One of the more remote of the High Sierra peaks, Black Kaweah is certainly the most impressive of the many peaks along the Kaweah Ridge, though not the highest. It is one of the Sierra Club's Mountaineer Peaks and is considered a classic Sierra climb. This peak sees relatively few ascents, only a few parties each year. Its location in the heart of the Sierra provides for a fantastic view and all its climbing routes demand competence and route-finding skills. Composed primarily of loose volcanic rock, the Kaweahs are renowned for their poor quality rock - though no worse than other volcanic Sierra regions such as the Mammoth Lakes area.
All of the routes on this peak are challenging - there is nothing easier than class 3, and many that have climbed it believe it is more like class 4. The SW Face is the most direct route from the Big Arroyo and the most often used. The West Ridge, SW Ridge, and SW Face are all rated class 3. The East Ridge is rated class 4. The South Face is 5.7.
Getting ThereFrom Mineral King
A pretty arduous route, but the quickest way to get there. There are several options, but the main goal is to cross the Great Western Divide and drop into the Big Arroyo. Climb to Glacier Pass
(an easy class 3 pass with no snow, or more difficult when axe and crampons are needed) taking either the regular trail to Sawtooth Pass (heading northwest when you climb the sand slog above Monarch Lake) or an older, shorter, and more interesting route up an old trail that follows up Monarch Creek. To find this trail, look for a trail heading left off the main trail to Sawtooth Pass before crossing to the south side of Monarch Creek. A simple sign that says "Not a maintained trail" soon after the turnoff let's you know you've found it. Follow the trail (less obvious higher up) up the creek on the north side, heading left (north) as you climb up the east end of the canyon. Glacier Pass is roughly 5mi from and 3300ft above Mineral King. Look for a notch at the low point in the pass for the easiest passage. A trail used to go through here, and the dynamited sections at the top are still the easiest way through the class 3 section on the north side. A use trail drops you down to gorgeous Spring Lake (10,000ft). From here, head north cross-country down the drainage of Cliff Creek and pick up the obvious switchbacking trail to Black Rock Pass (11,700ft). You can see the trail from a good distance away, and may be tempted to head uphill sooner to cut some mileage and elevation loss off the route. From the pass, drop down into Little Five Lakes Basin and continue on to the Big Arroyo.
The alternate route over Hands and Knees Pass
(also called "Cyclamen Lake Pass" and "Bunny Ears Pass") is shorter/faster than going over Glacier/Black Rock passes, but is more difficult with lots of steep loose rock. There are two ways to do this pass. The first, described by Secor says to hike over Sawtooth Pass, descend to Columbine Lake, then contour on the west side of the Divide to Hands and Knees Pass. That is a pretty hard bit of work. An easier way to do this pass (used regularly by the ranger at Little Five Lakes) is to go over Glacier Pass, drop down to Spring Lake, then climb to Cyclamen Pass. From the pass, contour NE to the ridge south of Little Five Lakes, then climb down the northeast side of the pass and hike to the north side of Lake 10,214ft where the trail can be picked up. From here it is a straightforward hike to Little Five Lakes and then to the Big Arroyo.
Getting to the base of the climb in one day from Mineral King is an epic test of strength and endurance. You climb around 6500ft and travel about 18 miles with some cross-country travel, and carry at least 2 days' worth of food, and possibly climbing gear on top of everything else you're carrying.
From Wolverton/Crescent Meadow
You can start at Wolverton (7400'/2200m) or Crescent Meadow (6600'/2000m). Either way, get to the High Sierra Trail and simply put your head down and hike. This is an excellent, high-traffic trail, fairly flat (though irritatingly oscillatory at times) to Hamilton Lake (17 mi/27km, 8200'/2500m). From here, the trail climbs steadily to Kaweah Gap (10,700'/3250m, 21mi/34km). Little Nine Lakes Basin is just over the gap.
This approach is longer (22mi/35km) than that from Mineral King, but climbs less (~5000'/1500m) and is over well-traveled trails. The scenery on this route is the less stunning of the two, though spectacular by almost any measure.
Once at the Big Arroyo, you are positioned for attempts on any of the western routes, or climb up to the north toward Pyra-Queen Col, or south into the high basin south of the peak where one can climb the East Ridge.
Entrance fee for Sequoia National Park is $20 per private vehicle for 7 days, or $10 per person walking/biking in or on bus for 7 days. Back country camping requires a free Wilderness permit. Obtain Trail Permit at Mineral King Ranger Station.
Mineral King Ranger Station: On Mineral King Road, 24 miles east of Hwy. 198. Maps, local wilderness permits ($15), first aid, bear canisters. Daily 8am - 4:00pm June through early September. After that, wilderness permits are available on the porch of the station. Call Sequoia National Park at 559-565-3341 and ask for Mineral King Ranger Station.
For information regarding Lodgepole, see this helpful SP page
This NPS page
describes Sequoia/Kings Canyon bear regulations.
The Big Arroyo area is exempt (for now) from the canister requirement. You can counterbalance your food, bring a bear canister, or use a backcountry bear box. There are boxes at Little Five Lakes, the Big Arroyo Patrol Cabin, as well as Hamilton Lake. The NPS provides a list of bear box locations
, but in true federal government form, the file is in "rich text format", which many cannot read. www.climber.org
maintains an even more comprehensive list for the entire Sierra (including specifics on the five in the the Big Arroyo
In any event, note that the base for this climb is quite high. Though not necessarily above the tree line, the trees that do grow here are often quite stunted, and effectively useless for food counterbalancing. While irritating, the bear canisters work well. The boxes at Little Five Lakes and Hamilton Lake are often full. The one at Big Arroyo is more likely to have availability as it is more remote and less popular than the other two.
SP users: If the regulations change, please update the regulations here.
When To Climb
The summer months of June - Sept are most common. A winter trip would be near expedtion in scope. Note that the road to Mineral King is not plowed during the Winter months, and the only reasonable entry point is then at Wolverton.
Backcountry camping is allowed throughout the area following the usual restrictions for Wilderness areas. There are two developed campgrounds along the Mineral King Rd, the first at Atwell Mill (19.2mi from the SR198 junction), and the second at Cold Spring (23.5mi), just before the ranger station. For those looking for more pampering, there is the Silver City Resort
at 20.9mi, a collection of rustic cabins and pricier chalets, a store, and restaurant.