Mt Muah, Cartago Peak

7 Jun 1999 - by Eric Beck

Monday morning Joe Kelsey, Toby and drove down to Lone Pine, got our permit and headed up to Horseshoe Meadow. Our guide for this venture was Mark Adrians writeup in the SPS archives from May 96. Finding the start of the trail was the first obstacle. It is totally unmarked. Just as the road flattens out, there is a dirt road heading east marked with a No Vehicles sign. After 100 yards this road curves left and the actual trail takes off to the right. No signs of any type. In another 100 yards, to confirm that one is indeed in the correct spot, a corral appears on the right. We parked up the highway 100 yards from the No Vehicles road in the paved parking area on the right, room for 8 vehicles parked perpindicular and two large spots parked parallel. Starting hiking at 10 am, we made it over Mulkey Pass and down to the base of the Muah massif where the PCT makes a big swing west around to Ash Meadow. We selected a more direct approach across this section, ascending the Tulare / Inyo county line and then bearing slightly SW to the large saddle area SW of Muah. We dropped the packs and scampered up Muah.

We refound the packs easily and then headed SW toward Ash Meadow which we crossed finding no water, not even a damp spot. From here the PCT continued south for a long time it seemed toward our destination for the evening, Death Canyon. Fortunately for Toby, we found a few snow patches he could chew on.

We turned off the PCT down a subtle drainage heading SE into Death Canyon. After a bit, a nice trickle appeared here to Toby's delight. We followed it down to a nice campsite at 9400 near a 30 foot rock tower by the ample Death Canyon creek. The time was 6:45. It seemed like a very seldom visited spot and we did not bother to pump the water. I was asleep by 7: 30.

In the moring it was easy walking up the canyon. We encountered many very nice places to camp upstream of where we spent the night. We encountered a confluence where the left fork had the larger flow and elected to follow it. After only 100 yards, it was apparent that this was a mistake and we went over to the right fork. We left the canyon right at the end of the blue marking the end of the creek on the Olancha 7.5 map, climbing S up easy slopes to the Cartago plateau. This is a remarkable spot, almost flat smooth sand with many orange granite towers and gnarled trees.

We had heard of the difficulties of locating the summit: "It is the southeasternmost pinnacle" and even had a UTM, 012203 from the current Echo. Still, it was hard to know where we actually were. We were aided in this when Joe identified the triple summits of point 10495 off to the east. We continued south and east, and over a very subtle divide, finally selecting a candidate. This proved to have a few 4th moves at the top and revealed the true summit another 200 yards further south. Some details on this section. The Cartago plateau is very slightly dished, draining to the north and climbing very slowly to the south, where there is a row of small towers. We passed through an easy corridor between two of these. From here the terrain begins to undulate very slightly. Our false summit was the highest we could see from this point. Only when we got around it, did the true summit tower become visible. It has a very open and smooth slope to its north, and the route of ascent is on the north. Most significant, the terrain drops off markedly immediately sosuth of the peak.

From here it was an easy walk down to our camp which we left at 10:00. The trudge back to the PCT and then along it seemed to take a long time. We arrived at the road at 4:45.

Round trip stats estimated: 31 miles, 5500 feet.

Afterthoughts. We had cool temperatures, mostly in the 50s. In warm weather this would be no fun. There was no water between the pools at the head of Diaz Creek and Death Canyon. If Toby had not found an occasional snow patch, he would have been quite unhappy.

For those actually able to plan their lives, a far superior scheme is to do a car shuttle from Horseshow Meadow to Sage Flat and get Olancha in the process. This would be a long two days or leisurely three.

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