OverviewBlack Giant is a dark, imposing mountain when seen from beautiful LeConte Canyon below. Black Giant is located at the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Kings River and is the high point of the Black Divide in northern Kings Canyon National Park.
Although it is not a very challenging climb, Black Giant does provide excellent views of much of the High Sierra. From the summit, one can see Charybdis, Mts. Langille, McGee, Solomons, Goddard, Warlow, and several Sierra Crest peaks including Mt. Humphreys, Mt. Darwin, the Palisades and nearby Mts. Powell, Gilbert, Johnson, and Goode. To the south, the Monarch Divide, Kings-Kern Divide, Great Western Divide, and Kaweah Range are also visible. In addition, there are great views of upper Evolution and Ionian Basins. However, most impressive are the views of LeConte Canyon, which is 4,000 feet directly below. Because it is an easy climb, Black Giant provides great rewards for minimal effort.
Black Giant is set in a very beautiful alpine area near the confluence of LeConte Canyon and Evolution Basin. LeConte Canyon is stunningly beautiful, containing several alpine lakes, including nearby Helen Lake, clear streams including the Middle Fork of the Kings River, lush forests, meadows, and sculpted granite walls. Evolution Basin to the North is a high, alpine area containing large, alpine Lake Wanda and gorgeous Evolution Valley below. Nearby is remote, high, and barren Ionian Basin, which requires strenuous class 2 cross-country hiking to explore. The John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail passes nearby.
Black Giant was probably named because of its dark metamorphic rock. There are several small glaciers located on its northeast slopes, which are visible from LeConte Canyon. From LeConte Canyon, Black Giant appears steep and formidable. From the northeast near Muir Pass, it is gently sloping.
George Davis first climbed Black Giant in 1905. Black Giant was named by Sierra explorer Joseph LeConte (1823-1901), who was also a professor of geology and natural history at the University of California, in 1904.
Established RoutesMost climbers will take one of the class 1-2 routes from Black Giant Pass, which is located near Muir Pass. On Black Giant, there are:
* Several easy class 1-2 routes up the wide, open West Slope. Simply pick an appealing line from Lake 11,939 or Black Giant Pass and start climbing up Black Giant's broad slope. A false summit is visible from below, so beware! Allow 3 hours or so roundtrip from Black Giant Pass. A shot of scotch or whiskey and a camera are nice to bring along.
* One class 2 route, the South Slope Route, that is commonly climbed as part of a traverse from Mt. McDuffie.
* One class 3 route, the Southeast Ridge Route.
* One class 4 route, the Northeast Face Route, that climbs over the glaciers.
R.J. Secor, in The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails (p. 298), states that it is reasonable to climb Charybdis, Mt. McDuffie, and Black Giant in a day.
For more route information, see Secor's The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails, or Steve Roper, The Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra (out of print).
Getting ThereBlack Giant is a very remote mountain! Despite its remoteness, it is near the John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail, so it is climbed somewhat frequently. Described below are a few common approaches to Black Giant Pass.
Either hike 5.2 miles around Florence Lake or take a ferry across the lake. Proceed up the Florence Lake Trail for another 6.2 miles until reaching the John Muir Trail (“JMT”). Continue up the JMT for 5.6 miles, reaching a trail junction. Then, hike 13 miles up Evolution Valley along the JMT to Muir Pass (11,955 ft.). From Muir Pass, traverse about .75 mile to the southeast, staying more or less level, to Lake 11,939. Black Giant Pass is the saddle directly above Lake 11,939 and west of Black Giant.
From North Lake, hike 5.0 miles up to Piute Pass (11,423 ft.). Hike down from the pass following the Piute Canyon Trail for 12.4 miles until reaching the JMT. This is a beautiful trail. Continue up the JMT for 3.8 miles, reaching a trail junction. Then, hike 13 miles up Evolution Valley along the JMT to Muir Pass. From Muir Pass, traverse about .75 mile to the southeast, staying more or less level, to Lake 11,939. Black Giant Pass is the saddle directly above Lake 11,939 and west of Black Giant.
From South Lake, hike 6.0 miles up Bishop Pass (11,972 ft.). This is a popular trailhead for approaching the Palisades. Hike down 6.6 miles to LeConte Canyon. Hike north up the JMT for 7.0 miles until reaching Muir Pass. From Muir Pass, traverse about .75 mile to the southeast, staying more or less level, to Lake 11,939. Black Giant Pass is the saddle directly above Lake 11,939 and west of Black Giant.
Other variations include crossing a few eastside cross-country passes such as Lamarck Col from North Lake or Echo Col from Sabrina Lake, which as Steeleman notes, is a lower and more direct eastside route than Lamarck Col (although more difficult, too). Another option is to traverse Ionian Basin from Martha Lake.
Red TapeA wilderness permit is required for overnight stays in the John Muir Wilderness in Inyo or Sierra National Forests or Kings Canyon National Park. You only need to obtain a wilderness permit for your entry point. For example, if you enter in Sierra National forest, you do not need to obtain an additional permit for Kings Canyon National Park. Thus, only one permit is needed per trip.
Although it is located in Kings Canyon National Park, most people enter through Sierra or Inyo National Forests. For entry through Inyo National Forest, wilderness permits may be obtained at the White Mountain Ranger Station, located in Bishop, California. Permits can also be reserved in advance, which is recommended since many trailheads are subject to use quotas. Permits may be reserved for a fee of $5/person. Information on Inyo National Forest permit reservations is available online or call (760) 876-6200.
For entry through Sierra National Forest, wilderness permits may be obtained at the High Sierra Ranger Station, located in Prather, California. Permits can also be reserved in advance, which is recommended since many trailheads are subject to use quotas. Permits may be reserved for a fee of $5/person. Information on Sierra National Forest permit reservations is available online or call (559) 297-0706.
When to ClimbJune-October. Winter climbs are possible but difficult because of the remote location.
CampingLake 11,939 or Helen Lake are the most accessible campsites near Black Giant. Lake 11,828 south of Black Giant Pass is also a good place to camp and is quite pretty.
Mountain ConditionsKings Canyon National Park: (559) 565-3341
Inyo National Forest visitor information: (760) 876-6200
Sierra National Forest visitor information: (559) 855-5355
Updated weather information is also available.