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East side passes access to the backcountry questions?

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East side passes access to the backcountry questions?

Postby ndwoods » Tue Mar 10, 2015 9:12 am

My hubby and I have accessed the Sierra almost exclusively from the westside. We live in Santa Cruz so to drive to the eastside always seemed a huge waste of time. However....we have decided to explore the eastside passes just for fun and want to explore each one. We have done a couple already...Piute and Pine Creek and McGee. Curious though...what would you all consider the hardest couple of passes (we plan on doing Shephard this Aug...6,000ft climb holy smokes). Are there any you would never do again? Are there any not to miss...not just for the climb but for where it takes you? The reason I am asking is I am kind of thinking due to our ages that maybe we would tackle the hardest now and save the easiest for later... :)
Thanks, Dee

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Re: East side passes access to the backcountry questions?

Postby Tom_H » Tue Mar 10, 2015 10:05 am

Some east side trailheads between Hwy 108 and 120 are:
Leavitt Meadows
Buckeye Creek
Twin Lakes
Green Lakes
Virginia Lakes
(I believe Lundy Lake & Saddlebag Lake connect only to each other)

All can be accessed via US395.
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Re: East side passes access to the backcountry questions?

Postby maverick » Tue Mar 10, 2015 12:35 pm

Hey Dee.

It is easier just to list the most difficult treadmills then the numerous easier ones, difficult does not mean
a great pay-off at the top, Taboose and Shepherd Pass have postcard views at the top and Sawmill Lake is
quite pretty too, and Baxter's western side has nice views though the trail is difficult to follow in places.

Taboose Pass gains 5972ft in 6.25 miles which is 955ft/mile, Baxter gains 6299ft in 8 miles which is 787ft/mile,
Whitney gains 5380ft in 7.75 miles which is 694ft/mile (to trail crest), Sawmill gains 6761ft in 10 miles which
is 676ft/mile, and Shepherd gains 5709ft in 9 miles which is 634ft/mile.

All of of the above passes need to be started as early as possible to avoid the desert heat, especially Taboose
and Shepherd.

Even though Shepherd has the lowest elevation gain per mile do not let this deceive you into thinking that
it is easier than the others not all the trails have even switchbacks like Whitney's, and Shepherd's last section
under the pass on the eastern side can be technical with snow cover as can be Taboose in some years.
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Re: East side passes access to the backcountry questions?

Postby Hobbes » Tue Mar 10, 2015 4:19 pm

Shepherd snow cornice @ top - early June, moderate snow year:


Pay-off when you pop over the top:


This is the Tyndall plateau @11-12k - you can literally walk in a straight line to wherever you want to go. That is Milestone mountain, with Milestone basin located between it and the shoulder.

If you made it to Anvil on day 1, you could reach Milestone basin by day 2.
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Re: East side passes access to the backcountry questions?

Postby cloudlesssky » Tue Mar 10, 2015 7:43 pm

A couple years ago I day hiked Baxter, Taboose and Sawmill in Apr and May:


All are a good workout, but I thought Baxter was probably the most difficult due to the poor trail conditions: wash outs, fallen trees, and lots of thorny bushes across the trail. On the way down it was steep enough in spots that I was sliding on the trail. I definitely wouldn't recommend it with full packs although I know people do it.

I haven't done Shepherd yet. Maybe this year?

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Re: East side passes access to the backcountry questions?

Postby coff20 » Wed Mar 11, 2015 12:39 pm

Cloudlesssky, thanks for posting those links to older trip reports, those were a good read. By the way, the birds you saw and photographed were ptarmigan not grouse. I was thinking about heading up baxter this summer, but I might reconsider that now given your insight.

Ndwoods, here's another picture of sawmill lake. Like everyone else said make sure you get an early start. I made the mistake last year of taking my time and starting at around 10. Even by then the heat and sun were pretty brutal. If you like fishing, Sawmill lake has some pretty nice fish in in it, too.
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Re: East side passes access to the backcountry questions?

Postby balzaccom » Thu Mar 12, 2015 9:27 pm

There are a few more options that we've used that might work for you. Off Highway 108, you can actually start hiking both north or south at Sonora Pass itself, or from Leavitt Lake. The area near the SIerra crest is wonderful around here, with Dorothy Lake and her girlfriends providing one scenic moment after another.

As you work your way down the Sierra, look at the Walker Lake (Bloody Canyon) route up to Mono Pass. It's a pretty easy route, actually, until you get to the last mile before lower Sardine Lake. Once over Mono Pass you have access to all of Yosemite...

Rush Creek up to Waugh Lake and the Ansel Adams Wilderness...leading up to Thousand Island Lake and beyond.

We have trip reports on all of these plus every other trailhead between 108 and 120 except Lundy/Saddlebag. BTW, there is a route from Twenty Lakes Basin over to Upper McCabe Lake that will get you into Virginia Canyon, one of our favorite parts of Yosemite.

check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
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Re: East side passes access to the backcountry questions?

Postby ndwoods » Sun Mar 15, 2015 4:18 pm

AH nice replies...and links, thanks!!!! I would probably have started on Shepherd about 10ish if I hadn't started this thread...we will make it way earlier then, thanks!
And I will do the other mentioned steep THs soon....the pics of Sawmill piqued my interest, that might be the next one.
Balzacom...been kind of saving that area in the back of my mind...want to do the TTY trail soon...not this year, but in the next couple of years. But maybe we will explore more without waiting. I have been to Saddlebag and to Virginia Canyon...and the other canyons...but I think only once or twice each so definately have more exploring in the NE section of Yosemite ahead of us...:)
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Re: East side passes access to the backcountry questions?

Postby acvdmlac » Wed Jul 13, 2016 12:58 pm

Several other east side access routes worth considering:

Lundy Canyon and Pass are hard to beat for scenery-to-slog ratio, especially in the autumn if you like fall colors. To use it to access the back country, though, one has to continue from the Saddlebag/20 Lakes Basin area cross-country over Class 2 McCabe Pass or take more challenging routes over the Shepherd Crest.

Bloody Canyon is steep (600'/mile, a little less vertical than Taboose/Pine Creek/Sawmill/Baxter and Shepherd) and quite beautiful, great views out towards Mono Lake. The canyon is narrow enough and shady enough along a Bloody Creek that an early start is not as necessary as with many of the other East Side access passes; we left around noon and had no trouble with heat and sun exposure. Camping is hard to find at Lower Sardine but there's a lovely sheltered spot to the south (left if ascending) of the trail and outflow creek just below the rocky eastern lip of the lake. Didn't see a soul on the trail, despite its proximity to Yosemite and June Lakes, until we ran into day-hikers from Tioga Road right at the top of Mono Pass (10,620), which is actually the least scenic part of the route. None of them seemed to be headed down the east side, leaving the Sardine Lakes completely empty.

Pine Creek Canyon is more heavily traveled, even though it starts out second only to Taboose in its initial steepness (800'/mile for the first 2.5 miles, and 666' (i.e. hellacious)/mile for the first 4.5 miles. But it flattens out considerably above Lower Pine Lake, so if you are measuring trailhead to Pine Creek Pass it doesn't look so daunting. I found it worth the vertical slog up the old mining road because of the views out towards Owens Valley and the spectacular sheer, rugged and multi-hued cliffs and peaks on either side of the trail. Best camping is above Honeymoon Lake, rather than the Pine Lakes, from which exploring the lovely grandeur of Granite Park makes up for the eyesore of the old Tungsten mine that's visible for the first part of the first day. Sun exposure is significant at for the first 2,000 feet or so, but up above is much less than Shepherd, Kearsarge and Bishop.

Rush Creek is a mixed bag--the ascent out of the trailhead I found quite pretty until one reaches Agnew Lake. The damming of Agnew, Gem and Waugh Lakes to feed golf courses and lawns in LA (instead of Mono Lake) grates on the soul (the trail is also surprisingly rocky on sole, if you'll pardon the pun, for a major east side access route). But if one branches south from Agnew Lake up to Spooky Meadow, it becomes, in my view, the most scenic way to access the Ritter/Banner/Thousand Island/Garnet Lakes area, much preferable to anything out of Mammoth Lakes with its mammoth parking lot, trendy "gear" shops, etc.

The only ones I wouldn't prioritize myself again are the Buckeye Creek trail out of the backside of Buckeye Campground, and Leavitt Meadows. Both are very flat, wide-open and more sun-exposed than scenic for the entire first day, with a lot of cattle grazing (Buckeye) and pack train disturbance (Leavitt). Leavitt also sees a lot of foot traffic, and the region it access is very buggy in skeeter season, with only Stella Lake is really worth the trip, in my view, unless your only priority is fishing. Buckeye is little traveled, but probably for the reasons I described above, no lakes or scenery of note until one gets to Peeler Lake, which one may as well access by going up Robinson Creek instead--another eastern access route that is quite pretty, but heavily traveled.
Last edited by acvdmlac on Sat Jul 23, 2016 3:42 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: East side passes access to the backcountry questions?

Postby SSSdave » Wed Jul 13, 2016 9:51 pm

Dee, you two going up Shepherd too? I'll be starting solo up that trail on a 10-day on Friday July 29 about 9am only because the ranger station that opens at 8am requires a face to face sermon. But will do the pass in 2 chunks really really slow as my pack is huge and am one of the oldest on the board. Ought to hire you to ride me up on one of your horses haha.

McGee, Pine Creek, and Piute are some of the best. The value in reaching just the top of east side passes from their sagebrush trailheads is usually only half a cup at most for expending the effort. And in fact sometimes the east side slog is just misery while what is just over the other side is heaven. Other times both sides are superb.

Two that fit the latter category and are also reasonable for we older folk are Onion Valley up and over Kearsarge Pass then base camp at Kearsarge Lakes and day hike to Bullfrog Lake. And from South Lake up and over Bishop Pass then base camp at Dusy Basin. In both cases the east side trail passes several lakes with wonderful scenery. I'll be in Dusy over the Labor Day Holiday period.

Another one highly recommended is from the Coldwater Creek Trailhead in Mammoth Lakes basin that goes over Duck Pass and one immediately is looking at one of the largest alpine lakes in the Southern Sierra, Duck Lake, that also probably has the greatest volume of water. Beyond Duck another day plus out is a lot more.

One more with less driving and easy hiking is from the Green Creek Trailhead out of Bridgeport up to Summit Lake that is one of those unique lakes sitting right on top of the pass. Camp at East Lake and day hike to the pass.
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