Cartago Peak (10,549 ft.)

22 Oct 1998 - by Richard Carey

I took an extra day after the big list finish weekend at Cerro Gordo and drove over to the start for Cartago which is on the slopes above the aqueduct that runs west of the small town of Cartago. Rather than do it as a backpack from the north along the Pacific Crest Trail I thought a dayhike was possible and Steve Eckert's report in May gave me encouragement. Also, Ron Hudson said he had done it as a dayhike from the east side.

I parked at the wilderness boundary which is marked by a sign on two wood posts that looked new. This is at the 4,000 ft. line and at the end of a steep spur road above the road that parallels the aqueduct. Steve's 4WD parking spot is further up, so the posts must have been installed since his trip.

I did get a good rest in spite of the steep angle my truck was setting and got on the trail at 6:00am. There is an obvious wide slash mark going a short distance straight up the side of the mountain, possibly made by motorcycles, which is the trail. Like Steve said the slope is sandy with poor footing for 2,000 ft. or more until a rock band is reached. It was tiring as each foot slipped back four inches and it seemed like every rock I stepped on was loose too. I thought crampons might actually help on this terrain, but have never heard of anyone try them on sandy slopes!

There were actually two rock bands that slowed me down and I moved to the south side to avoid the cliffs. Some tangling with the brush and class 3 scrambling was necessary to get past the rock. Higher up there are flat areas among large pines which would be great for camping. Steve's waypoint SADDLE just west of bump 9921 ft. is an important place to reach at the top of the ridge. From there I moved up the final slope and south to the highpoint, a rock outcrop at the SE end. I dropped my pack and did the short climb to the summit. There is a benchmark there even though the topo doesn't indicate one. The hike up had taken 6 1/2 hours. I noted in the register that Bill Banks several years ago said he climbed up from Cartago in 4 1/4 hours, an incredible time!

Heading down I decided to try a different route to avoid the rock bands. Steve had suggested that there might be an easier way to the north and he was right. Just east of bump 9921 ft. there is a large meadow and heading east from there the slope drops down to the unnamed canyon which goes east all the way down to the aqueduct, almost 6,000 ft. below. I thought there might be trouble following this canyon, like dry waterfalls, fallen logs, or impassable brush, but there wasn't any. The route was fast and the sandy slopes I had cursed on the ascent were easy. I was able to get down fast making big plunging steps and there was very little brush. I reached my truck at 4:00pm after only 2 1/2 hours. This route, while fast for the descent, might be slow going up because of the sand; however it does avoid the rock bands out on the ridge.

Stats. and Notes:

Map: The Olancha 7.5 min. topo is dated 1994 and is very helpful if not essential for this hike. The drive-in is correct except the spur road to the wilderness boundary is not shown. The topo shows the wilderness boundary much lower down than where the posts are installed. The SPS summit is not named on the map. It is on the Tulare and Inyo county lines and the UTM coordinates are given below.

Drive-in: The turn off route 395 is opposite the last house at the north end of Cartago. The house is a wood, barn-like structure on the east side of the highway. The dirt road is not signed. Driving NW on this good dirt road stay right at the first junction after 0.2 mile and in 0.4 miles turn left and cross the aqueduct on a bridge. On the west side of the bridge turn left and drive south for 0.6 miles to a junction on your right. This is the steep spur road that goes about 1/4 mile up to the posts at the wilderness boundary. There is not much room there and the slope is not great for camping. One can park along the aqueduct road which will add 1/4 mile and 200 ft. gain to the hike.

Hike: The hike from the posts at the wilderness boundary to the summit is 4 miles one-way with a gain of about 6,500 ft. If you have a GPS receiver it is helpful for finding the summit. The best coordinates I have after checking for about 15 minutes at the summit are: 401150E, 4020320N, Zone 12. These UTM values can be entered directly into your GPS.

David Underwood added:

> The hike up had taken 6 1/2 hours.  I noted in the register 
> that Bill Banks several years ago said he climbed up from 
> Cartago in 4 1/4 hours, an incredible time!

Bill Banks is legandary for his day hikes. He did not like to backpack and camp out. He day hiked Cardinal, and Williamson among others. I saw his name on Trojan also as a day hike. Have not heard about him lately though, but he is probably still day hiking around there. Bobby DeBeau an I were climbing Irvine from Mesan Lake one morning and came upon him sitting on the summit. he had hiked it from Arc Pass and saw us comming so waited for us. It was only about 09:00 as I recall. he went on over to McCadie with us then left us in the dust in order to make it back to the Portals before dark. He went down the gully between the N & S peaks and was gone in a few minutes.


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