North Guard

Notes by piero scaruffi | Travel resources | Other California destinations | California hikes
The approach to North Guard (4062m) is via Roads End (everybody's least favorite trailhead), the Sphinx Lakes and Sphinx Pass just like with Mt Brewer.

North Guard from above the twin Sphinx lakes

You see Mt Brewer from Sphinx Pass, you don't see North Guard which is hidden behind the ridge to the east of Sphinx Pass. Head for Mt Brewer's northwest side.

Once in the canyon to the northwest of Brewer, try to lose as little elevation as possible but slowly converge towards the creek. It takes a while before you see North Guard and it is very confusing which one it is. There is a long ridge of peaks north of Brewer and it is not obvious which one is North Guard.

Once you have identified North Guard, you will notice that there are three chutes.

Leaving Brewer to your right and your back, you have to climb to the middle chute, the chute to the left of the west ridge. This is not a difficult chute, and people generally prefer its left side. Unfortunately, the traverse from the top of this chute to the summit of North Guard requires some dangerous class-4 moves. First of all you have to find a tiny "tunnel". This tunnel is located at the top of the chute, about three meters from the left wall. Its location is not obvious because you have to climb a tall rock (first class-4 move) to get to it.

Location of the tunnel

The tunnel is not even two meters long. It takes you to the north side of the mountain from where you have great views of the Sphinx Lakes. You are now at the dead end of the west ridge. That, however, is a dangerous place to be: the north side of North Guard is a vertical wall with nothing to stop you if you make a mistake. You can clearly see the fist-lile summit and the narrow wall that connects the west ridge where you are to the summit.

The summit from the west ridge

You can continue more or less straight trying not to fall to your death and reach this narrow wall, or you can climb to your right to reach the safer upper ledge of the west ridge. Alas, whichever way you do this you are likely to do a class-4 move.

As you exit the tunnel, to your right you will see a thin flake that offers decent handhold and foothold, no more than three meters up. After climbing this flake, move to the right and you should find an easy and safe way to coast the wall towards the summit. Now that you are at the bottom of the summit block, climb the left crest as far up as you can. When it gets too difficult you need to move to the right. There are lots of cairns here. If you don't see any, most likely you are staying too far on the left. From this point up the route is obvious, but not trivial: you have a final class-4 move to get to the very summit. Once at the summit, it is confusing which of the many peaklets is the highest one. Tradition assigns the honor to the diagonal boulder hanging on the east side: that's where the register is, although there seems to be no USGS marker to confirm it.

It is also possible to climb the rightmost chute instead of the middle chute. The chute itself is not bad, but the approach to this chute is far more difficult than the approach to the middle chute.

Finally, it is also possible to climb the west ridge from the beginning, thereby avoiding the whole "tunnel" adventure.

  • Roads End (1534m) to Sphinx Creek junction (1914m): 1h30'
  • Sphinx Creek junction (1914m) to Sphinx Creek: 3h
  • Twin Lakes: 5h30'
  • Sphinx Pass: 8h30'
  • Bottom of North Guard and Mt Brewer: 10h
  • Summit: 12h
  • Sphinx Pass: 15h
  • Twin Lakes: 16h30'
  • Trail: 18h30'
  • Roads End: 21h

Cedars Grove ranger station closes at 4pm and it's open only in summer (2009). Grant Grove visitor center (180 entrance): open 8am-6pm in summer, 5km east on 180 from the Big Stump Entrance Station.

Brewer and North Guard from the Sphinx Lakes

North Guard from Mt Brewer