On Guard, Brewer!

25 Jun 1999 - by Steve Eckert

We had perfect weather, with no bugs except a few between 9k and 10k (especially good since we camped bug-free and frost-free at 10500'), and we got both destination peaks plus we were home in time for dinner. I'll just post a few notes on the route and the climbing, especially since the PCS Mountaineering Committee had some concerns about allowing 3rd class rated leaders to attempt North Guard.

Secor's book says to go up the right (west) side of the Sphinx Creek drainage after crossing the creek on the Avalanche Pass trail. We went up that way, sloshing through bogs and climbing boulders in brush, with great slabs to walk on higher up. We came down entirely on the east side. Except for one boulder field around 9600', the east route is mostly shaded duff or grassy slopes that make for a much better walk in the park. On the way up, you can leave the trail just before entering the wet zone near the creek (8700') and stay well away from the water.

There are great campsites near the outlet of Lake 10514, and lesser campsites at the lake above. We were content with 5500' of gain with packs, and opted for the better view and sheltered spots, leaving 5000' of gain with daypacks for the next day's peak bagging and a half day of hiking out on the third day.

Don't expect to see obvious "chutes" on North Guard's south face, despite what the books and various reports say. The notch to shoot for is about a tenth of a mile west of the summit, and the slabby "chute" gets tough about at the place where you can cross left into a 2nd class sandy "chute" that leads directly to the large notch... which is distinguished by a bulbous projection akin to a tall mushroom. There was an astonishing view and some ducks from the notch, and we added a few ducks of our own. The climbing is third class, with some exposure in places but they can generally be worked around if you are willing to drop 30 or 40 feet and climb back up.

When you get to the summit, which is claimed to have a thin 20' summit block hanging over the east face at "an embarrassing angle", you may agree with me that men just can't help exaggerating the size of such things. It's 10' of 3rd class, not 20' of 4th. It takes two easy friction steps (and I hate friction climbing) to reach a nice foot ledge, from where I sat on the summit bump after flipping a sling over it while the others were still fiddling with the rope. If this is 4th class, Hooper, Tehipite, and others must be also... and perhaps Bear Creek Spire is 5th. Roper said there was a 4th class crack to the easy summit area, but my guess is that there's been some inflation in the rating: the SPS just raised the peak from class 3 to "3s4" meaning a class 4 summit, but we all thought a light-weight half rope and two slings would do just fine, and that the entire climb was really class 3.

Since this was Richard's first climb of the season, he sat out Brewer while the other three of us stormed up snow and rock to the summit register... which is on the lowest of three bumps, but clearly the named point. The register is completely full, with front and back covers used also, if anyone is heading there soon. Take another book! We needed ice axes for Brewer, but left them strapped to our packs everywhere else.

On the way out, we saw one "black" bear (actually brown) out for an afternoon stroll and several fresh piles of dung, indicating to me that people don't usually go on the east side of the stream. The bear ambled along quite unaware of us for close to a minute while we took pictures and talked about it, then suddenly caught our scent and wheeled in the opposite direction. Greg's first bear encounter was a pleasing one!

Participants were Steve Eckert (leader), Richard Vassar (coleader), Pat Callery, and Greg Johnson.


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