OverviewThe spine of the Kaweah range connects Mount Kaweah in the south to Black Kaweah in the north. It includes three officially- and six unofficially-named summits, from south to north: Mount Kaweah (a.k.a. Big Kaweah), "Second Kaweah" (a.k.a. "Gray Kaweah"), "Bilko Pinnacle," "Squaretop," "Michael's Pinnacle," Red Kaweah, "Koontz Pinnacle," "Pyramidal Pinnacle," and Black Kaweah. Thanks perhaps to a long and difficult approach from any direction and a reputation for loose rock, this traverse is much less popular than the other big Sierra traverses such as Thunderbolt to Sill, the Evolution Traverse, and the Minaret Traverse. However, from my (seano's) experience climbing some of the Minarets, the Kaweah rock is slightly better, and the approach is not much harder than going over Lamarck Col for the Evolution traverse. The technical climbing is harder than Thunderbolt to Sill and easier than Evolution, and the overall difficulty is probably slightly less than Evolution.
The tricky part of the traverse, from Black to Second Kaweah, was first done in July 1997 by Claude Fiddler, Andy Selters, and Danny Whitmore, who rated it VI 5.9. Sean O'Rourke completed the traverse from Mount Kaweah to Black Kaweah in 19 hours from Mineral King, taking the easier (5.4) route outlined below. I have been unable to find reports of other attempts, successful or not.
Getting ThereSee the Kaweah Peaks page.
This description is for the south-to-north 5.4 variation.
Leave the High Sierra Trail west of Mount Kaweah, and make your way up its west side, using one of the class 2-3 chutes through the cliff band near the bottom. From Mount Kaweah, head north across talus to Second Kaweah, then continue on or just left of the ridge until the easy talus abruptly ends. In general, the route stays either on the ridge or to its left (west); the east side is usually too precipitous to be useful.
There are three unnamed pinnacles north of Second Kaweah. Traverse over their summits, then drop down the right side of the last before crossing back to the left. Stay on or left of the crest past the non-obvious Bilko Pinnacle. Drop down a gray gully to the left until it is possible to cross north (4th or easy 5th) into the chute south of Squaretop, slightly below the saddle.
From the Bilko-Squaretop saddle, it may be possible to climb a gray, clean-looking chute just left of the ridge directly to the summit. Alternatively, cross the next rib into the gully separating the two sections of Squaretop, then climb clean, 4th class red rock to the ridge, and follow it south to the summit.
Descend the red gully and continue along the left (west) side of the ridge. Michael's Pinnacle is the point immediately before Red Kaweah. Its south ridge includes many smaller pinnacles, some with cairns; visit as many as you want.
From Michael's Pinnacle, descend the left side of the ridge, then cross through a gap to the right to reach the saddle with Red Kaweah. Climb cracked slabs and a somewhat-loose rib (easy 5th) to reach the summit.
Follow the ridge toward Koontz Pinnacle, which starts off as broad, easy talus, then narrows. While it is easy to bail from several points along the first part of this ridge, escape becomes difficult or impossible later on. Stay near the crest on 4th-class climbing to the final two, largest, gaps.
This is the crux. Downclimb into the second-to-last gap by following various ledges and flakes on the left (low 5th), then continue to the top of the last pinnacle before Koontz. Downclimb a gray crack/dihedral on the right with some loose rock, then traverse north on the right-hand side.
Continue north near the ridge, then descend left in a broad, shallow gully on tricky 4th class rock with much loose debris. Descend west from the notch a short distance, then contour north on talus to the northwest side of Pyramidal Pinnacle. Follow the obvious 4th class gully to the summit.
Return to the saddle northwest of Pyramidal Pinnacle, and continue on the ridge to Black Kaweah, staying mostly to the right of the crest, where the rock is more solid. Eventually, a broad ledge on the right will lead to the final summit headwall, where an obvious class 3-4 fissure leads to easier terrain and the summit. Descend the standard route.