After the previous day’s pack-over, it felt great to knock out a few peaks with just a daypack. Making my way around the lake, I scrambled quickly toward the ridge between Lion Rock and Stewart, eager to stay warm and reach the sun. I had hoped to find something easy on the other side of the ridge, and especially the tower east of the summit, and was disappointed. However, a bit of 3rd class got me to the notch before the tower, where easy 3rd class led around the shady side and up to the summit.
The ridge to Stewart looked long, and I was not sure how hard it might be, but it seemed better than going all the way around to Kaweah Gap. Retracing my steps, I found easy ground past a section of red rock. Things turned trickier once I got on the white granite. First came a horizontal maze of giant talus blocks, which went as class 3 with some backtracking. This ended at a steep step, with a fun-looking 5th class dihedral on one side and steep, ledgy terrain on the other. I finally found some 4th class trickery to get me up the ledgy side, where more 3rd class got me to the higher-looking false summit. I wasted some time trying to stay on the ridge, cliffing out on some giant boulders, but eventually reached the summit.
I still had hours to kill, so I decided to tag Lawson and Kaweah Queen, two fairly obscure non-SPS peaks. After peering over the high side to Bearpaw and the tiny Lilliput Glacier, I made my way down the obvious easy side, across Nine Lakes Basin, and up toward the northeast side of Black Kaweah. I was surprised to find bits of use trail in this section, since there are few reasons to pass through the area. I followed them, and the easiest-looking line, to the saddle between Kaweah Queen and Lawson, trying to minimize my encounters with the horrid loose talus.
I decided to tag Kaweah Queen first, and was surprised to find that, although it looks like a big mound, it requires a bit of classic Kaweah rib-and-gully work to reach the summit. I found a surprising number of (mostly familiar) names in the young register. The peak is nothing special, but its position gives it great views in all directions, including into the seldom-visited Kaweah Basin to the southeast. Lawson, an easy traverse away, is similar: a nondescript talus pile in a good location. I even found a couple wind-breaks on the summit plateau, perhaps built by particularly hardy backcountry photographers looking for a sunrise shot.
I took a more direct path down from Lawson, where I found some truly awful talus. After a long walk back to camp, where my stuff was pleasantly dry and aired-out, I packed back south, meeting the Big Arroyo trail below Kaweah Gap. Along the way, I passed a herd of free-roaming mules, then some cowboys walking another dozen of them up-canyon, who asked if I had seen the first ones. Michael had already claimed a campsite when I arrived at the bear boxes, and Bob and Matthew arrived perhaps an hour later. Michael had even packed in meat to share, a welcome change from my standard pot of oil, bean and mashed potato flakes.