Black Kaweah, Mount Kaweah, Red Kaweah
By: Bill Oliver
Reiner's list included Black, Red and Big Kaweah. I had climbed the last-mentioned with Joe Andrews and Jan Rayman in 1990 (followed by a major food theft by a bear). Our SPS trip was converted to private a week before departure as none of the other participants (Ali Aminian, Jim Fugimoto or Michael Brago, from Bakersfield) were rated leaders (and I was not interested in ever again climbing Mt. Kaweah). We departed the Mineral King trailhead at 7:25 Friday morning, topped Glacier Pass at 10:45, "summited" Black Rock Pass at 1:35, and reached the old cabin in the Big Arroyo at 4:15 - somewhat weary but in ample time for a refreshing dip before happy hour.
Reiner's dilemma was which two peaks to climb on day two. Sat. we were up at 4:30 and enroute to the Black Kaweah an hour later. The tip of the peak is visible from camp, and one pretty much heads north, straight up the canyon wall. The standard route is now well established, having been fixed by Philip Smith in 1921 (Roper's Route #2). Jon Inskeep has allowed me to quote from his excellent route description (CMC Newsletter, 12/90):
"The easiest route up Black Kaweah is best examined from the large lake at 11,550', southwest of the peak. Viewed from here, the summit is not the sharp point on the right, but the more rounded one which looks lower, to the left past two notches. Guidebooks talk of two chutes: a right-hand one you start out in, and a left-hand one you cross into and follow to the summit. Don't expect these chutes to jump out at you. The one on the right is wide, shallow, and does not extend all the way to the summit ridge; it breaks up into a series of parallel cracks. It has a section of dark black rock not far up from the bottom. The left chute appears to go all the way to a large notch in the summit ridge, which it does, and it has quite a bit of very light-colored, water-polished rock up it center. There is a difficult steep section at the bottom of the left chute, so start in the one on the right, then cross over using one of the ramps going to the left below the black rock. The first ramp is only about 100 feet from the bottom and there is another steeper one about 50 feet below the black rock. We took the lower one, marked by ducks, and crossed over to the far left side of the left chute. Climbing this chute, we usually went left whenever we encountered difficulty in the center. This climb is Class 3 and can be done safely without a rope, but not without helmets." (Barbara Lilley has also given a similar but shorter route description, ECHO, 9/67.)
We arrived at the base of the right-hand chute at 7:45 and summitted at 9:50. We also took the lower ramp up to the left chute. On our descent, however, we utilized the steeper higher one, which also has ducks, and which I would favor as it bypasses some upper 3rd CI in the left chute. Our rope was not needed. Hard hats and not-large parties are essential. Rainer at al left the top at 10:35 - enroute to climb the Red Kaweah! I stayed until noon as my early on intent was to carefully photograph each page of the register and mend as necessary - the former action to preserve the record against theft, and the latter to forestall premature rescue. The book, placed in 1924, is only about one third full. (I need to return in '92 as several of my slides of the more recent pages came out too dark.)
Reiner summitted the Red at 3:10, seconded a little later by Ali (the other two had long since headed for camp). From the base of the Black, they entered the next cirque east by crossing the intervening long ridge at its low point. They departed the top at 4:00 and reached camp at 7:30 - weary but elated.
Sunday was not a day of rest. Michael (the non-SPSer) headed home. The rest of us left at 6:00 am: Reiner, Ali and Jim went for Big Kaweah while I climbed the Red. The former group was on top from 10 to 11 am and made it back to camp at 2 pm. I was astride the Red from 10:50 to 11:35, and reached camp at 3:30. Roper is vague regarding the Red Kaweah. Route: ascend high into the cirque, well above Lake 11,795'. Approach the top by chutes northwest of the summit - and return the same way to avoid cliffs. Expect a lot of loose scree, followed by easy to moderate 3rd CI on the ridge; hard hats useful. I also mended this register, placed in 1936. It appears that a page or two after the first may be lost. There was no time to attempt Michael's Pinnacle, which would clearly require a rope if done from the Red.
Camp was re-established at Little Five Lake 10,476'. Monday we came the rest of the way out: 7:20 am to 1:15 pm. As I prefer loops, we exited over Hands-and-Knees Pass (aka Bunny Ears Pass), the 11,145' notch east of Spring Lake. Head clockwise around Lake 10,476' and then over the saddle SW of bump 11,200'; contour SWerly on the use trail to the pass.
Amazingly, none of us nor anyone we met saw any bears. The bearbox is near the old cabin, where the trail crosses the stream. Be sure to put all food/toothpaste, etc. in the box. While climbing, we secured our backpacks and sleeping bags in the cabin itself and left our tents open. Although still abandoned, the cabin was restored last summer by Sequoia's Historic Restoration Crew. It is now rain- proof and would be bear-proof if no food is left in it! Although not exactly a leisure trip, our party was strong and eager. The mountain spirits had conspired in our favor for a very enjoyable and satisfying excursion. My thanks to Reiner for his usual superb co-lead.
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