The Far Side of Farquhar
(slabs and solitude)

30 Sep - 3 Oct 2014 - by Steve Eckert (view roster page)

I've been wanting to explore the back side of Farquhar since I did Secor's route in 2010. Something always seemed to get in the way of raising a group, so after being denied by a snowstorm I waited a few days for the snow to melt and went mid-week. This time of year the infamous Road's End Ranger Talk can be avoided, along with the exorbitant $20 permit fee. Self-issue, and no 8am line!! I left my car around 5pm and strolled into the bear box camping area at the Sphinx Creek junction (waypoint BC01) just as full darkness fell. Late September and still getting into the 80s at Cedar Grove. Wow.

7 miles from the trailhead I left the trail along Bubbs Creek at 7400'. I wasted time searching the creek for a safe place to cross as I walked up-canyon near the junction between North Guard Creek and Bubbs Creek. I finally found a very old 3' diameter log across the creek within easy sight of the trail (waypoint NGCBUB) about 0.1 mi east of the stream junction (which I never saw through the trees). Fill with water at the crossing, because it's almost 2000' up to where you have good access to the stream. Relatively minor brush under tall trees leads to 10' high willows that you just have to wade through. The willows are too dense to duck under and often inches thick at the base, but sometimes you can bend them over and step up on them without doing any damage. (Just don't slip!)

I followed a line of tall trees up to the base of the slabby cliffs (waypoint NGCTR1), then traversed west hugging the cliffs in the kill zone where rocks and snow have cleared the brush. When trees were above me again, I picked one of a number of lines up through the trees to another set of slabby cliffs (waypoint NGCTR2), and again traversed west in the kill zone. Do not approach the creek between these two traverses, or if you do be prepared to climb steeply away from the creek to the second traverse. (I did better on the way down than on the way up.)

the steepest slabs, with route marked in red (telephoto shot from trail)
NorthGuardCreekEastSide.jpg

The hardest part of this approach is near waypoint NGCRUX at 8400'. About 100' of class 2-3 slabs connect the upper traverse to the broad uniform slabs where North Guard Creek cascade is so notable from the trail. There are a few handholds, and I needed them when my Vibram-soled boots slipped on the somewhat polished surface. The bottom of the crux measures 40 degrees, the top is a little steeper and has mostly stemming friction holds against a wall that gets more overhanging as you climb. There is a reasonable horn at the top, where I installed a hand line on the way down, so you may want to carry a lightweight static rope 60-80' long. This crux pitch would be almost impossible after a rain, or with even a little frost or snow on it.

looking up at the crux move
CruxLookingUp.jpg

Above the crux you can meander back and forth across broad slabs that start at 40 degrees and gradually get less steep as you ascend. The granite is quite clean and has good traction with crystals, but watch out for moss and occasional gravel! The runout is blank (no holds or ledges) with increasingly steep slope leading to a cliff with a long drop into the creek. That rounded slope was very disconcerting on the way down. It reminded me of the first and only serious glissade accident I witnessed (as a teenager), where everything was OK until the guy fell from a standing glissade and sped up just before the slope got steeper and he vanished behind the curvature yelling "god help me!"

LeftOfMossySeep.jpg

I crossed to the west side of the stream around 9100' to avoid boulder fields, but that side has some brush. It's easy to re-cross anywhere if you decide you like the other side better. Both North Guard Lake and the lower unnamed lake have substantial stands of trees where you can camp on duff and get out of the wind. Unfortunately the valley is very narrow here and the sun sets very early. If you want more sun, camp in the meadow above North Guard Lake, or even on exposed slabs and sand at the two unnamed lakes just under 11k. Both lakes have some obstacles to getting around them, but the west shores go as class 2. There are no ducks or use trails in this drainage. One can imagine that no human has ever tramped here... until one finds an old fire ring.

UpperNorthGuardCreek.jpg

I camped near the 10100' outlet of North Guard Lake, on soft duff. Nothing froze overnight in the trees, but out in the meadows the mud froze hard as a rock. I did not start early and I did not walk fast and I took long breaks. I was on top by 1pm and back in camp by 5pm including a stop to jump in the stream. The terrain in this drainage is a very friendly mix of grass and slabs with almost no boulder hopping. I detoured to the lakes above 11k to get water and verify the camping would be good there, then dropped back into the drainage leading to Farquhar's south ridge.

FarquharFinalApproachZoom.jpg

At 11.7k I turned up through a band of blocks and walked mostly sand and talus to the summit. There are some huge boulders to hop if you're not careful, and it's easier to pick an efficient line on the way down than on the way up, but there's no false summit so just go up! It's all Class 2 unless you try to make it harder.

There is a fancy metal register box bolted to the wrong summit. It has the same toilet paper core that I signed in on 4 years ago, and a few other scraps of paper, but this time I found the glass jelly-jar with a spiral notebook register near the high point. To get there from the metal box, drop about 20' down the south ridge, then traverse north 20' below the notch and under the flake which is the high point. Climb up vertical 3rd class with bomb-proof holds (mixed with loose holds) until you can edge around the south side of the flake to a safe place to stand on the west side of the flake. You just walked right over the jar, down in a crack. The flake itself is only a few inches thick and taller than me, so I decided hands (and not feet) on the high point were enough.

I liked this route better than the Sphinx drainage route in Secor's book. It's not really shorter, with 7 miles of trail and 4 miles of cross-country, but the walking is nicer and you don't have to grind down the Sphinx switchbacks. There is some brush, but you can consider it the George Creek of Sequoia and brag about it later! The slabs were more challenging than I wanted, which might just be because I wasn't sure the route actually worked. I'd love to hear from someone who stayed west of North Guard Creek where I was on slabs... I didn't see a way through the low cliffs but above 8k the route looked substantially safer and more all-weather.

RouteMap.jpg

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or convert your own data (from Topo! etc) to GPX format. (Feedback welcome!)

Datum,North America 1983,GRS 80,0,-1.6E-7,0,0,0
RouteName,1 ,BUBBS CREEK BOXES
RoutePoint,D,BC01, 36.7802000046,-118.5363700390,08/05/2001,21:04:04,BUBBS CREEK AT SPHINX CREEK
RoutePoint,D,BC03, 36.7706799507,-118.4852000475,08/05/2001,21:04:04,CHARLOTTE CREEK
RouteName,2 ,SPHINX CREEK
RoutePoint,D,CEDARG, 36.7891700268,-118.6727999449,11/13/2001,04:30:51,CEDAR GROVE TURNOFF
RoutePoint,D,ROADND, 36.7952699661,-118.5828100443,11/13/2001,04:31:24,ROADS END PERMIT KIOSK
RoutePoint,D,FOOTB1, 36.7892500162,-118.5527499914,07/27/2010,17:07:58,FOOTBRIDGE 5100
RoutePoint,D,FOOTB2, 36.7800699472,-118.5370999575,07/27/2010,17:09:24,FOOTBRIDGE 6300
RoutePoint,D,SPHJCT, 36.7558000088,-118.5310200453,07/27/2010,17:10:13,SPHINX LK LEAVE TRAIL
RoutePoint,D,SPCK01, 36.7449400425,-118.5270899534,07/27/2010,17:12:39,
RoutePoint,D,SPCK02, 36.7395838499,-118.5240304470,07/27/2010,17:13:20,
RoutePoint,D,SPCK03, 36.7343903780,-118.5204029083,07/27/2010,17:13:29,
RoutePoint,D,SPCK04, 36.7306994200,-118.5176670551,07/27/2010,17:13:41,
RoutePoint,D,SPCK05, 36.7248526812,-118.5122561455,07/27/2010,17:13:59,
RoutePoint,D,FARQSS, 36.7239199877,-118.4973000288,07/27/2010,17:15:11,SOUTH SADDLE 12200
RoutePoint,D,FARQUM, 36.7284799814,-118.4983199835,07/27/2010,16:10:51,7X11 FARQUHAR MT 12887
RouteName,3 ,NORTH GUARD CREEK
RoutePoint,D,CEDARG, 36.7891700268,-118.6727999449,11/13/2001,04:30:51,CEDAR GROVE TURNOFF
RoutePoint,D,ROADND, 36.7952699661,-118.5828100443,11/13/2001,04:31:24,ROADS END PERMIT KIOSK
RoutePoint,D,FOOTB1, 36.7892500162,-118.5527499914,07/27/2010,17:07:58,FOOTBRIDGE 5100
RoutePoint,D,FOOTB2, 36.7800699472,-118.5370999575,07/27/2010,17:09:24,FOOTBRIDGE 6300
RoutePoint,D,NGCBUB, 36.7668246031,-118.4696044922,09/29/2014,21:48:42,N GUARD JCT BUBBS CK 7400
RoutePoint,D,NGCTR1, 36.7639499903,-118.4708499908,10/01/2014,19:00:42,TRAVERSE AT BASE OF CLIFFS
RoutePoint,D,NGCTR2, 36.7625000477,-118.4734799862,10/01/2014,19:46:47,TRAVERSE AT BASE OF CLIFFS
RoutePoint,D,NGCRUX, 36.7621699572,-118.4749499559,09/29/2014,21:49:16,TOP OF HARDEST SLABS
RoutePoint,D,NG2800, 36.7574185133,-118.4771865606,09/29/2014,21:51:58,2800M IS 9200
RoutePoint,D,NG3000, 36.7494800091,-118.4762400389,09/29/2014,21:50:16,3000M OUTLET 9800
RoutePoint,D,NGLAKE, 36.7446999550,-118.4771000147,09/29/2014,21:50:36,CAMP NEAR OUTLET 10100
RoutePoint,D,NGCFAR, 36.7329499722,-118.4804999828,09/29/2014,21:52:51,TAKE SMALLER DRAINAGE
RoutePoint,D,FARFAC, 36.7253108025,-118.4916076660,10/02/2014,18:06:08,TURN UP THEN CROSS SE FACE
RoutePoint,D,FARQSS, 36.7239199877,-118.4973000288,07/27/2010,17:15:11,SOUTH SADDLE 12200
RoutePoint,D,FARQUM, 36.7284799814,-118.4983199835,07/27/2010,16:10:51,7X11 FARQUHAR MT 12887


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