One of the beautiful summits
The Southeast Absaroka Range
in northwestern Wyoming is bordered on the north by a huge mountain that stretches for over thirty miles along the South Fork of the Shoshone River. While there at least thirteen unnamed summits with 300 feet of prominence along the long ridge, the entire peak (as well as the highest point) is known as Carter Mountain. Not only is Carter the largest mountain mass in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
, but its steep and pinnacled north face is one of the highest in any of the ranges of Wyoming or Montana, dropping 4,000 feet in one mile and 6,000 feet total to the river.
This page deals with the eastern end of Carter Mountain, which has three ranked summits that are located in close proximity to each other. These points are what most people from the Cody area think of when they hear the name "Carter Mountain", as they look higher than the true summit, which is located many miles to the southwest along the ridge and is over 1,000 feet higher.
While hiking on this peak, it is impossible not to notice the amazing rock spires that are found all over the ridges; the spectacular cliffs on the north side of the mountain under these summits are absolutely vertical, but are made up completely of breccia conglomerate, which is awful to climb on, as the rocks pull out of the walls very easily.
The views north from East Carter Mountain are quite spectacular, as the South Fork Valley and the Buffalo Bill Reservoir are over a mile below with the Southwest Absaroka Range
rising up to 12,000 feet just beyond to the left. The skylines of the Northern Absarokas
are also visible in the distance. Away to the south, Francs Peak is without question the dominant peak of the entire range, and many of the peaks surrounding Kirwin
are visible as well.
The name "Carter Mountain" first appeared on the Shoshone National Forest map in 1921. There are two prominent men named Carter in the early history of the area, and it is unclear for which one the peak is named. Judge William A. Carter was a guide for the 1870 Hayden Survey in the Uinta Mountains and became one of the wealthiest men in Wyoming, bringing the first herds of cattle to the Cody area and his ranch on the South Fork in 1879. Doctor Charles Carter started the Bug Ranch in the Big Horn Basin in the same year, and is also credited with bringing the first herds of cattle to the area.
East Carter Mountain
Getting There and Climbing Information
East Carter Mountain Looking down on the South Fork
To get to this mountain from Cody, Wyoming, turn south 0.4 miles west of the traffic light in front of Wal-Mart onto the South Fork Road (291). Drive for about 18.8 miles and turn left onto the Carter Mountain Access Road, which crosses private land for 7.0 miles before entering the Shoshone National Forest. The road is closed at this point from the first heavy snows until May, but during the summer you can drive for several more miles; look for the long ridge that comes north off the mountain. The west side of this ridge is blocked by cliffs near the top, so drive until you can see the east (left) side and find a side road to pull off on and park.
Walk to the base of the ridge and follow game trails up the steep terrain, aiming for the rock outcroppings the loom overhead. After bypassing these rocks on the left, you will find yourself near the crest of the ridge, which can be followed easily to the base of the cliffs.
Breccia cliffs Close-up view of some rotten rock
At this point, there are two ways to get on top without doing some serious scrambling or awful technical climbing. There are a few gullies in the cliffs that might offer some options for some scrambling, but I didn't see anything that didn't look super dicey. The most direct route is to go left and aim for the saddle between the two left summits, which requires laboring up the steep slopes that consist of mixed scree and grassy areas. Once at the saddle, take in the expansive views and the huge meadows before heading left and up to reach the Pete Benchmark summit. Peak 10,891 is the ranked summit to the right of the saddle, and it features a very narrow summit that juts out with vertical drop-offs on three sides that will definitely get your attention! If you find this kind of summit fun, it is worth the short walk a little ways west along the ridge to Point 10,860, which has two summits that offer great views as well.
Pete Benchmark Peak 10,891
If you look to the southwest, you will see the large grassy hump that is the highest summit on this side of Carter Mountain. The Marquette Benchmark No. 2 has an elevation of 11,301 feet, and appears deceptively close. Don't underestimate the time it will take it will take to get there and back, especially if afternoon thunderstorms are building. To descend, you can trace your steps back to the saddle between Pete Benchmark and Peak 10,891, which adds several miles, or you can cut below the cliffs via a saddle to the west of Point 10,860. This route has a few extended sections of side-hilling on loose Class 2 scree and breccia that may be tricky for folks who aren't used to loose terrain. This route can make for a nice loop that totals about 10 miles and a little over 4,000 feet of elevation gain.
The small summit of Peak 10,891
There are no fees to access the Shoshone National Forest. Be sure to stay on the road through the private property before entering the National Forest. There are grizzly and black bears here, as well as mountain lions, wolves, and many other types of wildlife, so carry bear spray and know your rules for traveling in bear country. Grizzly bears go everywhere, including very high up; they hunt for the moths at high elevations and are expert scramblers on scree and loose terrain. Proper food storage rules apply to overnight stays in the Wilderness.
Summit view west
Backcountry camping is allowed in the Shoshone National Forest, provided that you follow the rules about camping away from streams and store your food properly. Water is more difficult to find on the east end of the mountain than it is near the highest point; some snowbanks may linger into late summer, but don't count on it. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics when hiking and camping in this area.
Winter storm approaching over Carter Mountain
External LinksArmy Cutworm Moths and Grizzlies
Shoshone National Forest
Wikipedia entry for the Shoshone National Forest
South Fork Ice Climbing
On the summit of Pete Benchmark