Using my best Maxwell Smart impersonation: I missed it by thaaaat muuuch.
Left camp in Little Five Lakes at 6:15am after choking down a packet of instant oatmeal, powdered coconut milk, and cold water. I staggered back into camp at 11:15pm - 17 hours on the move (except sitting for shoe removals at river crossings and a few minutes of snack breaks throughout the day).
OK, before getting in to my effort... note that the cool kids do it car-to-car in a day from Mineral King (e.g. Bob Burd from 2006 or Leor Pantilat's report from 2007). And for the West Ridge route I chose, there is a critical piece of info (which I didn't have) on a Caltech Alpine Club page: "Rated class 3 by Secor, who claims this is the easiest route, though not as direct as the SW Face. This route follows the West ridge of the peak until a notch bars progress, then descends a couple of hundred feet to the top of the 'giant ramp' mentioned in the SW Face route description above. The final section follows the SW Face route." Arrggg! If only I had known that, I probably would have done it and then ended up back at basecamp at 1am instead of 11pm. Oh well... I guess I should do more homework than looking at the ridge on caltopo and in person from afar! Consider it recon for future adventures... third time will be the charm 🙂
Going fast and light next time, I would take the short-cut trail to Glacier Pass, to Spring Lake, to Hands and Knees Pass (Cyclamen Lake Pass), to Little Five Lakes (and sleep there), to Big Arroyo, and then the standard route, sleep at Little Five Lakes again, and then out. And I'd bring my La Sportiva TX3 approach shoes, lighter and better edging and friction (though not much protection for loose talus rolling over my feet- will need to explore how much of that happens on the standard route).
Now for the pics!
About half an hour after leaving camp:
I had to take my shoes off for this easy crossing:
Well, I guess I wasn't chasing any fastest known times with this sort of artsy photo-taking:
Historical Big Arroyo Cabin (near a backcountry camp with bear boxes), and summit of Black Kaweah poking out in the back:
I hiked up the Big Arroyo for about a mile, maybe a bit more, until I was well past the foot of the ridge I planned to ascend. The right skyline here is the lower part of that long ridge:
And after a big trudge up the hill, gaining the crest of the ridge... Pretty cool position being on that ridge, looking down on the tarns to the south and the Big Arroyo to the Northwest. Note the lower weakness in the Great Western Divide is Kaweah Gap (the approach from Wolverton Meadow, Bearpaw Meadow, Hamilton Lakes, Precipice Lake), and it looks pretty far off from this perspective:
These should be some great pics for scouting the approach to the standard route that goes near the lake below:
Sea of rubble. Several hours passed navigating this moving jumble:
And some loose stuff to scramble up. Actually, at least one third of the places I put my feet or hands throughout the day were subject to movement. It just became a fact of life, balancing through shifting and slipping terrain. While the technical difficulty was never hard, there was soooo much loose stuff throughout the day that it eventually started to wear me out, to blow my mind when I was in more exposed positions. It is fatiguing to constantly calculate what you will do when the object you are weighting fails.
But the perspectives make the effort worthwhile!
Looking down more directly on Kaweah Gap:
Can peek over and see Valhalla, Angel Wings, and that awesome area from above:
And the rubble doesn't get that much better as you approach the top crest for the West Ridge approach to Black Kaweah summit:
And the feeling, the views when cresting the ridge and getting to look down the other side, to take in the expanse to the east... pictures just can't capture it. But I did my best with an iPhone:
Still quite a bit of work ahead after reaching the top crest:
The routfinding was a bit tricky along here- I think the way I traversed south was only 80-90% the same as the way I came back later.
I committed to some fairly technical moves with not too bad exposure, thinking it was all going to come together as a 3rd class climb. But what's this???
No really, WHAAT?
This close to the summit...
But no way I'm soloing in bad hiking boots with crap friction up 5.6ish rock for half a pitch, with thousands of feet of air to experience on the tumble down if anything breaks loose!
In retrospect, after reading more route descriptions, I should have scrambled down the following way to meet up with the last part of the standard route, some ramp on the face below the summit.
I was a bit frustrated for a minute.
After getting over my disappointment of reaching an apparent dead end, I enjoyed being in a spectacular hard-earned spot and took a bunch of pics:
It's just an awe-inspiring spot that pictures can only hint at:
So much rock to scramble through!
And so many more mountains to explore!
I didn't see any fulgerites up there, but I didn't know enough to look for them. Maybe up near the summit proper...
Whole lotta mountain.
Some nice shots of Kaweah Gap from up high and down low:
One of the interesting things weighing on my mind throughout the day... I was moving more slowly than I expected, and I noted about 9am or so that I had lost my headlamp. I later checked the two places I might have taken it off in the morning, and didn't find it. But up on that ridge, with the jumbly shifting rocks and knowing the moon would rise late, I didn't want to get stuck up there in the dark and make an epic of it. That was probably part of my decision to not look around harder for a way around that notch on the crest. But as you can see here, I timed it just about right with getting back to a proper trail, which I felt more comfortable navigating in the dark. I did spend a couple of hours hiking in the dark with sticks in my hand and practicing my jabbing in case a mountain lion decided I smelled like dinner. Glad I didn't have to test their utility.
Still had a bit of time to enjoy the flowers when I knew I wasn't going to get stuck on the jumble in the dark. I wonder whether there is something special about the alpine environment that favors flowers with pentamerous symmetry:
Take note of the scale of this rockslide/avalanche path, and the trees blown out away from it for another half a mile, when thinking about skiing through this area in the winter time.
Back fully on the trail,pretty sure I'm not going to die
And that's all folks!