The sun rose relatively early on my east-facing camp, so I was able to start at a reasonable time. Reaching the large lake north of Kern Point, I saw bootprints and strings across the lake; according to Bob, the strings are gill nets to kill the fish for the frogs’ benefit, though I can’t imagine any sane frog living in such a frigid place. The first slope up from the lake, normally covered by snow, was loose misery made worse by my heavy pack, but fortunately things got easier after a couple hundred feet. Though Kern Point looks like a big talus mound, I topped out on a surprisingly sharp northeast ridge, and enjoyed slightly more scenic and interesting climbing to the summit.
From my perch on the summit, I looked down at the Kern-Kaweah valley leading west from Junction Meadow, at 8300′, to Colby Pass near 12,000′, and on to Triple Divide, my next destination. Heading west, I made a descending traverse to about 11,000′, then stayed around that level to the lakes and meadows below Colby. Though there were one or two unpleasant talus sections, most of the traverse was on pleasant slabs — preferable to, and possibly faster than, dropping down to the Colby Pass trail and regaining 1000′.
Though it wasn’t on my agenda, I realized that I could tag Centennial Peak with only a short, 2,000′ detour. Though the peak is a complete nothing-burger, a class 2 mound surrounded by higher neighbors, it may be the only officially-named Sierra Peak I will ever reach before Bob; I couldn’t resist. One slog later I was at the summit, looking north along a jagged ridge to Milestone, and west across Whaleback and Glacier Ridge.
I returned to my pack, took 50 steps or so on the Colby Pass trail, then left it to the southwest, crossing a class 2-3 ridge and making my way over rolling terrain to Triple Divide Pass. I am not sure why people use this pass, but there were footprints. From a bump southwest of the pass, a long, gradual ridge leads to Triple Divide. The ridge is mostly class 2, with a few class 3 moves, and the rock is pleasantly solid for the area.
After enjoying the view for a few minutes, I started worrying about how I was going to reach Nine Lakes. This was my first visit to this part of the range, and I was unfamiliar with the topography. It looked like I could drop to Lion Lake using either the west ridge or southwest face, then climb an ugly slope over Lion Rock’s east ridge to reach my goal. The other option would be to follow Triple Divide’s south ridge to where it met that ridge. I went a few yards down the west ridge, but retreated when I found left-handed traversing and terrible rock. Then I dropped a bit down the southwest face, chickening out when I couldn’t see whether my chute cliffed out. The ridge it was.
Starting from a short way down the southwest face, I contoured south over classic Kaweah terrain: endless fins and gullies of crappy rock. Reaching an impasse, I retreated, crossed through a notch to the west side, and found that I could have simply walked down easy class 2 terrain from the summit. Oh, well. The top and west side of the ridge continued to work surprisingly well, though I could see it growing steeper ahead.
After a miraculous ledge took me around one impasse, a tower with a sheer left side forced me back to the right. Shortly thereafter, I arrived at a steep cleft, and thought I was hosed. Carefully walking along the narrow ridge, I found a 4th class downclimb on the left side — tricky with 1.5 hands and an overnight pack — that took me to the notch. Past this notch, the top of the ridge was an easy class 2 walk to the head of Nine Lakes. I looked over at Lion Rock, but was too low on water and too tired; it would have to wait for morning.