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One of the downsides of backpacking (and there are many if you're looking at my take on things) is that it's difficult to get an early start. It was cold in late September in the Big Arroyo where our camp was established, hovering around freezing, and no one was all that eager to get out of the sack, least of all me. Michael was the first to be up, breakfasted and on his way around 7a, heading to Black and Red Kaweah. This was his first visit to the area and he was off to these SPS peaks that the rest of us had already climbed. Sean was next out of camp, heading to Lippincott and Eisen, two other SPS peaks. Matthew was stuck waiting for me to get my act together. We were the only ones traveling together today, heading to Red Spur and an unnamed 13er, both east of Mt. Kaweah. It was not expected to be a difficult day, but it did take hours longer than I had guessed - Red Spur is really far away, even from the Big Arroyo.
It was 7:30a before Matthew and I headed out of camp. Our route followed east along the High Sierra Trail for more than three miles before we would leave it to head cross-country towards our peaks. The hike along the HST was nice, rising gradually with views through the trees of the Big Arroyo drainage and the high peaks around Sawtooth, Needham and the Great Western Divide. We were shaded for much of the first hour as the sun gradually made its way over the bulge in Kaweah Ridge that is Red Spur. Big Kaweah loomed large on our left after the first hour. Our plan was to go around the base of this massive mountain to reach the lower peaks we were interested in behind it to the northeast. Red Spur is not so much a single point as a long ridgeline that forms the eastern extension of Kaweah Ridge. The highpoint of Red Spur lies at the northwest end, just northeast of Peak 13,284ft (more often referred to by its metric equivalent, Peak 4,049m). Matthew wanted to pay a visit to Kaweah Basin on the north side of these peaks afterwards, so our initial plan was to visit Red Spur first, followed by Peak 13,284ft which would leave him close to the pass just northeast of Mt. Kaweah.
Where we left the trail, the initial going wasn't too bad with open travel through forest up steep slopes. We probably left the trail too soon because we would find ourselves somewhat high on the southeast slopes of Mt. Kaweah, then starting a mile-long contour of the mountain to get around to the east side. We came across acres of boulder fields that proved tedious, broken by occasional reprieves of easier meadow travel before finding more boulders. The Chagoopa Plateau was proving to be more rock than anything else, at least by the route we had chosen. By 10:30a we had gotten a better visual bearing and decided that heading to Red Spur first was not our best choice as it would involve what looked like a great deal more terrain covered in boulders. Towering above us on the left was Peak 13,284ft which looked like it could be climbed directly up its South Slopes. We switched targets and headed for the higher, nearer summit.
The lower portions were compact talus, much better than it looked from a distance, making for swift progress initially. We aimed for a vague subsidiary ridge that splits the South Slope in two. To the west was the interesting-looking East Ridge of Mt. Kaweah, what we guessed was probably a more interesting route than the usual class 2 talus from the Big Arroyo. Between Mt. Kaweah and the peak we were climbing was Kaweah Pass and a small lake out of view. This was the class 2 pass matthew planned to take into Kaweah Basin. He was adjusting his plans at this point, thinking he'd have to come back over Peak 13,284ft after going to Red Spur in order to drop down through the pass. I was guessing he'd probably give up on Kaweah Basin before reaching Red Spur. The South Slope we were climbing steepened appreciably and we were soon struggling to maintain progress up the mixed rock and sand slopes. Though somewhat unstable, the rocky sections proved faster than the sandy ones and we stuck to these as much as possible. It wasn't until 11:30a that we reached the summit under fine skies. We looked around the summit cairn for a register but found none. Aside from the great views, the summit is pretty much just a non-descript pile of rocks, class 2 from most sides. There is a good sideways view of Kaweah Ridge to the west and a long stretch of the Sierra Crest to the east with the Kern River drainage between them. Looking south, one sees all of the Chagoopa Plateau and beyond into the Southern Sierra. The Kaweah Basin is to the north, though it looks very rocky and morainal - not the impressive beauty described by Secor. Perhaps one needs to actually be down in the basin to appreciate it. Maybe Matthew would espouse its untold wonders upon his return later.
We did not stay long and were soon on our way to Red Spur. After a short initial drop, there is an easy stretch across a high plateau before starting the more interesting part of the traverse between the two peaks. We bypassed an unnamed summit at the northeast end of this plateau by contouring around its southeast side. Getting well ahead of Matthew, I reached the saddle between the unnamed summit and Red Spur and began working my way across the ridgeline. There are some difficult gendarmes directly on the ridge, but it can be kept at class 3 by dropping on the south side as needed. I found the going more difficult than I was comfortable with and had to back off some, giving Matthew time to catch up and allow me to warn him to stay lower. We traversed around the south side over several ribs and gullies filled with loose rock before finally getting a close look at the final climb. A very enjoyable class 3 gully with good rock leads up most of the way. About 100ft below the summit the gully ends at a convenient ledge that leads around to the southeast side of the summit. One can then climb a short but fun class 3 section to the top or continue around the ledge to easier class 2 terrain on the east side of the summit. Having fallen behind again, Matthew did not see me climb the gully or the final stretch to the summit.
I got to the top just before 1p, well ahead of Matthew. He would be another 40 minutes, having some trouble with route-finding until he discovered the class 3 gully with good rock (it looks more difficult from a distance and he initially dismissed it). While waiting for Matthew out of the wind on the lee side of the mountain, I had plenty of time to peruse a MacLeod/Lilley register left in 1978. It had nine pages of entries, the last from 2011. It was no surprise that this remote summit sees few visitors. The summit provides a wonderful vantage point from which to view the Kern River drainage almost in its entirety. The deep chasm that it forms running in a straight line for many miles is particularly impressive.
Late as it was, Matthew decided against visiting the Kaweah Basin. The traverse had been sufficiently time-consuming and difficult that repeating it to go back over Peak 13,284ft no longer seemed reasonable. We still had plenty of time in the afternoon, and Matthew was game to join me on the traverse to Red Spur South along the ridgeline. Though it looks difficult from Peak 13,284ft and points southwest of the ridge, the northeast side of Red Spur is much gentler. Not exactly easy due to a preponderance of yet more boulders, but it had no technical difficulties. We spent something less than an hour traversing between the two summits of Red Spur, for the most part an enjoyable stretch of terrain with good views off one or both sides.
Red Spur South has very little prominence on top of having the trouble of defining an exact highpoint. We searched around several candidates points but found no register, benchmark or even a cairn to aid us. Of course it didn't really matter. By now it was getting on in the afternoon and we noticed clouds crowding in over the Great Western Divide to the west. Some of the clouds were surprisingly dark and forboding, though everything above us and to the east was beautiful blue sky. We descended to the southwest directly off Red Spur South, dropping some 1,500ft over more acres of boulders for something like half an hour. We could hardly have been more pleased to finally reach more solid ground found at the base. We still had more than three miles of cross-country travel back across the Chagoopa Plateau and the thought of several of those miles going over boulders was not appealing.
After emptying the sand and gravel debris from our shoes, we headed out, aiming for the large, unnamed lake about a mile away. The clouds, meanwhile, kept building over the GWD and were spilling into the Big Arroyo and over Kaweah Ridge. It was not so pleasant over either of those areas anymore, and we were heading into it. The route we followed was much better than the one we had taken up in the morning and proved to have much less boulder-hopping. Still, it would take almost an hour and a half to cover those three miles before we were back on the HST. Another hour and a half to go. A few snow flurries fell on us as we cruised the trail, sometimes a little heavier but it all melted fairly quickly. We watched the day's blue sky disappear behind us as the sun was lost behind the imposing clouds overhead. Matthew picked up some water at one of the perennial streams crossing the trail, but otherwise we kept up a steady pace.
It was 6p by the time we returned to camp. By now it was cold enough that the snow flurries didn't melt on contact. They had had more than flurries while we were away and it was necessary to shake out my ground cloth, pack and other gear. We found Sean bundled up in his tarp making dinner. He'd been back for a while and had grown cold. Michael had just gotten back ten minutes earlier and Tom had arrived recently from Mineral King after doing Eisen, much as Michael had done the previous day. We were all pretty tired. Tom had a Gatorade bottle filled with "hooch" that his mom brews, a tasty mix of coffee and alcohol. There wasn't enough to get the party going, but it sure tasted good and was warm going down. It also didn't liven things up much when Tom fell into the creek up to his waist. It would have been much funnier if it wasn't so cold with the concern of hypothermia. He got out of his wet clothes but he didn't have a spare set of shoes to replace his soaked shoes. I gave him my flipflops to substitute, but his feet would be very cold the rest of the evening. I boiled water for dinner after putting on all the clothes I had brought including gloves and balaclava. It was going to be a cold night. My dinner was a backpackers' dehydrated packet that's supposed to feed two, but that really only applies if you're not doing anything strenuous like say, backpacking. I had no trouble finishing it off. Though we had one more added to our party, there was still no catalyst for evening entertainment much as the previous night. We really could have used Laura around to liven things up. It only got colder as the light faded and the snow came down more. The others had cleaned up and gone to bed while I was braving another cold shower, this one much colder than the previous night. A light snow would fall for half of the night, but in small hail-like balls rather than snowflakes. This made it a little noisy on the bivy sack over my head and I did not sleep well. I would periodically knock the accumulating snow off my sack to give me something to do while I lay there uncomfortably awake. Did I mention how much I love this backpacking thing? It was going to be a long, cold night...
This page last updated: Sat Oct 26 09:55:42 2013
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