Perched on the Kings-Kern Divide, Caltech dominates the skyline near Forrester Pass along with the likes of Mt Keith
, Junction Peak
, and Ericsson Peak
. This peak, the 21st highest in California, is the newest addition by Sierra Peaks Section
of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter
, as the 248th peak (listed at index 8.12, 13,832', class 2) in the SPS Peaks List
Like other peaks in the area, i.e. Trojan
(USC), Mt Stanford
, and University
(UC Berkeley), this name follows a collegiate theme. Being the highest unnamed point in the area, it was chosen in 1961 by Rick Jali (later the 1967 SPS chair), Jim Eder, and Ted Mathes to be climbed and named as "Caltech Peak". They made the 3rd recorded ascent in June 1961 and obtained approval of the Caltech name from the US Dept. of the Interior. The name became official on the 14th of December 1961. The first East Ridge ascent was by Smatko, Erb, Ross, and MacLeod, who comprised 4 of the 5 first SPS list finishers. It was voted down by the SPS for addition to the SPS Peaks List in 1979 and 1997, but passed in 2008 by a vote of 47 to 34.
First ascent by Norman Clyde, June 22 1926.
North Ridge & West Face from Mt Ericsson (photo by Bob Burd)
Caltech can be approached from a number of different directions depending on the itinerary. The closest trail head approach is via the Shepherd Pass trail but easiest access is available to those hiking the John Muir Trail. Entry into this region is also available from the west, albeit a bit longer. Finally, a couple of more obscure routes are available to the more adventurous.
The Shepherd Pass trail is the quickest access to several routes on Caltech. Starting at 5400’, the trail climbs steeply for 11 miles (except for the disheartening 600’ drop to avoid a cliff band) to the 11,360’ pass before dropping slightly over a 3 mile stretch to the JMT in the drainage west of the pass. Use the JMT north (briefly) to approach the cirques below the NE Ridge or hike the NE ridge directly. Easier is to take the SE slope up and follow the straight forward line north to the summit area.
A different east side approach can be accomplished by using Onion Valley as the starting point. The advantage here is the start begins at a much higher elevation. The disadvantage is the need to climb two passes (including Forester Pass) to gain access to the nearest approach, the NE Ridge area. Using Kearsarge Pass, the route is 16 miles one way and 10k feet before reaching Caltech. The fastest route (from any trailhead) is to hike over University Pass cutting the one way distance down to 10 miles but adding cross-country hiking over disagreeable talus and scree with very little savings in elevation gain.
Roads End can be used to approach the NE Ridge but the distance is even greater than Onion Valley. Taking one of the more difficult use passes gains access to the western slopes of Caltech and is much faster than staying on maintained trails. The two easiest foot passes are Harrison Pass and Milly’s Foot Pass, accessed from the neighborhood of Lake Reflection. Slightly more difficult crossings include Lucy’s Foot Pass and Ericsson Pass – all four of these sometimes difficult (from the north or west) passes have easy exits into the Lake South America basin directly below Caltech.
Caltech's NE Ridge from Forester Pass (Jul 09)
With the exception of the North Ridge, all routes on Caltech are Class 3 or easier. Some of the routes include:
Northeast Ridge (class 2/3) from the JMT in the vicinity of Forester Pass
Southeast Slopes (class 2/3) along various points on the JMT
South Slope (class 2) reachable either from either the east or west slopes or from the Lake South America trail directly south of the peak.
West Slopes (class 2/3) are more interesting the closer you start to the summit with ledges and granite faces.
Looking down at the NE Ridge and the cirque below the north face (Jul 09)
Red Tape, Camping, and Conditions
Being in Sequoia National Park, Caltech Pk. is subject to the usual SEKI National Park regulations, requiring advance camping permits, protection of food from bears, low impact camping, etc. - see the SEKI Red Tape section.
For entry from the east side, everything you need to know about permits, regulations, and driving directions can be found on the Eastern Sierra - Logistical Center
page. While overnight hikes require a wilderness permit, day hikes can be done without red tape.
Climbing can be done in almost any season but May through October are the most popular times. In heavy snow years, the chutes and slopes may hold residual snow. This is also true for any of the routes over the Sierra Crest. Check for current weather
East slope from Diamond Mesa (photo by Bob Burd)
Christopher Brennen's trip report
with some interesting historical background
2009 Sierra Challenge Day 9
Caltech, University, and Stanford trip report
Center Basin trip photos