Ski Mountaineering

Brewer, North Guard and South Guard

Oct 14-16, 1988

Reiner Stenzel

Note that all dates on the pictures are one year ahead.

This is a private trip report on a peak climb of Mt Brewer, which inspired a later ski mountaineering trip sponsored by the SMS. Participants were Ali Aminian and myself. Ali and I took the Basic and Advanced Mountaineering Course (BMTC, AMTC) together. We learned a lot and got inspired to climb mountains. After a few organized trips we were confident enough to go on our own, in particular since the Sierra Club insurance fiasco did not allow sponsored mountaineering trips anymore.

We decided to do a three-day trip into the Great Western Divide. Although mid-October was getting late in the year we wanted to give it a try to bag another emblem peak, Mt Brewer. On a Friday afternoon, 10/14/88, we drove up to Onion Valley to sleep high and get an early start.

On Saturday we were hiking by 6am toward Kearsarge Pass. The weather looked poor: Low clouds, cool, first snow on the ground. But things improved and when we arrived at Kearsarge Pass (9:30am) the clouds began to break up. We saw our trip destination in the west and it seemed far away.

But we were full of energy and enthusiasm and kept marching on. Down from Kearsarge Pass, past Bullfrog Lake direction Vidette Meadow, down the Bubbs Creek to Junction Meadow, and finally up the East Creek to East Lake. On the way we enjoyed the pretty fall colors of aspen trees near Mt Bago. We found a nice campsite near East Lake (9,445') and set up a basecamp for two nights. Since in October it got dark and cool early we made a campfire which kept us comfortable during dinner. Since we had a long day and would have the same next day we went to bed early.

On Sunday, 10/15/88, we were up and out at first daylight, heading up the Ouzel Creek drainage toward Mt Brewer. It was clear and chilly but in the distance the first sunlight was already on the Brewer-North Guard ridge. The eastern face of Brewer above the glacier looked quite impressive. We ascended the northeast ridge without difficulties. It was mostly class 2-3 climbing but a 4,000' ascent. At 9:30am we summitted and signed the peak register. The mood was great and so were the views from this high peak.

Most impressive was the view due north toward North Guard, our next destination. A jagged ridge continues north to North Guard and beyond to Francis Farquhar. Looking down to the east we could see our basecamp at East Lake and follow our ascent route via the east ridge. Further beyond, in all directions there was an endless number of peaks visible, the most familiar ones were Whitney, the Kaweah and Palisade Ranges, the Great Western & Kings-Kern Divides, etc, etc. The weather could not have been better, a cloudless fall day with excellent visibility.

Although we could have stayed longer we had our plan and decided to go for peak #2, North Guard. We descended a chute on the north side of Brewer (which we would ski many years later) to a saddle between Brewer and N Guard. The southwestern face of N Guard is a steep wall of granite columns. We chose an obvious but false low gully to ascend the ridge. The trouble with trouble is that it always starts out as fun. After a while the class 3 climbing turned into class 4 and then it became harder to climb back down than to continue up. After a lot of adrenaline flow and an occasional piano leg we made it to the ridge. A promise was made not to do this ever again. From the ridge it was a regular class 3 hike to the 13,327' summit. At 11:45am we signed the peak register, delighted to have bagged two SPS peaks. We had lunch, took pictures and studied at the map.

Since the day was only half over and we were full of confidence we decided to go for #3, South Guard. It is the easiest to climb but quite a distance away from North Guard. Since running the ridge was out of question we had to drop down to Brewer Creek and re-ascend South Guard from the west. Now we felt the effect of climbing for 8+ hours. But it was only a matter of time and by 3pm we stood on the summit of South Guard (13,224'). What a delight to sign another peak register. Looking back we saw the huge south face of Mt Brewer. Although 300' lower than Brewer South Guard also offered outstanding views in all directions. Whitney seemed so close, but it must have been the clear air in fall. Although we would have liked to stay longer we realized that we were far from basecamp and that the days are short. So we descended toward Longley Pass southeast of South Guard, then dropped down to Lake 11,459' (3496m) and followed northeast in a drainage to Lake Reflection (10,005'). After contouring around the lake we hit the trail and had a civilized hike down to basecamp at East Lake. We arrived by darkness and were pretty wasted after our 12 hr day of climbing 6500' up and down.

On Monday, 10/16/88, we were refreshed and ready to hike out. It was another classic fall day in the Sierras, cool in the morning, summer-like by midday and lots of sunshine. We stopped at some pretty lakes like Bullfrog where the leaves had turned yellow-red. Some call the hike-outs "uneventful" but it is sometimes the best part of the trip: The feeling of having accomplished a challenging climb and now enjoying nature without tension.

Some time in the afternoon we were back at the cars and suddenly the nice trip was over. What a delight to have had the company of a good friend. Ali and I climbed many other peaks together but this trip was one of our best.

We always think life goes on and on and we can climb again and again. But then one day Ali had a fatal mountaineering accident and was gone forever. How much I miss his companionship! I thought of him when I saw a sign in the Alps saying, in translation, "Each trail has once an end".

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