I absolutely love Snow Canyon State Park in Southern Utah, it's majestic mountains of colorful rock are enticing to the eye, the only problem with Snow Canyon is it's a climbers paradise not necessarily a scramblers paradise. The majestic rock faces are riddled with cracks and ribbons of ledges for anyone seeking a "vertical" experience and many of the routes are 5.10 or better. The pickings are considerable smaller for a scrambler like myself.
I was fortunate enough to join a group last fall and follow the scramble route up Island in the Sky. I have climbed Snow Benchmark (the highest point in Snow Canyon) and other than a couple long, dirty scramble peaks I figured I was done. Then to my pleasant surprise an article appeared in The Independent entitled "Hiking Southern Utah: Pictograph Mountain" and it contained a nice scramble route description to the summit of Peak 4217 (as it was known to ListofJohn.com at that time).
Pictograph Mountain is a stunning example of my attraction to slick rock hiking. Steep stunning buttresses, but enough weakness to allow even a modest climber access to the summit. The approach starts at the Three Ponds Trailhead parking lot near the southern entrance to the park. A day pass can be obtained for $6.00 USD. I prefer to hike along the asphalt walkway for the first 1/4 mile or so until it intersects with the Hidden Pinyon and Three Ponds trails. It is possible that Snow Canyon is in the process of renaming the Three Ponds Trail. It is listed as such on the map, but the new sign posts along the trail (which are very nice and contain a map and arrows) do not show "Three Ponds" the name shown is "Red Sands" trail.
The approach is an enjoyable hike through Snow Canyon and on this warm spring day the trail was extremely busy. Each sandstone peak of the Petrified Dunes contained a group of people and the "information" trail held many small groups reading about each location. Passing the Petrified Dunes /Overlook junction, the activity dropped by two thirds. By the time I crossed the West Canyon Road I said Hi to 3 small groups. I had the entire summit hike and back by myself.
Crossing the West Canyon Road, the hiking trail combines with a horse trail and empties into a wide, sandy stream bed. The hiking is slow, but drawing to the base these sandstone peaks is breathtaking.
Reaching toward the rear of the wash, the main wash and Three Ponds trail is to the hikers right. Padre Canyon is left. Turn left and follow the well worn trail up and out of the wash. The trail leads directly toward the base of a ridge line before it drops back into the wash and Padre Canyon. A smaller, but clear, trail leads to the ridge. This is the direction of travel.
Use caution as you begin to climb this loose section of sand and rock. The trail soon leads into a small wash contained in the center of two buttresses which make the climbing easier providing ample hand holds and feet placement. Watch for cairns as the route moves from ridgeline to wash and back again. The cairns are sometimes small, but the route is fairly heavily traveled and can be seen even without the aid of cairns. Ample ledges provide amazing views back into the sandy wash and Padre Canyon.
At the top of the ridgeline, the route becomes slick rock scramble with the occasional class 3 move. Continue to follow the cairns, which seem to be well placed. These slick rock backbone scrambles are some of my favorite hiking routes.
One of the beautiful things about Pictograph Mountain is the fact that the first rise is the summit rise. As all scramblers know, it is rare indeed to hike to the top only to discover, the true summit in a little further, a little higher. Not true with Pictograph Mountain. All the scrambling, route finding and the high point hoodoo IS the summit. With beautiful views in all directions.
There is ample scramble opportunities from the summit, but I simply ate lunch and took a short summit nap, enjoying the sun and spring weather. This was a great start to the new 2016 hiking season and if the remainder of the season is as good, it's going to be a great year.
Distance 4.65 mi Duration 3h:59m:58s Ascent 1490 ft.
GPS download available at: Pictograph Mountain on Peakbagger.com