Kaweah Mountains

2012-08-10 -> 2012-08-16
Located in the center of Sequoia National Park, the Kaweah Mountains are a rugged ridge that heads south from the Great Western Divide. This was a 6 day trip to base camp at the Big Arroyo river from which we did two climbs. One climb was up Mount Kaweah (13,802') and over to Second Kaweah (13680'). The second was a difficult class 3 up Black Kaweah (13680'). On the way out I climbed both Empire Mountain (11,550') and Sawtooth Peak (12,343').

Maps


Map NameLink
Google Maps: Kaweah Mountains gmaps
Kaweah Mountains Routestopo7.5
100k Topo: Kaweah Mountainstopo100k

Trip Report

The Kaweah Mountains are a range located in Sequoia National Park. They are an isolated ridge of mountains that shoots off of the Great Western Divide into the middle of Sequoia National Park. They are a tall ridge of mountains with Mount Kaweah a big class 2 at an elevation of 13,802 feet. Our adventure to this ridge will turn into two climbs. The fist was up and over Mount Kaweah and along the ridge to Second Kaweah. The second climb was a tough class 3 to the top of the legendary Black Kaweah.

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Black Kaweah was rumored to have its original 1927 register on the mountain which was a long lasting log of the climbers. One famous signature on the list was signed in blood because he did not have a pen. This along with the climb being a more difficult class 3 is what lured us to these mountains. I was hoping to be able to add my name to such an old register (the oldest I have signed are some of the 1963 registers in the Seven Devils). We did summit Black Kaweah, but found out that the log had "disappeared" from the summit the summer before. It was a shame to see such a good log removed from its beloved home and I hope that the rumors are true that it was taken by a library and maybe a copy will be placed back on the mountain.

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Our tip into the Kaweahs will take us 6 days of backpacking plus a day driving on each end. The trail head is located at Mineral King an old mining town located up a long windy road outside of Visalia, CA. After a long day of driving from Reno, NV we made it to the trail head fairly late and slept in the parking lot waiting. The next morning we set out on the adventure.

  • Day 1-2: The Big Arroyo River

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    Waking up at the Mineral King parking lot we slowly get the rest of our gear stuffed in our backpacks to start up the trail, but first had to run down to the ranger station to get our park permit. After talking with the rangers for a bit we get back to the trail head, put our heavy packs on our shoulders and slowly start up the trail to Monarch Lakes.

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    To get to the Big Arroyo River we have to head over two high mountain cols. Our research lead us to the fast way was to first head up and over Glacial Pass and then drop down into the spring lake drainage and head up and over either Black Rock Pass or "Hands and Knees" (as many called it) pass. Although Black Rock pass was the higher and longer of the two choices, it had a trail which seemed like the better choice.

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    After about a mile on the trail to Monarch Lakes we hit an old trail junction that is not on the maps. At this junction we headed off the official trail and headed up the one marked with a sign saying it is not maintained. The trail starts off okay and has cairns marking it but after it gets up and into the valley leading to Glacial Pass it got hard to follow. At that point we worked our way up the valley and made it to Glacial Pass.

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    The back side of Glacial Pass was fairly rugged, but there was a fairly nicely marked trail, with cairns, that made heading down to Spring Lake a breeze. As we started down off the pass the first rain storm of the day started to drop on us. For the most part the storms were light and let up now and then but there were occasional moments of good rain fall and few trees to shelter us at this elevation.

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    Instead of heading to Spring Lake, we followed a nice ridge down to the creek below it and dropped down into the valley, crossed the creek, then headed up to meet with the Black Rock Pass Trail. By the time we get to the trail I am beginning to feel the wear of the first day, little rest and heavy backpack and we still have to make it up and over Black Rock Pass to Little Five Lakes for our first camp. After a snack we slowly work our way up the many many switch backs to the pass.

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    It had been raining on us for a while now up the pass and at the top was no exception. Despite the rain and the wind I dropped my pack on the pass but kept moving to keep warm and take some photos while I waited for Jason. Slightly after Jason got up there the storm started to break and we could see the sun shining on the now visible Kaweah Mountains. The combination of sun and rain made for a great double rainbow over Little Five Lakes Valley.

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    We had slightly over a mile to go to get to the lakes and camp and not much daylight left. We heafted our backpacks on for the final stretch and down the trail we went. Sore, tired and hungry we made it to Little Five Lakes, and set up camp, and took a nice nap. After a few hours of sleep we wake up and cook a nice fish dinner, and are happy that the next day was only to be a few hour hike the rest of the way to Big Arroyo River.

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    Day two was a very relaxing day. After sleeping in and a very slow and relaxing morning waking up in paradise we spent a good amount of time enjoying the lakes and relaxing. While we were cooking up an egg and sausage with veggies breakfast the rangers had returned to the Little Five Lakes ranger station and talked to us about our plans. One of the visiting rangers had climbed Second Kaweah the day before. Early in the afternoon we finally hit the trail and had a nice slow 2 hour hike down into the Big Arroyo.

    The campsite at the Big Arroyo is fairly popular as it is one of the main camps on the High Sierra Trail which heads which heads down the Big Arroyo River to the patrol cabin and then up and over Chagoopa Plateau. Our first night we only had one neighbor, a sole backpacker who was hiking the High Sierra Trail with very little supplies (for a light backpack) along with only a rough description of the area. We ended up hanging out and talking with our neighbor for a while including giving him an extra copy of one of our topos that had the trails and area all the way to Mount Whitney and Whitney Portal (the other end of the High Sierra Trail).

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  • Day 3: Mount Kaweah and Second (Grey) Kaweah

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    Mount Kaweah, an elevation of 13,802 feet, was the goal of the climb today. It is an easy class 2 (almost class 1) climb and also the tallest mountain so it will give us a nice day to get use to the high elevation (I rarely go above 12,000 feet on Idaho mountains). After we summit Mount Kaweah we will then spend a few hours walking along the class 2 ridge to Second (or Grey) Kaweah, an elevation of 13,680 feet.

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    We finally start up the trail after taking our time tending to camp and breakfast. After saying goodbye to our neighbor and eating another good meal we put our day packs together and started up the mountain. The first part of the trip was to follow the High Sierra Trail up out of the Big Arroyo River and onto the Chagoopa Plateau, and at a small pond (shown on the 7.5" topo) we headed off the trail and worked our way up the giant, Mount Kaweah.

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    The day started out nice and sunny but soon enough (about the time we got off the High Sierra Trail) the thundershowers had blown in. As before we thought they wouldn't be that long and continued our way up the mountain. So we slowly work our way up the giant one step at a time. As the day keeps progressing the showers kept on raining on us. Yet it was not enough to turn us around and we continued to the top.

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    Slow and steady got me to the top of the mountain. By this time Jason had been sitting up there for around thirty minutes and the rain had been dropping on us steady for a few hours. It was a bit chilly up top with the wind and the rain and after we stat around on the top and cooled down from hiking we decided to keep moving as it is more comfortable and easier to stay warm. So after a quick snack and taking some photos on the top we headed down the ridge in the direction of Second Kaweah.

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    Walking the ridge was nice and it was great to see that though the side of the mountain we walked up was roundish, the other face was very steep and made my heart beat looking down the other side. Shortly after heading down the ridge the rain stopped and by the time we got to the top of Second Kaweah it had dried out a little bit and was much nicer to sit atop.

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    After signing the register on both peaks we headed down the mountain back to our base camp. The trip down was mostly uneventful, and we were both tired of spending a good portion of the day hiking up and over Mount Kaweah. So we just slowly made our way back down to the High Sierra Trail in as straight of a line as possible and made it back to our camp with a few hours of light left.

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    Back at camp, the sites were full and we had plenty of neighbors. All of them were following the High Sierra Trail, a popular route though the Sequoia National Park that ends with climbing Mount Whitney (or at least walking over its shoulder and down to Whitney Portal). Due to the popularity of Mount Whitney (tallest in the lower 48 states), this trail gets hundreds of people hiking it each year. After sharing some mounting climbing stories with our neighbors, we set up a camp fire and cook yet another wonderful dinner and plan to get a far earlier start to try to get Black Kaweah before the afternoons rains come in.

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  • Day 4: Black Kaweah

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    Blak Kaweah was going to be a though climb. Lucky for us the storms the night before blew out and we had clear skies at the start. So we got up and tried to get up the mountain before the afternoon storms start to come in. After a quick breakfast we put our day packs on and started up into the basin with the unnamed pond at about 11,560 feet.

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    Climbing out of the Big Arroyo to the base of the west face was fairly uneventful. We had great views of the sun shining on the peaks but soon enough we could see a few clouds in the sky. With our hopes high we kept plodding forward hoping we would be faster than the storms. When we got up into the basin we saw where we had to start climbing up the base and angled around the basin towards the face

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    As we approached the west face we pulled out the photos and description we had and tried to make sense of it. We had a little trouble at the start (we didn't head up close enough to what is referred to as the "Black Waterfall", but due to a nicely placed cairn we made are way back to the trail. For the most part the climb went straight up the shoot and was fairly straight forward to follow market with cairns. There was a few times we had trouble finding the next cairn, but it was never long until we saw another one and felt confidante we were heading up the right chute.

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    After climbing up this steep chute for a few hours we made it to the summit of Black Kaweah. The 1927 register was not there (as we already knew) and we signed the new one that had been placed atop the peak. Enjoying the view from the top we noticed that some rain clouds were heading our direction so we quickly gathered up our stuff and started down wanting to get off the face before any more heavy rains came.

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    Almost off the face is when the rain finally hit us and the rocks began to get a little slippery. We were so close to off the face we just pushed though the rain storm and made it off the peak with out incident. and slowly worked our way down to the pond below the face. After taking a nice long break at that pond looking up at the peak, the sun came back out and we had a nice afternoon walk back down to the Big Arroyo.

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    The day was over and we had climbed to the top of Black Kaweah and back. We got a good camp fire going and planed to take it easy the next morning and hopefully make it to Spring Lake to camp for the night. Taking our time we cooked up a large meal with the rest of our fresh food, and sat back and enjoyed the approaching evening.

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  • Day 5-6: The Return - Empire Mountain and Sawtooth Peak

    Alas our climbs in the Kaweah Mountains were done and we packed up to head back towards Mineral King. It was our plan to try and make it to Spring Lake by going over Hands and Knees pass and camp there. After a slow start we head out and make it up to Little Five Lakes. When we got to the lake the weather had turned on us and it looked like it was going to rain. We decided to just stay at Little Five Lakes and not try to make it to Spring Lake. And it was a good thing we made that decision, within moments of getting our tents set up it did began to rain on is, and it started to pour for a few hours.

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    After surviving the storm there was a small break in which we got out and cooked dinner, but another came in shortly after. So we curled up in our sleeping bags and slept though the night. By morning the storm was over and had blown completely out and it was clear blue skies. We got up, cooked a quick breakfast and made an early start to get back to Mineral King.

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    My plan was still to go over Hands and Knees pass as it seemed to be less elevation and distance. When I cut off the Black Rock Pass trail I thought Jason had seen me, but turned out he did not and he went up and over Black Rock Pass. After I figured out what had happened I just continued on by myself over Hands and Knees pass. For the most part I do think it is the nicer route but there is on tricky part right at the top of the Spring Lake Side. Trying to find the class 2 route over the rocks on the ridge is a bit tricky from the direction I was going and I ended up going down a small class 3 stretch with a full backpack.

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    After making it down to Spring Lake I kept looking for signs of Jason coming over Black Rock Pass. Not seeing him I continued on my way towards Glacial Pass. By the time I got to Glacial Pass I saw no signs of Jason. After eating lunch and waiting a bit I took my pack, stash it on a ridge above Monarch Lake and decided to take climb to the top of Empire Mountain right off the pass while I waited for Jason.

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    The plan worked out well. I was able to summit Empire Mountain and take a nice look around and then get back down to Glacial Pass about the same time as Jason. We exchanged stories, ate some snacks and decided we had time to climb up to the top of Sawtooth Peak.

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    From atop of Glacial Pass Jason and I worked our way up to the top of Sawtooth Peak. The class 2 climb was not up the ridge but more you stayed in the granite sand and worked your way around he large granite boulders. The closer you get to the ridge and the top of Sawtooth Peak the larger the boulders become until the top which was one large granite crag.

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    After sitting atop of Sawtooth Peak for a bit we knew our trip was over and it was time to get back to civilization. We had one more night left and while Jason went down to the trail head and slept in his vehicle, I had Monarch Lake all to my self and spent the evening sun walking around it and the upper lake. After a nice sunset and a beautiful clear day (the first day we had not been rained on). I slept until dawn, quickly packed up my backpack and hiked the few miles to the trail head.

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