The North Guard Story

9-11 Jun 2006 - by Lisa Barboza

What happens inside the heart and vitals of a climber? Some are made bold by the moment of the rock, some irresolute, some carefully judicious, some paralyzed and powerless to act. In the wake of Patty Rambert's fall on May 31, we elected to become evermore carefully judicious, stay that way, and bring along a length of rope and some protection.


9 June 2006 On the waxing gibbous moonlit night, Bob Suzuki and Linda Sun drove down from San Jose, while Lisa Barboza and Toinette Hartshorne drove a little later. Kevin Trieu came up from LA and joined us at Road's end in King's Canyon NP. It was a clear, bright moon and the scenery, even at night, was fantastic, the grey granite walls shining bright in the moonlight. This is truly a fantastic canyon, easily the equal of Yosemite in some ways, with ramparts rising from the Valley floor at 5000 feet to 10 to 13 thousand feet. We spent the night in Cedar Grove campground, and in the morning, received the obligatory lecture from the ranger regarding backcountry rules and practicies. Since we were camping out of the Bubbs Creek drainage, per regulations, we didn't need bear canisters, and since it was early spring, we gladly dispensed with them. Our hike to base camp covered about 9 miles and 5480 feet.

We started our jaunt at 5035 feet; we would eventually climb to camp at Lake 10514 up the Sphinx Creek trail, and finally climb North Guard (13,327) the next day. Two miles into the hike on the canyon floor, we had to cross what I would call, if I were in Alaska, a braided stream. The South Fork of the Kings River had jumped it's banks with snowmelt and overflow. Our bridge was but a wade away, isolated on one side by the raging waters. We elected to attempt the creek crossing on a well-placed log across the stream, which was completed successfully with a few wet boots. Then, another 2 miles to the Bubbs Creek crossing, another beautiful, and above water footbridge, for a few hundred feet of gain, and finally, the long slog up Sphinx Creek to our campsite. During this part of the trip we gained 5200 feet in the space of about 5.25 miles. The granite steps below the sphinx, a marvelous stone formation, were cut in the 1930s and are a bit steep. Once we crossed Sphinx Creek, at a massive tree fall, we started going cross country. After about a 400 foot gain, through open forest and somewhat swampy meadows, you'll pick up the stream again at about 9000 feet. Snow level started at about 8400 feet, and conditions were variable. If you stood in place for too long you were likely to posthole, and those of us who mastered the step and slide did fine. You'll cross a few talus slopes east of the creek, and after climbing up a few benches, we came to lake 10514 at about 6:30. We were even able to find a few campsites, and thus avoided camping in the snow. Although we could certainly have chosen it.

10 June 2006 We got an early start (late for some of us and early for others) at 7:00 AM. We climbed to the next paternoster lake above 10,514, then headed due south for about a mile, and then southeast for another mile (crow flying mile) to a col between the flank of North Guard and another, unnamed peak. This col will switch you from the Sphinx Creek drainage to the Brewer Creek drainage, and it is beautiful. There was a fine cornice, and a fine view of the north face of Brewer, directly to the Southeast. After a bit of confusion regarding which was the actual peak (a memorable quote "The map doesn't match the scenery, and topo maps don't lie"), we settled on a northeasterly course to the next small ridge, and then a northeasterly course to the summit. We stayed on the snow for much of the time, transitioning to rock when a good way was obvious. There was a clear line of CL2 to low CL3 rock to follow to a small gendarme about 1/3 mile west of the summit block. We went above the gendarme on easy CL3 climbing up the 3rd gully to the summit block. At the base of the summit block, we were still in CL3 climbing, when we got to the base of the leaning summit pillar, which hangs out into space on the northeast side about 900 feet above a wondrous glacial valley. And now the rope. Going out to the pillar is really two CL3 friction steps with an excellent handhold on the pillar. A great view from the top, and then it was down, another route down, where we tried to go down the 4th gully, only to determine that we were better off going around the gendarme and following our original route back to the col. Our small party of 5 ended up at camp at 7:30 PM, tired, but happy.

11 June 2006 After some discussion after our late start, we elected to not climb Mt. Francis Farquhar and hike directly out. Our 9 am departure put us back at the trailhead at 415 PM, after a long downhill tramp of about 9 miles. All in all, a great, fun, early season climb with lots of snow.

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