Red Kaweah is the prominent high point in the center of the jagged section of the Kaweah Range. Anchored at the north end by Black Kaweah and at the south end by Second Kaweah (or Gray Kaweah), this saw-toothed portion of the ridge is composed of a number of vertical pinnacles in addition to the three peaks mentioned. Mt Kaweah, the high point of the entire range (at its far south end), is seemingly a departure from this magnificent serrated example of the High Sierra.
The first credited ascent of Red Kaweah in 1912 is attributed to Charles Michael, the assistant postmaster in Yosemite, who has a number of impressive first ascents to his name (including the highly technical pinnacle next door that bears his name). Red Kaweah is one of the 248 peaks on the
Sierra Club Angeles Chapter’s Sierra Peaks Section
list but only sees a couple of climbs a year. The register contains a veritable who’s-who of Sierra climbers – a goal that makes the ascent worthwhile. And the views are pretty darn nice as well.
Serrated Kaweah ridge line with Red Kaweah in the center (Jul 08)
Red Kaweah can be approached from a number of different directions depending on the itinerary. The best place to begin the ascent is from the old cabin at the Big Arroyo. There may be other options but none as direct or easy. The closest trailhead approach to the Big Arroyo is from Mineral King, offering a couple of variations. Entry into this region is also available from the east or south, but it takes a lot longer. The Kaweah Peaks page
provides directions for approaching the Big Arroyo from both the West and East. The Black Kaweah
page is also an excellent source for various approach options, including a detailed description of the fastest approach.
Traversing Hands & Knees Pass -- Kaweahs in the distance (Jul 08)
There is only one standard non-technical route up Red Kaweah but at least a couple of technical routes are described in the register. There are probably a few more undocumented technical routes but this is a mountain that begs for better and more interesting routes. The southwest face promises a number of challenging arête or chute climbs while the sheer east face (actually on Koontz Pinnacle) is graded at IV 5.9 with much loose rock.
|West Face from Black Kaweah (Jul 08)|
West Face: Class 3. This face is actually more NW facing and the only thing good about it is the constant views of Black Kaweah. From the Big Arroyo, hike up the steep slope to the three lakes found in the basin between Black and Red Kaweahs. Continue climbing up towards Pyramidal and Koontz Pinnacles (on the ridgeline between the two peaks) until the face becomes visible on the right. The climb is straight forward and consists of loose, distasteful rubble until just short of the summit. Climbing the ribs or the ridge makes the scramble a bit more enjoyable but not by much.
|Looking north from Red Kaweah (Oct 08)|
Traverse from Black Kaweah’s East Ridge: Class 4+. The summit register documents several traverses from Black Kaweah although the ridge can be gained without climbing Black Kaweah. Secor reports that the two pinnacles, Pyramidal and Koontz, are Class 4 but John Moynier, in his book ”Climbing California’s High Sierra”, reports that a couple of rappels are required to get past a class 5 portion. The low point on the ridge can be climbed from either the south (via the Big Arroyo) or the north from Lake 11,682’ (north of Black Kaweah).
|Red Kaweah (center) from 2nd Kaweah (Jul 08)|
Traverse from Michaels Pinnacle: Class 5+. Very little is known about this route other than what is reported by Moynier who mentions the first traverse party rappelling into the deep notch between the two peaks and climbing a 5.9 face (on Michael’s Pinnacle).
Red Tape , Camping, and Conditions
Everything you need to know about permits, regulations, and driving directions can be found on the Climber.org page
. While overnight hikes require a wilderness permit, day hikes can be done without red tape. The
Big Arroyo is a perfect place to camp overnight for forays into the Kaweahs: bear box, flat camping spots, and plenty of water. Three miles further away (but closer to the trailhead) is the largest of the
Little Five Lakes sporting the same amenities as the Big Arroyo.
Climbing can be done in almost any season but May through October are the most popular times. In heavy snow years, the chutes and slopes may hold residual snow. This is also true for any of the routes over the Great Western Divide or on the Kaweahs. Check for current NOAA weather
. The Mineral King webcam page
is also a good source for weather info.
First view (Oct 08)
Bob Burd’s trip page
Bill Oliver’s trip report
Sean's amazing Kaweah traverse
My pics & summary