way down before finding my own campsite among the still unfilled lower ones.

Leeds Kiln
Next to the Children's Forest along the road to Oak Grove and a kiln used to turn the local pinion pines into charcoal for mining operations.

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 13 July 2015

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