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This outing would have been far more daunting had we not made a similar trip the prior year to Black Kaweah and found it not so bad as first imagined. The Black Kaweah outing had not only the novelty of a long dayhike to the remote range, but the class 3-4 difficulty of the climbing once we got there. This one would have nothing to compare from a technical standpoint, and consequently we were more relaxed and had a rather enjoyable time of it. Mt. Kaweah is not only an SPS peak, but was the last of the 15 Emblem peaks that Matthew and I had yet to dayhike. A goal I had been working on for almost five years was finally going to see fruition. Rick Kent joined Matthew and I for the adventure, though he hadn't been with us for the two acclimatization days prior - this would come back to affect him as the day wore on. Rick showed up around 9-10p at our chalet in Silver City with the two of us long in bed - we were getting up at 1:30a for the start, meaning little sleep for Rick.
We got underway from the Mineral King trailhead just after 2a, more or less as planned. We took the old trail that follows on the north side of Monarch Creek up to Glacier Pass. As the trail leaves the creek and climbs the steep hillside towards the pass, it is easy to lose the faint path. Having just come down this way two days earlier, I was better able to follow the trail by headlamp than the others, but to be honest it didn't really serve to any advantage as the hillside could be as easily climbed without the trail as with, thanks to generally low brush and easy cross-country travel. A nearly full moon made the nighttime navigation easier still. It took less than two hours to reach Glacier Pass, and after a short break we descended the snow-lined slopes on the other side, careful to take advantage of the old trail where it passes through a cliff band in the upper reaches of the north side.
By 5a we had descended to Spring Lake and climbed up to the Great Western Divide at Hands and Knees Pass to the east. It was still quite dark, but our previous experience on this route made for little route-finding trouble and we were soon on our way down to Little Five Lakes Basin. We found the trail coming down from Blackrock Pass as the day began to dawn, and in the early morning light we continued past Little Five Lakes and down to the Big Arroyo which we reached by 7a. It was the coldest part of the day, just before dawn with the cold night air trapped in the wide, forested basin. Frost was on the ground as we donned an extra layer, but not so cold as to resort to gloves and warmer hats. It would soon grower warmer.
We followed the trail east out of the Big Arroyo, past Black and Red Kaweah, gently climbing the slopes south of Second Kaweah and Mt. Kaweah (which presumably must also be First Kaweah). Sunrise hit the eastern slopes of the Great Western Divide now well behind us, even as we continued in the shade provided by the main Kaweah crest. We left the trail after about three miles from the last junction, just past one of several creeks trickling down from the steep hillside, somewhere before the trail topped out. We spent the next several hours following this slope upward, steep at first, then easing off, then steep again as it rises above treeline and becomes a talus and boulder scramble for the last several thousand feet. We aimed for the saddle between Second Kaweah and our main target, reaching the windy point at 10a. I ducked over the north side a short distance to get out of the wind, where I took a break and waited for Matthew. Rick by this time was further behind, maybe another five minutes. Matthew and I had already started up the last 500ft or so before Rick had a chance to catch up. He was starting to seriously feel the effects of non-acclimatization, not altogether enjoying himself at this point.
The climb was now mostly over larger blocks, a moderately steep slope to a false summit, followed by a traverse along the summit ridge to the highpoint at the east end of the ridge. It was 10:30a, and 8.5hrs to reach the summit. Matthew was only a minute behind, followed by Rick about ten minutes later. He was certainly looking the worst of the three of us, though in typical Rick fashion his complaints were understated. You get the feeling that if he was on death's door the most he'd have to say would be something like, "I don't feel so well." The skies were clear and visibility outstanding, with views as far north as Ritter-Banner, and south to the Transverse Ranges on the far horizon. We could identify dozens of peaks in the area, many of them among the most remote peaks of the range. I made a particular study of Picket Guard not far to the north, a peak Matthew had spent 23.5hrs dayhiking a few weeks earlier - possibly the toughest peak on the SPS list to dayhike. Matthew had approached it from Whitney Portal, but I'm hoping a shorter route out of Mineral King can be managed. There were two registers in the CAC summit box, the earliest dating to the 1980s. It was interesting to note that one of the earliest entries was from Tina Stough in 1981, making for her 25th SPS peak at the time. Twenty six years later and just a month before our arrival Tina had summited for a third time, this time as Tina Bowman, having completed the SPS, DPS, and HPS peak lists twice(!) in the interim.
After an unusually lengthy stay at the summit (more than half an hour), we descended back to the saddle along the ridge that we had first climbed to. Though I was far from fresh at this point, I decided I wanted to tackle the extra thousand feet to Second Kaweah while I was so close. Neither Matthew nor Rick could be convinced to do likewise, happy to call it a day and begin the return. They continued down as I made my way along the ridge and then up the East Ridge to the summit. It was 12:15p when I topped out on the easternmost of three summit pinnacles. I had heard that an old register was located on the summit, but could find nothing at the first (and highest, as it turned out) of the pinnacles. I then made my way along the ridge heading west, tagging the other two in succession, but still finding no register. At the westernmost pinnacle, I found myself looking at the end of the easy traverse - from here the ridgeline becomes highly fractured and difficult, class 4-5 from what I could see. I decided to drop into a very steep chute directly below the westernmost summit on the south side. It had a good deal of class 3 in the upper reaches that I was careful to descend, followed by plenty of loose, crappy class 2 stuff at the bottom where a large talus fan spreads out beneath the chute.
Another hour brought me down the south slopes of the Kaweah range to the trail below and back to the Big Arroyo. At the Bear Box located at the trail junction I retrieved some gear and food I had cached earlier in the morning to save weight. I had some beef jerky, some chocolate milk, and was shortly on my way again. It was after 2p and the weather was almost hot down in the basin. Thankfully it cooled off as I gained altitude up to Little Five Lakes Basin. I had hoped I might run into the others somewhere along the way, but it would have meant they stopped for a long nap or were waylaid by something - I was on my own for the rest of the day. It was after 5p by the time I had climbed back over Hands and Knees Pass and then down to Spring Lake. I got to the top of Glacier Pass about 30 minutes before sunset, but I would need my headlamp by the time I had scrambled back down to the trail below. It was completely dark by the time I had returned to Mineral King. To my surprise, the others were still there, having returned more than an hour earlier. I had expected they'd leave me a car and take the other back to Silver City, which they told me they were planning to do just as I arrived. Driving back to the resort, we stopped at the restaurant/store to see if we could get some dinner. Though the place was locked up, the owner opened for us and sold us some leftover tri-tip from the previous night - we will forever be indebted to her! We took the fixin's back to our chalet where we cooked up some delicious steak sandwiches to finish the day. Thus ended our quest for dayhiking the Emblem peaks, and it was with a great deal of satisfaction and full bellies that we went to bed that night...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Kaweah - Second Kaweah
This page last updated: Wed Nov 7 16:22:18 2007
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