Black Kaweah Speed Climb - SW FaceDate:
I speed climbed the SW Face of Black Kaweah in 15:35 out of Mineral King via Glacier Pass and Hands and Knees Pass. Described as "one of the great peaks of the Sierra," the Black Kaweah is high (13,680 ft), remote, challenging by any route, and in a highly scenic area. The climb entailed ascents of two high passes just to reach the base of the mountain and around 13,000 ft of elevation gain in all. We set out at 1:30 am and I reached the summit at 9:35 am, 8:05 after beginning. I spent 20 minutes on the summit to soak in the amazing views and peruse the extraordinary summit register, which dates back to 1924 and features entries from many of the climbing legends of the Sierra mountains. The descent down the SW Face went very slowly, but afterwards I was able to pick up the pace returning to the trailhead at 5:05 pm for a 7:10 return trip, and a 15:35 roundtrip. Location (Elevation): Time Elapsed / Split / Real Time
Mineral King Trailhead (7,800 ft) : 0
Glacier Pass (11,080 ft) : 1:18.07
Hands and Knees Pass (11,145 ft) : 2:33.07
Little Five Lakes (10,476 ft) : 3:28.34
Big Arroyo Creek (9,520 ft) : 4:36.33
Tarn below Black Kaweah (11,560 ft) : 6:23.52
Arrive Black Kaweah Summit (13,680 ft) : 8:05.33
Depart Black Kaweah Summit (13,680 ft) : 8:24.34
Tarn below Black Kaweah (11,560 ft) : 10:24.16
Little Five Lakes (10,476 ft) : 12:15.36
/ 13:45[Hands and Knees Pass (11,145 ft) : ~13:20 elapsed / ~1:05 split from Little Five Lks / 14:50]
Glacier Pass (11,080 ft) : 14:39.09
Mineral King Trailhead (7,800 ft) : 15:35.17
We hiked Sawtooth Peak
the previous afternoon to get acclimatized.
I was expecting it to be cold, but it turned out to be very comfortable with crisp and clear conditions. In fact, I was overheating in my sleeping bag and I never needed to use the two extra layers I brought. The climb started out from Mineral King with a 5 hour night walk up and over two passes under a full moon and calm conditions. We could see a bright Venus reflecting off the many alpine lakes. The first signs of daylight appeared as we reached the Big Arroyo. I enjoyed the early light shining on the Great Western Divide from the tarn below the SW Face of Black Kaweah. Unfortunately, my partner was feeling the effects of altitude combined with sleep deprivation and decided the tarn was as far as he was going. He would rest and begin the return trip while I continued on.
The chute on the SW Face requires careful attention and focus as there is copious loose rock over slabs and is sustained class 3 with some class 4 moves, especially in the beginning. Snow and ice in the lower part of the chute made some of the sections a little sketchy and after one particularly dicey section I decided I would turn around if I came across any more ice covered rock. Fortunately, the upper part of the chute was dry and I was able to continue to the summit. The descent down the chute actually took me longer as I carefully downclimbed the snow sections.
After a nice break at the tarn, I set off down to the Big Arroyo, taking in the stunning views of the Great Western Divide. I felt good and took many photos of the peaks and lakes which were not visible in the dark on the approach.
Early light on the Great Western Divide.
Black Kaweah’s shadow.
Main chute up the SW Face of Black Kaweah.
View form summit of Black Kaweah to the Great Western Divide and Big Arroyo basin.
Panorama to the Sierra crest. See enlarged panorama.
Spectacular views! See enlarged panorama.
Upper portion of main chute.
Sketchy snow and ice in the lower part of the main chute.
Snow and ice covering slabs in the lower part of the main chute.
Black Kaweah from below.
Tarn beneath the SW Face of Black Kaweah.
Black Kaweah Towers above the tarn.
Meadows and views of the Great Western Divide. See enlarged panorama.
The Black Kaweah rises above the Big Arroyo.
Gorgeous alpine meadows.
The Kaweahs from the lowest of the Little Five Lakes.
Kaweah Range from the highest of the Little Five Lakes.
View from near Hands and Knees Pass.
Approaching Hands and Knees Pass. See enlarged panorama.
Sawtooth Peak from Hands and Knees Pass.
View down to Spring Lake from Hands and Knees Pass
The slopes up to Hands and Knees Pass
View down to Spring Lake from slopes leading to Glacier Pass. Approach Notes:
Up 4,300 feet to Glacier Pass via old trail that can be followed most of the way. Descend to Spring Lake and then ascend 1,100 ft of talus, scree, and class 3 scrambling to Hands and Knees Pass. A traverse across a sandy slope deposits you on a ridge above Little Five Lakes basin. Descend to the lakes and pick up the Black Rock Pass trail, taking it to the down to the Big Arroyo. From the Big Arroyo, ascend open forest slopes and then meadows to a tarn below the SW face of Black Kaweah.