Mt. Kaweah

1-3 Sep 2001 - by Mike Mcdermitt

This was a successful 3-day solo trip to climb Mt. Kaweah (13,802') from Mineral King via Glacier Pass and Black Rock Pass. A detailed trip report and route description follows.

Arrived at Mineral King at mid-day on Friday after picking up topo maps the day before at Blueprint Service Co. in Bakersfield, which sells all kinds of maps, professional grade compasses and a lot of other neat stuff. Got a permit at the Mineral King ranger station for entry Saturday and rented a bear canister, then settled down in a cabin at the Silver City Resort (great store has everything, restaurant has good food, cabins - no hot water, no elec, no sheets- ain't cheap) to relax and pack.

Drove the few miles to the Sawtooth Pass trailhead (appx. 7,800') Saturday morning and was hiking by 8am. The trail to Sawtooth Pass is initially fairly steep the first mile or so then steadies out to an easy grade with long switchbacks that is easy to handle. As probably the first hiker through that morning, I was treated to the sight of deer at several spots, many sporting fuzzy 4-point antlers, all leisurely munching on breakfast not disturbed by my presence. On the way to Mineral Lake, I noted one map error - the trail is not shown correctly in the vicinity of where it divides, with the other branch going to Crystal Lake. As it turns out, the intersection is clearly signed so there is no need for one to presume that it has been missed (and retrace steps, as I did) if the map vs. local topography seems to suggest it has been passed. Reaching Mineral Lake, the trail swings over and starts up sandy slopes towards Sawtooth and Glacier Pass. Very unpleasant. At around 11,200' I realized that the trail I was on (there are many in the sand) didn't seem to be making the veer over towards Glacier Pass as indicated by the map, so rather than continuing up I sidehilled over, ending up only slightly above the 11,100' pass. At that point I stopped for lunch and relaxed for about 30 minutes. From this direction the pass is the approximate low point although higher up there also seems to be a passable ledge down [NOTE: when coming from Spring Lake, the pass is the low point to the left of a whitish knob which itself is left of the true low point]. The correct route is on dark rock and has a trail over it. Going down there is one point where some careful hand holds are necessary otherwise it is basically class 1 on trail. The trail, faint in just a couple of places, then continues all the way down to Spring Lake. I contoured around at the 10,000 foot level towards the Black Rock Pass trail which was quite clearly visible across the valley. The contouring idea is not advisable, it was not that bad but not pleasant either and definitely not worth saving 200'; I did better going more direct on the way back as described below.

The Black Rock Pass trail is in good condition and nicely switchbacked however the pass is high (11,600'). In the afternoon sun after the gain and mileage already completed, it seemed like forever to reach the pass. Again the map was inaccurate as regards the switchbacks (there are more than indicated) and for awhile had me thinking I was higher than in fact I was. At or shortly before 5pm I reached the top and took a food break a few feet below on the other side. At which point, the Kaweah range came into view - WOW, comparable to the view of the Ritter Range from San Joaquin ridge. Within an hour on good trail I was down to Little Five Lakes and found a spot at ~10,500' near the intersection with the trail down to Big Arroyo. Visiting a few minutes with the nearby ranger before dinner, he offered up a shortcut for my route tomorrow.

Up early the next day and on the trail by 6.30am. I do not have any trip reports nor Secor since this trip was impromptu after some car trouble nixed the rest of my planned east side trips. I follow the trail towards Big Arroyo for about a mile to the outlet stream for the group of lakes beneath Mt. Eisen, cross the stream, then leave the trail and start following the stream down to Big Arroyo. Per the ranger, Big Arroyo is low this year and can be crossed anywhere; he recommends this route to save mileage so I try it. It's a long way down but goes OK and Big Arroyo is indeed low and easily crossed anywhere. I cross it then head uphill and to the right towards the High Sierra trail. I realize after the fact that the mileage saved is somewhat offset by the effort of a very steep uphill non-trail climb, but I reach the High Sierra trail without undue difficulty at about the 10,000' level after a gain of 500' or so (but make a note to take the trail on the way back which, for the return at least, is advisable).

Following along the High Sierra trail I now need to find a suitable place to leave the trail and veer towards Mt. Kaweah. After using compass to locate my position on the trail, I reach a point where the trail crosses the outlet stream for the lake which is almost dead south of Red Kaweah. Shortly thereafter I leave the trail heading uphill and across (southeast). My intended route is to go up the north side of a prominent broad rib between Mt. Kaweah and Second Kaweah to the connecting ridge between them, then over and up to the peak of Mt. Kaweah. Observation the prior day had shown a red streak seemingly indicative of something short of a use trail in the talus on the north side of the rib. Proceeding at first through forest, which progressively thinned as I gained altitude, I cross a couple of small streams not on the map but which drain small ponds that are on the map. Eventually at about 11,600' I break into the open and stop for lunch. Clouds are building; I hope they are harmless as I know I will be pushing my turn-around time. Starting up, I now have a 2,000'+ class 2 talus grind on an open high windy slope. However it is a short distance and relatively steep grade, so elevation is gained fairly quickly. By about 1pm I am near the ridge between Second Kaweah and Mt. Kaweah at 12,800'+ but the peak stills seems quite distant and clouds keep building, though mostly to the west. Persevering, I continue on and eventually top out on the peak ridge just before 2pm, a few hundred feet northeast of the peak. A few minutes later and I am at the peak and settle down in the nicely constructed wind shelter for food and drink. Views east to the Whitney group and west to the Great West divide are outstanding. The skies do not have any smoke but to the west plenty of very large clouds. The register indicates this to be a less frequently-visited peak. I stay for about 45 minutes, and then start down. I aim for a small lake almost due south of the peak, intending to pick up the trail as quickly as possible and spend less time cross-country. The going seems slow but is mostly easy class 1 for the first 1,000 or 2,000 feet until the grade picks up then some class 2 down to tree line, on the way passing what appeared to be a grove of bristlecone pines. The talus however is unremitting all the way to the small lake (dry as per Secor) which appears out of nowhere after I had given up on finding it. The trail is right there and so by about 4.30pm (as I recall) I am northeast bound on the High Sierra trail. The sun is shining but the skies over the Great Divide are filled with huge clouds, (making for an absolutely beautiful view) and it is raining over by Farewell Gap. I move right along, following the trail down to and across Big Arroyo. The first raindrops begin at that point, so I pull out my raincoat and get moving; there is a 1,000' gain over 3 miles back to camp and it is just almost 6pm. As I proceed up the grade out of Big Arroyo, the raindrops continue, not heavy just harassing. When it starts to seem like real rain, I stop and put on the rain pants, but then it backs off again. Fine. As I approach camp, the sunset is stunning in both directions. The Kaweahs are shrouded in low-hanging grey clouds; the setting sun, not visible below the peaks but apparently shining through Kaweah Gap, leaves a red streak across the range at about the 12,00' level; in all a very dramatic scene. Finally I reach camp about 7.30pm, an approximate 13 hour day for roughly 18 miles and 5,300' gross gain. Now, dinner or tarp first? I start working on dinner and then oops - the rain and hail really start. Dashing around trying to stay dry. About 9pm it stops and I come out and start wringing out everything left out in the wet. My dinner is still warm (the styrofoam cup for the ramen noodles really insulates well!) so that's a big plus. I quickly down dinner & hit the hay.

Up the next day at 6.30am under clear skies. Most everything is wet but I am in no rush and am moving slowly anyway. Taking the time to dry out everything in the warm sun while having breakfast, I do not break camp until 10.15am. By that time, everything in my pack is dry but yes clouds are already in the sky. The 1,400' and two miles of trail up to Black Rock Pass go reasonably quickly, I am over the pass and after a quick bite am heading down the other side by noon. Clouds continue to build and now I am constantly in the shade; precip seems only a matter of time. The reward on the way down was the view at about the 11,000' level of Spring, Cyclamen and Columbine Lakes beneath Needham and Sawtooth peaks: an outstanding otherworldly sight of blue ovals floating in a sea of fractured grey granite in flat light that truly looks straight off a Yes album (and I was never that much of a Yes fan). At perhaps 9,900' I come across a trail intersection with an old trail - clearly originally a constructed trail, not a use trail - and follow it until it disappears in the flats at 9,800'. Then continue cross-country across Cliff Creek and up to Spring Lake. The raindrops have started so after crossing Cliff Creek I put on the rain suit. At Spring Lake I pick up the trail to Glacier Pass. Quickly refilling water bottles in what is now steady rain and hail I then start up the trail, which except for one or two spots is easy to follow all the way up to the pass. It is now very wet and cold, prime hypothermic conditions, so I keep moving and pretty soon reach the pass and get over it - there is one spot where maybe a class 2/3 move is needed otherwise a walk up trail - then hike across sandy slopes towards the Sawtooth Pass trail. There are myriad footpaths in the sand, I follow the ones that seem to make sense without much deliberation and find my way down towards Mineral Lake, eventually finding a nice 'chute' that is mostly rock and easy to step down which takes me out of the sand (now being wet the sand is firm and I can't slide down it). [NOTE: For those headed up to Glacier Pass from Mineral Lake, at the THIRD GREEN POLE there is a duck indicating the bottom of this 'chute', which makes for much easier uphill travel.] Coming to Mineral Lake, I smell cigar smoke and after assuming it's a mild hallucination, I find a backpacker who has bivy'd under the great bivy rock by the bear box there, who has in fact broken out a cigar. So much for surprises. The rest of the trek down to the trailhead is uneventful but wet and I get back to the car at about 5.20pm with the rain still falling. The simple drive on Mineral King road takes more than [half] of the entire drive time back to San Francisco. But I am rewarded with a beautiful sunset. Trip stats for the 3 days: approx. 42 miles and 13,000' gross gain. IMHO, I do not understand why Secor and the SPS rate Mt. Kaweah class 1, there is no trail on the mountain and no way to walk up with hands in pockets.

Owen Maloy adds:

The Class 1 route on Kaweah starts a half-mile or so south of the small lake. Like Mike, I ran into Class 2 above the lake, which is where I started up. Go past the lake of coming form the north, then go up.

Christopher Jain adds:

So if I walk up the E. Side of Half Dome, without using the cable trail, or Snake Dike just above where the dike ends (both generally considered Class 4 friction), are those also Class 1?

Class 1 is walking without use of the hands, like though the woods in Illinois. Don't have to have a trail. As you say, some trails are Class 2.

San Joaquin Peak is Class 1 from Mammoth.

Owen Maloy rejoins:

> So if I walk up the E. Side of Half Dome ...  also Class 1?

I guess that depends on how sticky your shoes are. :)

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