Trip Report Sawmill Loop Kings Canyon 7-26-19 to 8-4-19

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Trip Report Sawmill Loop Kings Canyon 7-26-19 to 8-4-19

Post by robertseeburger » Sun Aug 11, 2019 8:33 am

Every year we all go through the trip planning process and something just sticks in our mind and rises to the top. For me, after several false attempts, last year it was just to finally get to Tunemah Lake. And I made it. This year in the winter, I really wanted to go see the basins west of Pinchot Pass and climb Arrow Peak. The problem to get there? With the bridge out near Paradise Valley, I finally wrestled it to the ground in my mind that the best way to do this was to (gulp) go over Sawmill Pass. Something I had never done before. I finally ordered up a permit in April ( probably not necessary but it gave me peace of mind) guessing that the end of July should be ok for snow, even in a big snow year. Pictures to come.

My usual modus operandi for backpacks is to wake up about 4 am, drive across Tioga Pass and pick up permit about 9-10 AM, get to trailhead about 11 or 12, and then start hiking. I climb about 2-4 thousand feet and arrive at a campsite "pleasantly exhausted"...meaning very tired but "mind and body are still intact". This has worked many times...but failing me twice. Going up Shepherd Pass a couple of years ago, starting in the heat, I crapped out before Anvil Camp..staggering to a campsite with a small creek nearby. Since this was the first backpack of the year, I attributed the result to poor conditioning. And then, going up Taboose Pass in 2016, the same thing happened. I started out in the desert with 95 degree heat and crapped out at the first stream crossing. The difference was this was the second trip of the year for me and I KNEW I was in shape. So therefore I knew it was a matter of heat and hydration and fuel. I rested for a while, drank a lot, and was able to resume my way and get up 4000 feet.

I may be dumb by I am not stupid.

I realized that that my usual modus operandi doesn't work for the 4 ball busters ( Shepherd, Taboose, Baxter, and Sawmill). I was too stubborn to admit it before, but realized that if I was to do it again, I would either start in the evening or preferably first thing in the morning. With Sawmill having the longest desert section, I chose to start in the morning. With that in mind, I drove up the night before, arrived at midnight at the trailhead, plopped a spare sheet and airmattress on the ground next to my car (sleeping bag and air mattress were packed and I didn't want to spend time packing them in the morning) and tried to sleep. Set the alarm for 4:50 AM. It started raining 5 minutes later. ( I have seen several reports on HST on the ferocity of the rainstorms on 7/25). I gave up and just tried to sleep in the car. Got maybe 2 hours sleep. Not good.

So much for the preamble if that bored you. On to the trip.

At least the rain cooled things off. It rained a little in the morning while I was hiking. Even with the rain, it was 75 degrees when I started. Still sweating profusely but could have been worse. A view from about 2000 feet up, back to the trailhead.
It took me nine hours of slow steady hiking, but I finally made it to Sawmill Lake, which was my goal for the day. I actually took a catnap next to the hogback for 20 minutes or so. But in any event, this was my goal, so I was pleased. Elevation gain 5400 feet. Most I have done on a first day since my youth. So the change in process for me seems to have worked.
A view of Sawmill Lake.
I only had to do 1300 feet more to get to the top of Sawmill Pass, so I thought it would be easy. But I was suffering now from what I call "the second day blahs". I clearly had not recovered from the effort of the first day. I was very slow getting to the top of the pass. At least I had planned a minimal day.
A view from the top of the pass.
Frankly, the view from Sawmill Pass in both directions is not as good as most.
In any event , I made the short hike down to Woods Lake and camped. Very nice lake, pretty basin.
I did a little fishing, and then had time to explore a couple other lakes in the basin. I found this one ( west of Woods Lake) to be quite nice. Reminded me of Precipice Lake a little.
The next morning I crossed Woods Creek ( I was a little worried about this, but it wasn't difficult at all), joined the Muir Trail down Woods Creek for a couple of miles and then started up the slope east of Window Creek.
A view looking toward Rae Lakes.
I finally made it to Window Peak Lake and camped there. I had always wanted to come here. An isolated lake without trails that few visit.
I didnt know you could actually see the window in Window Peak. You can just barely make it out to right of the summit.
I spent quite a bit of time and effort trying to figure out how to get from Window Peak Lake to the basin west of Bench Lake. I PM'ed a couple of HST members and did a lot of reading. I had hoped to go over Explorer Pass for a direct connection, but I gave up on that expecting there to be too much steep snow on the north side. So, the best report I had was Rouguephotonic's famous 111 days in the Sierra from 2012, where he went over White Fork Saddle and White Fork Pass. I chose to do this thinking it was probably doable. I planned a retreat down either Window Creek or White Fork if I ran into trouble. I don't carry ice ax or crampons.

A view ( fantastic) as I went up Window Creek, looking back at the lake and Mount Clarence King.
DSC01323 (1).jpg
There was lots of snow. I had to cross or go around a couple of steep snow slopes. Looking down to the creek. Somewhere in here is where Ranger Randy died. I had heard he probably tried and failed to cross a snow bridge. I could see how that could happen here.
A view looking up toward Explorer Pass. At this point I was glad I chose not to go here.
A view of Mount Clarence King from White Fork Saddle. Mount Clarence King dominates the view from this pass.
And another view of Explorer Pass from White Fork Saddle

I am going to have to split my TR into a couple sections.. all for now.. part 2 coming later.
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Re: Trip Report Sawmill Loop Kings Canyon 7-26-19 to 8-4-19

Post by sekihiker » Sun Aug 11, 2019 10:57 am

So far, so great - that is photos and words. Thanks.

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Re: Trip Report Sawmill Loop Kings Canyon 7-26-19 to 8-4-19

Post by cgundersen » Sun Aug 11, 2019 11:26 am

Hi Robert,
I'm with you on the scenery scene at the top of Sawmill; for my money, Shepherd and Taboose are far better, and even Baxter is more interesting. But, you can access some lightly travelled terrain up there, so I'm looking forward to the continuation of the saga. BTW: as I've reached "older and wiser(?)" status, I typically hole up in a hotel the night preceding a trip. It helps suppress those second day "blahs" and jump starts the altitude acclimation (well, probably a placebo effect, but I don't care). Cameron

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Re: Trip Report Sawmill Loop Kings Canyon 7-26-19 to 8-4-19

Post by robertseeburger » Sun Aug 11, 2019 3:23 pm

Part 2 of report ( I think I will have 4 parts when done)
Another picture from the top of White Fork Saddle. no ducks here...not many people do this!
This one looking toward White Fork Pass.
It took me four hours to get from White Fork Saddle to White Fork Pass. Nothing extremely difficult or beyond class 2. But it was "tedious". I circumvented a couple of snow fields on the north side of White Fork Saddle and on the ridge between the two passes. ( This ridge/pass could have a pass name itself. I would suggest Rogue Pass. I remember from the write-up he climbed the seldom visited peak to the east as well. I thought about this, but chose not to. I was worried about the snow conditions on the north side of White Fork Pass. )

Finally making it to White Fork Pass, I was treated to some fine views. First, toward Arrow Peak.
North to Mount Goddard on the left and Palisades on the right.
And south.. I believe you can see all the way to Mount Whitney.
I had been over Pinchot Pass before. I was struck by a couple of things on doing the two passes today. One.. the view from White Fork Pass is outstanding and broad. I consider it vastly superior to Pinchot. Second the views from the two passes are very different, even though they are close together.
White Fork Saddle is more about just one mountain..Mount Clarence King. White Fork Pass has a truly amazing and broad view.

Now I had to get down from White Fork Pass.
I had to decide from the top whether to go left or right. I didnt remember anything on any prior post. Looking down, I decided that the snowfield left looked doable and I couldn't see right and it looked steeper on the topo map, so I chose angle left to attack the snow slope.
The first thing I encountered was a jumbled mess of relatively small loose rock. I had remembered from Rogue's post that he encountered smaller pebbly stuff, but not me. The loose rock gave way at almost every step. I hated this descent until I got to the snow.
I finally got to the snow field and had a long descent down essentially one continuous snowcup. It wasn't hard or dangerous.. just slow.
Here is a shot from below, looking up at White Fork Pass from the north. I came down the snowfield to the right. Clearly you could go left and it looks like it might have been easier. But I made it.
Looking across the south fork of the Kings to Marion Peak (?). Purple flowers...
And looking closer at Arrow Peak and Arrow Pass. I was concerned about the cornice I saw. But it turned out not to be a problem the next day.
I made it down to the valley between Arrow Peak and Bench Lake. I left at 8:30 am from window peak lake( specifically left later than usual with the objective of letting the snow soften) and arrived at a campsite here in this valley at 5:30. Again, nothing unusually difficult, but it was a very long day at least for me.

This valley is GORGEOUS! I really enjoyed it people..but lots of mosquitoes.

DSC01356 (1).jpg
I remember seeing a picture of the "emerald pools" from Alpinemike I believe. I am not sure I found them, but I certainly found some pools that were pleasant to look at and be around. Explorer Pass in the background
The next day I set my mind that I would climb Arrow Peak. Every year, I try to climb one or two peaks. I am not really a peak bagger per se. I just pick one or two that I fancy and I try them. Last year it was Finger Peak and Milestone Mountain. This year, the only one I have for sure is Arrow Peak. Just the view from Bench Lake was the thing that made me set out to climb it. As I was just about to set off, two fellow backpackers came through. They were following Andrew Skurka route going over Arrow Pass and then down Arrow Creek all the way to the bottom. I still cant figure out why this would be a chosen route...losing all that elevation. But since we were going the same way for a while, we hiked up to the top of Arrow Pass together.

And here are the two young backpackers doing part of the Kings Canyon High Basin Route. They told me their names, but I confess I forgot.
These two are the only ones I saw on any cross country on the trip. Note the mosquito net leggings. I didnt know they existed. Even at the top of the pass, the mosquitoes were HORRIBLE. They had hundreds on them, none on me cuz I was using DEET. In any event, I told them about high sierra Topix, and told them I would do a post and include their picture.. I hope they sign up and read it.
In any event, they went left to go down Arrow Creek and we parted ways as I went to climb Arrow Peak. End of part 2
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Re: Trip Report Sawmill Loop Kings Canyon 7-26-19 to 8-4-19

Post by robertseeburger » Sun Aug 11, 2019 3:46 pm

Part 3 of 4
A view of Arrow Pass summit. The cornice was easily surmountable on the right ( north ) side of Arrow Pass.
And the climb was relatively easy to the summit.
What a view.. will show a couple of pictures..
The palisades..
And across Bench Lake to Split Mountain.
And a view south ..I am not even sure ( yet) what all the mountains are, but the view is extensive. The lake basin below has rainbow trout.
One more view
I was the second of the year to climb it. The prior one in the register mentioned seeing Bighorn Sheep on the way up. I didnt know there were bighorn sheep in this area? I always enjoy thumbing thru the register. I noted that Bob Bird climbed it from Road's End 11 hours.. how did he do that? He is amazing.

I cant resist another shot of the valley below toward Explorer Pass again.
And another shot of "an emerald pool". Or at least an attempt.
Now I rounded the corner and went to Bench Lake. I started to see people again, as expected.
And the obligatory view of Arrow Peak from Bench Lake. One of the Sierra classics. I have posted before, and probably will again some day.
DSC01388 (1).jpg
I am not really a flower photographer, but I couldn't resist one shot of a large moth among flowers.
Looking north from Pinchot Pass. I was surprised on one thing. There was no snow on Pinchot Pass on the north side, but lots of snow on the south side.
Go figure.

And a view south.. you can compare views yourself between Pinchot and White Fork Pass

And a view toward Mount Clarence King again..from below Pinchot Pass.
end of part 3
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Re: Trip Report Sawmill Loop Kings Canyon 7-26-19 to 8-4-19

Post by robertseeburger » Sun Aug 11, 2019 4:18 pm

OK.. part 4. I did some fishing on the trip... some good some not so good.

First a 13 inch brown trout. A couple of lakes on the trip had browns.
Next a brook.
One lake basin had lots of brook trout. In fact, I think every lake had brook. In one lake I caught 6 brook of 6 to 10 inches on 7 casts. I then stopped.
But there are lots of brook trout here.
And I had a couple of dinners of rainbow trout. Here are some 9-11 inchers for dinner.
And some pictures of some nicer rainbows.
This is a 19 incher...
And another 19 incher
And the biggest of the trip. slightly greater than 20 inches..I wish I had a better picture, but it is difficult sometimes to get a good shot when you are solo, and try to measure, picture, and release.
DSC01402 (1).jpg
And here is an 18 incher.. I ate this one!
DSC01399 (1).jpg
I have posted before I prefer to poach over two stoves. But when solo, I fry, with batter and salt and pepper and olive oil. Note the orange meat. Usually I think this is reserved for Goldens , but rainbows have it also sometimes
Lastly, I knew of one lake in the area that had goldens. I wanted to have a "trip slam" and catch a golden. I camped at the lake in my only shot to catch a golden.

Unfortunately, it appears that the lake suffered winter kill. Or at least that is my conclusion. There were many fish, always 5-10 feet from shore dead.
All I could see were some 5- 6 inch survivors near the outlet. I proceeded to try to catch one. The water was shallow. They were hitting the surface.
I didnt see how I could catch them on a fly because all I had was a fly/bobber combination and that would make too much noise on the surface. I tried a number 2 ( small) panther Martin and dragged it across the shallows quickly. I got many hits, but could not catch any. I finally gave up. I decided to try a single salmon egg ( something I almost never do.). Again, as goldens will do, they only mouthed the offering. I spent two hours at these two techniques and I couldn't produce a single 5 incher. I had to go. I finally said...why dont I try a fly with the bobber. So what if it makes noise. I did..and within a 5 minutes catching one 5 inch golden. I was done! Flies vs. spinners..the epic battle. Here flies won.
So, I had a very good trip. Great weather. Visited a couple of basins I have always wanted to visit. Climbed a mountain I have always wanted to climb, and caught at least one of each major Sierra breed of trout, as well as some nice rainbows. Very enjoyable region of the sierras and not that many people go here.

I have now done three of the ball buster passes. I have never done Baxter. I have always read with interest people's comments on which is the toughest etc. I could never comment because I had only done two. Now that I have done three, I will offer my opinion on the three. Shepherd hardest, Sawmill middle, and Taboose easiest. Taboose just seemed shorter to me. Sawmill is relatively straightforward once you surmount the desert. It is mostly in trees and the trail is steadily graded and not rocky. But the total elevation gain and the desert make it a rank above. And Shepherd has that 500 foot drop and then the snow difficulties at the top, which put it most difficult to me. The reality is that they are all hard... I do respect people with different opinion here. Maybe some day I will do Baxter.

And I will leave my post with a final picture. Many of us have pets and they all hate to see us go backpacking or on any vacation. I have two cats and I am no different. They can sense when I am about to go and sulk. I write up a proposed itinerary on email for my wife and son. Then I mark up a map that they can use to grade progress on my itinerary and I send a daily InReach message so they can compare. I leave the map on a table.
Here is what I found when I returned. He even hit my exact itinerary! Right on Arrow Peak!
Happy trails!
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Re: Trip Report Sawmill Loop Kings Canyon 7-26-19 to 8-4-19

Post by giantbrookie » Mon Aug 12, 2019 12:15 am

Wow. Neat alpine scenery, nifty route (ascending Window Cr). I think Window Peak Lake is one of the most beautiul lakes in the High Sierra. Arrow Peak is such a nice viewpoint too. The giant fish are the stuff of dreams. Of those big guys, I've never caught more than one in one trip let alone multiple at one spot.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: ... ayshi.html" onclick=";return false;

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Re: Trip Report Sawmill Loop Kings Canyon 7-26-19 to 8-4-19

Post by steiny98 » Mon Aug 12, 2019 6:19 am

What a great report and epic trip! Taking on Sawmill pass like that is pretty tough. You always make it to pretty areas with the added bonus of good fishing.

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Re: Trip Report Sawmill Loop Kings Canyon 7-26-19 to 8-4-19

Post by dougieb » Mon Aug 12, 2019 4:17 pm

Wow what a great trip and a great report to share with all of us! I'm looking forward to a loop in a couple weeks going up woods creek, around pinchot and then from bench lake over to lakes basin, sierra high route back to cedar grove. Itll be all new area for me and I'm looking forward to seeing arrow peak. I dont climb many peaks but if i have the time and energy I want to climb arrow. Glad you had a good time out there!

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Re: Trip Report Sawmill Loop Kings Canyon 7-26-19 to 8-4-19

Post by SSSdave » Mon Aug 12, 2019 8:52 pm

To get over Sawmill Pass would take this person 3 days with 2 nights. I do like how one can enjoy Sawmill Lake on day 2. Quite a challenging effort, well done. And congratulations on catching those large rainbows. I've never caught any trout larger than 17" in the backcountry though have seen some over 20". To make measuring trout easier in that situation, you might use a black marker to mark inch lengths on your rod.

Purple (actually pink) flowers are kalmia microphylla, aka alpine laurel, and appear just after snow melts atop soggy turfy areas. Most mature male salmonids have orange to red meat. Mature sea run steelhead rainbows can be as red as any goldens. With any larger salmonids with red flesh, we bake in a frying pan. Use aluminum foil to cover the pan top as the flesh of those mature fish contains oil that can cook itself without using extra oil.

I was supposed to go over Shepherd in about a week and would have done that on the third morning. Litle me at 135# carrying over 60# for a 10 day trip. Of the 4 passes, Shepherd would also be the most difficult for this person due to the hot 2300 foot waterless switchback section climbing out of Symmes Creek. The way I had planned to deal with that was late pm in heat do the one mile and 500 feet from the 6450 foot trailhead to the creek crossing at 6900 where I'd take a dip and fill up with extra water. Then at sunset try and add another 900 feet to the 2 mile point at 7.8k. At dawn the next day would start the 1300 feet of switchbacks and make it over 9020 foot saddle early. From there would be able to reach Anvil Camp at 9900 feet another 1400 feet and maybe The Pothole that would stage another early effort over the pass. But alas I now don't expect that to happen as my heel still gets sore where the large plantar ligament attaches that has bothered me since last fall when I'm carrying such a heavy load.

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