Black Kaweah: Earning an adventure

 

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Black Kaweah (L) above Little Five Lakes. It’s so far away it’s not even worth re-living it!

The wild Kaweahs of the southern Sierra Nevada have long been on my mind. Their reputation for remoteness, lightning strikes, loose rock make even approaching these peaks a challenging and rewarding experience. Jonathan and I set off from the Bay Area for Sequoia National Park’s Mineral King late in the evening to miss traffic. By the time we got to the trailhead, it was 2:30 AM and we were delirious. I did my standard bivouac on top of a picnic table, slept like a rock and woke up at 7 to get packing. Fortunately, Jonathan and I were on the same page with our gear…no tent, trail running shoes, and 3oz windbreakers would be our weapons of choice. Offsetting the lightweight clothing, we opted to take a ton of food and a full climbing rope and rack for an shot at the seldom-attempted Kaweah traverse, a notoriously heinous, loose climbing objective. After a long talking to by the rangers, we set off cross country over two high ranges, crossing Glacier Pass and Hands and Knees Pass before dropping down to our bivy spot on Big Arroyo.

Spring Lake

Spring Lake

Foxtail Pine

Foxtail Pine

It was a tough day, but Little Five Lakes are as beautiful as they’re talked up to be! We got to bed early in order to accommodate a 3AM start up Black Kaweah. From the beginning, I could tell my lack of sleep and nutrition were affecting things. Both of us felt the altitude during the night, but as we ascended above the spectacular tarns en route to Black Kaweah, my altitude symptoms worsened. By the time we were scrambling and soloing the challenging rock high on the peak, I was definitely feeling it. Nonetheless, we reached Black Kaweah’s remote and tiny summit and were rewarded with sweeping views of the entire range. We also learned we were the first visitors here since September of last year. Given how remote (probably 20+ miles of mostly cross country travel to reach the peak alone) and challenging the climb, that’s not too surprising.

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Jonathan on the summit. It was cold...glad we brought the puffies.

Jonathan on the summit. It was cold…glad we brought the puffies.

Typical loose, thought-provoking bowling alley terrain on Black Kaweah

Typical loose, thought-provoking bowling alley terrain on Black Kaweah

But the ridge looked far too loose and questionable to be fun, so we descended and charged out of the range, crossing the Great Western Divide at Black Rock Pass along the way. Black Kaweah in a weekend was no joke (carrying a 60m rope all the way up it didn’t make it any easier), but it’s hard to complain with a beautiful, challenging and rewarding experience in sunny California. We got our money’s worth!

The ridge traverse looked too loose and committing for my taste.

The ridge traverse looked too loose and committing for my taste.

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The view west from atop Black Kaweah. We crossed all these peaks.

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