Sawmill -> Pinchot -> Taboose 7/2017

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Hobbes
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Sawmill -> Pinchot -> Taboose 7/2017

Post by Hobbes » Sun Jul 30, 2017 6:55 am

Some have the ability to describe various life experiences with a traditional 'romantic' flavor - like Muir. I'm more mechanical, so my reports are typically in the fashion of: I hiked from point A to point B. It was bitchin', here's my stats; you should check it out. So, without further ado, here we go:

I don't know how to embed a Google spreadsheet, so I just took a photo:
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Sawmill and Taboose are two of the four notorious east side passes; the other two being Shepherd & Baxter. While they are all respectively strenuous and difficult, there's a reason they exist: they provide an immediate injection into the very heart of the High Sierra. No pvssy footing around, no foreplay, just wham bam thank you body.

I haven't hiked Baxter, but have done Shepherd 6 times, Taboose twice, and now Sawmill. From my perspective, Shepherd and Taboose are more similar, in that they traverse the north sides of large granitic canyons. That means that in addition to a very steep elevation gain/loss profile, you also get a lot of baking exposure over difficult, rocky terrain. For bonus points, both also have ledgy, snow/ice coverage at the very top.

Sawmill, OTOH, is sort of a Jekyll & Hyde: it starts out the lowest, it has the largest total elevation gain/loss, yet after the initial 3.5 miles in the desert, it follows creeks under tree cover the entire way to the top. So, it's both cooler and softer on the feet. Think of it this way: take what is perhaps the easiest of the east side passes - Cottonwood - and turn it on its side. That's my impression of Sawmill: very steep, tremendously physically demanding, yet lacking the leg/knee/foot punishment of Taboose & Shepherd.

Waiting out the heat near the Sawmill TH - I got going around 5:15pm.

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Did I mention the tree cover? Sawmill meadow:
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Ah yes, beautiful Sawmill lake:
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One other observation - I've seen various reports/comments that the top of Sawmill is sketchy. Like all things, it's probably contingent on conditions, mental state, etc, but IMO, the top is a giant nothingburger. The few snowfields were a sick, sad joke compared to Pinchot & Taboose.
Last edited by Hobbes on Sun Jul 30, 2017 7:44 am, edited 1 time in total.








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Re: Sawmill -> Pinchot -> Taboose 7/2017

Post by Hobbes » Sun Jul 30, 2017 7:34 am

That being said, the view from the top of Sawmill opens up a part of the Sierra that few ever see - the Woods lake basin. I gotta tell you, this zone is really special. No one goes because the only logical access is Sawmill. You could go over Taboose/Pinchot, or Kearsarge/Glenn, or Baxter and then some gnarly x-c (Gazelle's experience/words), but Sawmill is the ticket. Here's what you get for all your work & effort:

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Oh yeah baby, bring it:
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Here's the view from my campsite at Woods lake. I was up around 30' along a sold rocky ledge running the entire length of the north side of the lake. (That's Sawmill pass in the upper left:
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I was planning on hanging out by the lake and fishing the next day before heading off to Bench lake for the meet-up. But, like practically everyone else, I too can be influenced by fear mongering. Let me explain: as I was coming over the pass, I met a father/daughter team that was heading back down. They had originally planned on hiking from Sawmill to Taboose via Pinchot - just like myself - but had been turned back at the Woods creek ford and were thus unable to reach the JMT.

Now, he had hiked Taboose, Baxter & Sawmill (but not Shepherd), so he wasn't some kook, and I took his comments under consideration. The result was an anxiety filled night with a resolution to head out early and traverse up around Twin lakes if need be. The next morning, I was up in the twilight and hiking right after 6am. The trail was completely lost under water, so I traveled down the watershed traversing right under Cedric Wright. I eventually got cliffed out and began to drop a bit, and came across the trail that was now visible among the rock fall.

I soon came to a small ribbon of water, maybe 10 feet across, so I went charging across. I was hyped up and could hear the roar of water. In my head, I was like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz: "where are they, put 'em up, put 'em up, come on". I came across another braid, around 25' wide, and went barging across that as well, maybe shin deep. I could still hear the roar, and was now really ready to rumble. I then looked up and saw the JMT junction sign ...

Yeah, I had just crossed Woods creek. Now, the thing is, the hikers I met said the water was flowing to the sign when they reached the ford. So, in true Sierra fashion, a mere matter of hours produced a dramatic difference in depth, width and flow volume. Lesson learned for the umpteenth time; for others, take it to heart: bivy/wait until the morning to get a full assessment. If a creek/river is still flowing too strong to cross, begin heading upstream.

During all this excitement, I took a few shots on my way out. Here's one looking down the Woods creek drainage. Arrow, Window and White fork are just around the corner to the right. Morgenson was lost the same week in July back in '96 after a 'normal' snow year. This year, the canyons were all chock full of snow. It's a good thing the meet-up was moved out of Arrow basin.

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Re: Sawmill -> Pinchot -> Taboose 7/2017

Post by Hobbes » Sun Jul 30, 2017 8:17 am

Because I had broke camp without eating or drinking anything, I was completely bonked when I started up the JMT. I knew there was a tarn just a 1/2 mile or so with a nice view of the Twin lakes, so I headed there for my true breakfast. When I arrived, there were 4 SOBO JMT hikers lounging around having coffee in the early morning sun, relaxing after a very challenging day the day before, doing both Mather & Pinchot in one shot. Their target for this day was only Rae lakes (to be in position to tackle Glen pass the next morning), so they were obviously enjoying themselves hanging out.

I asked if it was ok to join them, so we all just sat in the sun eating/drinking and chatting. It turns out that all 4 started solo - they had formed up a loose group after meeting on the trail. Another key piece of intelligence was they all got walk-in permits. There have been so many cancellations due to fear about snow/crossings, that there literally dozens of JMT permits available each day if one is so inclined. (Obviously, this situation will probably disappear by August.)

We were chatting about some of the scenery, passes, and crossings they had experienced. Everyone was pretty stoked on the conditions. Yet, as it typical in these kinds of group situations, fear mongering episode #2 was breached: Pinchot pass. Pinchot pass? I've traversed that under full snow with axe & crampons; to me, it was not that big of a deal, especially compared to Mather & Glen. But, they begin joking about the upper cornice and the steep run out. Run out, steep, snow cornice? Come again, Pinchot?

I should probably explain my concern - I didn't bring an axe or traction, just my whippet. My hike plan was to hit the passes during the afternoon, so any snow would be soft & slushy, rendering traction useless. Besides, both Sawmill & Taboose are relatively low (11.4+-), sloped, and get baked from the Owens valley heat, so I didn't expect much, if any, coverage. (Which turned out to be the case.) With respect to Pinchot, the steep side is the south, sun exposed section, so I figured that would be ok as well.

So, after bidding adieu, yet another hike that was intended to be a peaceful, relaxed walk turned into another churn of emotions. I had to reassure myself that it was ok, that this wasn't my first rodeo, that I would just get across. There were scattered snow fields along the ascent, which eventually turned into half snow, half trail requiring a little bit of reconnoitering. I finally to to the point where I turned a corner and saw the snow field under the pass a few miles away. Immediately, in my head, I was assessing it based on my other experiences; I knew right away it wasn't as bad as Shepherd, which I've also done without traction/axe. So, I relaxed a bit, but still looking at the fairly steep 45 degree boot track path crossing maybe 100 yards to the top.

Eventually, the trail was lost under snow, which resulted in some scrambling to reach the beginning of the finally ascent. I very carefully & purposely flat footed each step as I traversed the snow field with whippet in hand. I soon reached the top and got this view to the south & north:

South to Woods creek:
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North to upper basin & Mather:
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Because my entire day had been fast forwarded, I had plenty of time to get to the meet-up location well before 4pm. So, I took the opportunity to hang out on top of Pinchot for around an hour, drinking the last of the water I had hauled up and eating some snacks. There was no wind, it was perfectly clear, and it was just in general a really nice, pleasant way to spend the late morning. The hike down was once again a mix of snow & trail, which provides a semi x-country experience, because you have to both reconnoiter and also deal with snow traverses. While the they may be minor in the big scheme of things, you can still easily slip, gain some speed and break an ankle if you're not alert and careful.

Once I cleared the final snow patches, the upper basin came into full view:

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Yes, I know, wow. And perhaps the best part? Other than a few hikers on top of Pinchot, I didn't see/talk to anyone all day - I had the pass/trail to myself. Another bonus of early season (or regular season high snow year) travel.

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Re: Sawmill -> Pinchot -> Taboose 7/2017

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Jul 30, 2017 9:43 am

I read that the lost PCT hiker's body was found in this area. Evidently drown. Did you see S&R people?

I do not think the PCT hikers were fear-mongering. Most have little mountaineering experience, especially not on snow, so it does not surprise me that they had difficulties. It is typical to over-estimate the steepness of snow slopes. If you are on 70-degree snow, it will seem vertical and you are into serious front-point crampon and technical ice-axe terrain.

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Re: Sawmill -> Pinchot -> Taboose 7/2017

Post by Hobbes » Sun Jul 30, 2017 9:45 am

I reached the Bench lake meet-up location around 4pm and wandered around a bit until I met Jeff (Ashery). He pointed out Gazelle's camp spot (she was off bagging - Victor can fill in some details), so we searched/located some other appropriate camp spots scattered around that could handle the 10+- people expected to attend. Within 15 minutes of arriving, both Flamingo and BlueWater rolled into camp, having come from different north/south directions, but meeting at the Bench lake junction.

I set about making camp, and within the next half hour, Gazelle, then Alpine Mike & Jeannine showed; now we were 7. We wondered where Jim, Oleander & Ghost were, hoping they didn't get stuck or turned around in the White fork drainage. Finally, around 6pm we saw them across the little baylet, and we were soon all together. They, like BlueWater, had decided to detour around the White fork and come up the JMT over Pinchot as well.

(I'll keep meet-up specific tales to that thread.)

I got up early the next morning and took some photos. Yes, the view of Arrow from Bench really does look like this - note I was using a generic smart phone camera:
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Around 9am, Flamingo, Jeff and myself took off for Taboose. We weren't in any particular hurry, only wishing to get to the cars in the late afternoon. The ascent is quite easy from the west, climbing only 835' from Bench lake. Along the way, we came across this blooming flower meadow, so we stopped to take a few shots. That's Mather in the far distance over the upper S fork Kings basin:

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We soon enough reached the top of Taboose pass, where we took a break, filtered/drank water from the many snow melt tarns, ate some snacks, and generally lazed around. I knew I had to take a standard stock photo of the pass, but was excited I could see a sliver of Bench lake under Arrow peak by walking over around 50 yards:

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This is my last photo of the trip. Thereafter, I had double wrapped my phone in a ziplock, then my OP food sack, to prepare for the water crossings further down. I believe Flamingo has a bunch of photos, so if he posts them on the meet-thread, maybe I'll reference them here to add a little more flavor to the lower descent.

Impressions: overall, an A+++ trip. Definitely a keeper memory wise. Even though I'm noted for my twin dislikes - shelter & trees - I think I could definitely get into carrying a full load of tent, camp chair, etc up Sawmill to base camp & fish @ Woods lake for a few days at some future date. It really is that special; I don't think exposing it on this thread is going to generate any crowds. It really is a tough place to get to. When I went in to get a walk-in permit, it was like the famous phrase "turtles all the way"; in this context, it was 10s (available) all the way (10 being the daily quota) for the next week.
Last edited by Hobbes on Sun Jul 30, 2017 11:57 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Sawmill -> Pinchot -> Taboose 7/2017

Post by Hobbes » Sun Jul 30, 2017 9:50 am

Wandering Daisy wrote:I read that the lost PCT hiker's body was found in this area. Evidently drown. Did you see S&R people?
The two hikers I talked to on top of Pinchot said they found her body below the trail crossing of the S fork Kings. The ranger had just posted a sign suggesting an alternate that follows the east side for another 1.5 miles before fording in a more manageable area. However, she went missing back on July 8 during the massive flooding event that occurred throughout the Sierra.
I do not think the PCT hikers were fear-mongering. Most have little mountaineering experience, especially not on snow, so it does not surprise me that they had difficulties. It is typical to over-estimate the steepness of snow slopes. If you are on 70-degree snow, it will seem vertical and you are into serious front-point crampon and technical ice-axe terrain.
Yes, it's definitely not purposeful or malicious; merely a true reflection of their own personal experiences and impressions. That's why everything has to be taken in context. Yet, being cautious, it's hard to dismiss until you finally confront the situation yourself.

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Re: Sawmill -> Pinchot -> Taboose 7/2017

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Jul 30, 2017 10:06 am

I am my worst enemy with respect to fear-mongering! The crossing of Pine Creek was hard when I went in on my trip, and I spent the next six days worrying that it would rise and I would be stuck when going out. I planned going out on the weekend, hopefully if stuck, weekend day-hikers could help, and I had plenty of food to wait it out a day or two. Just irrational fear. I actually get in more trouble when fishing. Hopping around on rocks while fly casting is a good way to slip off the rocks. My only minor injury on my latest trip was when fishing; crimped my knee when I slipped off a rock and nearly fell into the lake.

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Re: Sawmill -> Pinchot -> Taboose 7/2017

Post by cgundersen » Mon Jul 31, 2017 10:01 am

Hi Hobbes,
Just color me green with envy. Great report, great photos, great loop; what else to say except wish I were there? And, for what it's worth, I fully concur with your assessment of Sawmill versus Shepherd/Taboose. It's a bigger climb stem-to-stern, but it just does not eat one's shorts the way those other two do. Then, there's Baxter: my wife was looking for the coroner the last time we went up there. And, now that the nettle patch has expanded, there's an added bonus (but, only if you get Mav to join you and work his transformative magic). Cameron

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Re: Sawmill -> Pinchot -> Taboose 7/2017

Post by Hobbes » Mon Jul 31, 2017 3:45 pm

Cam, other than the first meet-up, where have you been all these years? Did I/we scare you off (with our stink)? :unibrow: The group's initial thoughts regarding next year are the V/Bear/Royce lakes area. This would make it accessible from the west via VVR, trail up Pine creek, or catching the SHR from Piute. So, no excuses this time for any of the regulars.

I guess I've got good stories because I like to share in other peoples' excitement and energy. For example, while I was sitting on top of Pinchot, I heard this really labored breathing coming up from the south. I got up and went over to peer over the snow ledge to see what was going on. It was a hiker fully decked out in alpine mountaineering equipment, looking like he was loaded for bear. He wasn't breathing hard due to any cardio deficits, but due to sheer adrenaline as he forcefully exhaled & then took another deep breath before each deliberate axe placement & step up.

He was around 1/2 way across the snow traverse, but I didn't hang out at the top to make him self conscious thinking I was watching/judging his progress. However, he had seen me, so he could use my position as a way-point in which to shoot for. I went back and sat down, and a few minutes later he came over and sat across from me. I commented that I liked his equipment, and he replied - in broken English, since he was a Japanese tourist - that is was the first time he had had to use it so far on his hike.

We hung out snacking and drinking water for a bit, at which point when he had finally recovered he pulled out this honking large Nikon camera equipped with a telephoto lens. Again, in broken English, and using the universal sign for "can you take a picture of me?", he asked me to take some shots of him standing on the snow edge at the top of the pass.

I suggested he grab his ice axe, to which he didn't fully understand until I showed him a chopping, tomahawk motion. With a dawn of realization, he got what I meant, and went back to get the axe along with his crampons. Now, he was ready for his close-up; I felt like a fashion photographer shooting a model. I must have clicked off at least 20+ photos of him in different poses of victorious exhalation, axe & crampons held high. I had him move a few times so I could get different angles of the traverse and also the basin stretching out below.

Somehow, someway, he is going to get at least one great photo out of all those shots in which to forever remember his moment of conquest. That cat was one stoked dude. It's great seeing what you know to be an incredible place & time being experienced by someone else, who then joins the "in-the-know" club. :rockon:
Last edited by Hobbes on Mon Jul 31, 2017 4:37 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Sawmill -> Pinchot -> Taboose 7/2017

Post by Jimr » Mon Jul 31, 2017 4:05 pm

was wondering the same thing. Great to see you posting Cameron
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