Cartago Peak, Mount Muah, Olancha Peak


By: Ret Moore

This private trip write up is sent to the to the Echo as I suspect it will interest some members in a different route up Olancha. Most climbs of this peak start at Sage Flat and after gaining Olancha Pass approach the peak from the south. More recently a popular route, which entails less elevation gain but considerably more driving, is through Monache Meadows approaching from the south-west. It seems to me I even recall a write up in which some energetic climber(s) made the assent directly up the east slope. The trip described here involves an approach from the north. It requires an extra day or two but has the advantage of easily getting two additional listed peaks on the way.

Neil Scott and I left the parking lot at Horseshoe Meadow early Thursday morning in June (1955) and headed over Trail Pass to pick up the Pacific Crest Trail heading south toward Olancha. It was a long but pleasant day before we made camp in Death Canyon. The trail generally follows the crest of the range normally west of the divide, but on several occasions crosses to the east side. Impressive views of both the upper basin of the South Fork of the Kern and the lower Owens Valley can be enjoyed from vantage points along the trail. We arrived at Death Canyon about 4:30, which amounted to a tiring day for a couple of "over the hill" peak baggers, and made camp by the stream a few hundred yards above the trail crossing. There was plenty of fresh running water here.

Although this was a wet year, I believe that there would be water here in May or June of any normal year. Friday morning we headed south on the PCT for a couple of miles then directly up the north slope of Olancha. As we had not brought along our ice axes and the slope was mostly blanketed with snow above 10,500 feet, we had to pick our way to avoid exposed or steep slopes. Otherwise there is no route finding problem as long as you are heading up. We reached the top by noon and returned by much the same route, arriving back at camp about 3:30pm. This was my fourth assent of Olancha and I think my most enjoyable.

Saturday morning we set out for Cartago Peak by heading due east from camp up the westerly slope of Death Canyon. This easy route eventually takes you up a small canyon or draw which contained a lovely little stream fed by a residue of melting snow. The small draw originates near the center of section 31 and extends about a mile to the east before it flattens out at the crest. Some parties have had trouble finding the high point on Cartago, which is easily understandable since the peak is just a large plateau with a dozen or so rock spires rising about a hundred feet above the surrounding gentle surface. However, the peak is easily found if you come up this small canyon. You will pass several spires on the left before you reach the crest of the plateau. The high point is then a few hundred yards to the south, very close to the center of section 32. You reach the top of the spire with a minimal amount of class three climbing. We enjoyed the view to the east north and west, but Cartago is dwarfed by Olancha to the south. After returning to camp by the same route, we packed our gear ate lunch and headed back up the PCT toward Muah Mountain, our final peak of the trip. We left the trail near Sharknose Ridge and crossed over to the saddle just west of the peak where we camped. It would have been a dry camp except for a lone patch of snow which provided plenty of water for our needs.

Sunday morning we took a quick stroll over to Muah Mountain and back packed our gear and headed down the saddle to pick up the PCT again south of Dutch Meadow. We were back at the Horseshoe Meadow parking lot for lunch.

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