Mt. Francis Farquhar 12,893' ; Cross Mountain 12,185'

15-17 Jul 2000 - by Douglas Smith (view roster page)

On Sunday the 16th I soloed these two peaks during the course of a beautiful three day weekend spent in the upper reaches of Sphinx Creek and North Guard Creek. From the Road's End trailhead I started at a brisk pace up the Bubbs Creek switchbacks, and in my euphoria of ascending quickly forgot my plan to count the switchbacks. Oh well: there's a sh*tload of 'em. I camped at the eastermost Sphinx Lake (10,575'), a very isolated body of water off the main Sphinx Cr. drainage nestled under the 1600' north face of Cross Mountain. A "lake-bagger" as well, for me sitting on this sandy shore after a long hike up was maybe the real highlight of the trip.

[An aside: I wonder if anyone with entomological knowledge could identify an odd fly that was thriving at this fish-free lake. It has long wings, and is about a quarter to a third of an inch long. What was most notable about it was its behavior of scuttling across the water's surface, seemingly using its wings as sails, until it noticed something below. At this, it flew upward a foot or two and dive bombed downward, disappearing under the surface to pursue its prey. Fascinating bug!.]

Sunday morning found me climbing up the steep class 3 NW ridge of Cross Mountain to gain the gentle west slope, and reaching the summit shortly after 8 am. From the vicinity of the Avalanche Pass trail, this would be a good first peak (easy class 2) for new climbers. Despite being dissed as "insignificant" in Secor, because it sits at the northern end of a high spur the view across the South Fork canyon to the Monarch Divide/Cirque Crest and the Clarence King massif is magnificent. Significance is relative, and it's worth getting to the top of. At the risk of triggering another tedious discussion viz. "who's responsible for maintaining summit registers", I should point out that Cross Mtn. is without one, having only a tiny plastic tube with some scraps of paper. Judging from these paltry records, I was the first up there in a year.

From the summit of Cross, Mt Farquhar looks deceptively straightforward, but the true summit is separated from this northern slope by a cl. 4 (per Roper) notch, and the very steep west face is bifurcated by several snow-free chutes filled with loose rock. I chose to traverse the heavily buttressed west face until I reached the chute leading to the notch. Finding a doable route across these chutes was slow going. As I ascended the correct one, I became increasingly filled with doubt as to whether I could pull this off. This final 30 feet take you onto a face with sparse footing and intimidating exposure, and since--save for the elastic waistband on my shorts--I was climbing without any protection, I knew I had to choose to safely turn back. I descended straight down the 1200' chute, where it was impossible to not dislodge dangerously tumbling rock (climbers in groups, take note!). Not willing to be thwarted so peremptorily, I traversed counterclockwise around the peak to the cl. 2 gap just south of it leading into the headwaters of North Guard Creek. The view of Farquhar from here made me yell out a relieved "Okay!", because it's an easy, funky staircase of solidly-seated boulders all the way to the top. The register, placed in 1990, opens with a moving greeting from Francis' widow Marjory Farquhar, wishing that all climbers "find the same joys that Francis and I did" in the High Sierra.

My descent was made memorable by witnessing a sizable rockfall of the spectacular north face of North Guard: an explosion of shattering granite and dust 300 yards away from me but at a safe distance across the highest lake. By the time I reached my camp at 5:15, I was hoping to never again see another block of talus, and eagerly jumped into the delicious, soothing water. Since it also happened to be my birthday, I mixed myself more than one (well, ok, more than two) fruity tequila drinks, and gazed with exceeding pleasure at the fading light and the dive-bombing flies.

An exquisite trip from beginning to end.

Michael Gordon adds:

> Fascinating bug!

Sounds like a Mayfly? A trout's favorite meal......


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