South Face (and West Ridge)

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 36.71660°N / 118.4909°W
Additional Information Route Type: Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer, Fall
Additional Information Time Required: Less than two hours
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: Class 3
Sign the Climber's Log


North Guard shares the same approach as Mt. Brewer's NW Slopes. Take the Avalanche Pass trail, and follow Sphinx Creek up to Sphinx Col. Contour east to the basin south of the peak.

Route Description

From the cirque between North Guard and Brewer, at the base of North Guard's south face, you should spot a small notch just west of the summit crags. A sandy, class 2 chute leads up to the notch; this is difficult to climb directly at the bottom because of some small cliffs, but the slabs to the right offer an easier class 3 route up. Climb the slabs as shown in the following photo; where they become difficult, traverse left (west) into the sandy chute and follow this up. You may find a duck here marking this short traverse. (If using the chute as a descent route, hike down the sandy slopes until you reach a small cliff and possibly the aforementioned duck; traverse left at this point to the slabs).

Near the top of the sandy chute, traverse up and right across the face towards the summit block. The route across the face is generally well-ducked, but many variations are possible. None of the climbing here is more than class 3.

Recent editions of the SPS List rate the summit block as class 4, and Moynier and Fiddler's Sierra Classics comments that "many parties forego the exposed summit pillar." Norman Clyde himself described North Guard as: "A fine rock climb... a granite monolith some twenty feet in height may be the highest point and which, without handholds or footholds, leans in an embarrassing way over a five-hundred foot precipice." While his assessment of the peak as a fine rock climb was spot on, Clyde may have exaggerated concerning the summit block: It is no more than ten feet, fairly low angle, and is much easier than it may appear at first. Don't let the overhanging block spook you! A couple of easy friction steps lead to an excellent foothold and from there the top, with a stunning view of the precipitous drop down the east face. Many parties reportedly rope up for this, but anyone comfortable with some exposure should find the climbing itself straightforward. (The exposure is not as hairy as it may initially appear; at worst, a slip here would likely send you a few feet down to a small ledge below).

Variations: Secor's rather confusing description has led many parties to climb a number of variations on the south face route. Viewed from Mt. Brewer, several chutes are seen on the face; these can all be followed up to the west ridge, which can then be followed to the summit. When approaching from Sphinx Col, these chutes are not at all prominent unless one traverses to almost directly below the south face; instead, one can climb steep slabs and ledges to the west ridge and follow this to the summit. All of these variations are class 4. The west ridge is an excellent scramble, with some short knife edges and stimulating exposure; it is even more enjoyable than the standard class 3 route and highly recommended.

Needless to say, one should either be comfortable on class 4 or proficient at route-finding before attempting this peak. It is very easy to get off route and onto harder terrain.

Essential Gear

None required, although good approach shoes could help on some of the steeper scrambling if you decide to follow the airy west ridge. If you opt to rope up for the summit block, a short lightweight rope and a couple of slings would suffice.



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