Sawmill Pass

  • Updated: September 02, 2018
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

August 31st to September 2nd, 2018

This is going to be a little different than my usual Sierra writeups because we didn't make a single peak and not for any entertaining reason like weather, animal attacks, or gear failure. Sadly boring old health issues would cause us to bail out without a single peak.

Still, Sawmill is one of the unmaintained passes in the Sierra that really deserves to have a bit more attention paid to it. It's located near Baxter which is similarly not maintained but unlike Baxter it's actually quite pleasant if you don't mind a bit of steady gain.

This was our Plan B after failing to get a walk in permit for Taboose Pass. Interestingly enough they had to check a map before they would issue us a permit which should give you an idea of how lightly used it is.

There is a proper trailhead located along Division Creek road north of Independence. It's a good quality dirt road that you follow about a half mile past the powerhouse and you'll find the trailhead on the left. There's all the usual signage and even a bear box though considering the surroundings I wouldn't be too worried about bears.

The trail starts painfully low at 4,500' and you're walking through hot blank desert for the first 2,500'.

Force your way past that however and things improve remarkably with running water, meadows, and tree cover!

There's a really neat terrain feature along the way marked as The Hogsback. It a ridge that separates an arid drainage from a forested gully where the trail runs which has strongly flowing water even this late in the year.

Further up there's a series of meadows with great developed campsites. We ran into a few other people there who all seem surprised to see anyone.

The pass is at 11,500' so you do a good 7,000' of gain to get over it. But it's all on decent trail unlike say Baxter Pass.

By the time we made it over the pass it was getting close to sunset and we hurried down the far side in search of a camp.

You know how normally you're tripping over campsites in the Sierra *except* for when it's getting close to dark and you're really ready to be done? Yea, this was one of those nights.

We left the trail and made a beeline for Woods Lake figuring a large lake like that was probably our best bet for finding a nice site.

We did eventually find something that worked but it was just a small piece of bare ground on a slight slope a bit too far from the water to be convenient. I'm sure there are plenty of great sites in that basin if you have more time to explore.

Camping just over the pass puts you in range of Baxter, Acrodectes, Colosseum, Cedric Wright, and Perkins and we went to bed that first night with grand plans for cleaning them out over the next three days.

Unfortunately the aforementioned health problems kicked in on the following day while we were heading for Baxter and we had to dramatically scale back our plans and finally just hike out the following morning.

It was a bummer to blow a long weekend particularly Labor Day which traditionally has been filled with long multi peak buttkickers but on the plus side I now have a solid 4 day plan to repeat sometime in the future and a great spot if I ever want to go camp in solitude without going too far in.

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