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TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

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TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby KathyW » Sun Jul 08, 2012 3:01 pm

July 5 - 7. Started in Onion Valley and ended at the Sawmill Pass Trailhead. On day 1: I went up the Keasarge Pass Trail, over Kearsarge Pass, north on the JMT, over Glen Pass, camped at Rae Lakes. On day 2: I went from Rae Lakes to Twin Lakes on the JMT. On Day 3: I day hiked to the pile of rubble known as Mount Perkins (loose rubble, but a nice view) before heading back to Twin Lakes and out over Sawmill Pass.

I was planning on taking 4 days, but it was warm out and I realized my best bet for hiking down the Sawmill Trail to where my truck was would be to do it at night. It made for a really long day, but worked out well - it was still warm (77 degrees) when I got to my truck at 11 pm, but it was bearable.

It's dry out there - especially on the east side of the Crest. The Kearsarge Pass Trail and the Sawmill Trail are particularly dry and dusty. The JMT is not as dry, but it still looks more like early fall than early summer in many places if it were not for all the flowers that are blooming.

Some pics:

http://kathywing.smugmug.com/California ... &k=VwkpbHs



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Re: TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby maverick » Sun Jul 08, 2012 6:12 pm

Hi KW,

Thanks for the TR and great pictures!
Any other locations where the wild flowers stood out too you besides north of Rae Lakes?
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Re: TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby cgundersen » Mon Jul 09, 2012 2:08 pm

Kathy,
After Taboose and Sawmill, which big east side pass are you aiming for next? And, was it so dry as to have suppressed the bugs?
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Re: TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby KathyW » Tue Jul 10, 2012 7:04 am

Flowers: The flowers were really pretty in pockets all along the JMT - lots of Shooting Stars between Rae Lakes and the Suspension Bridge and then north of the JMT/Sawmill Trail junction. There were a lot of flowers between the suspension bridge and the JMT/Sawmill Pass Trail junction too - some of that section was just beautiful, but the flower types were generally more like what you see on the east side of the crest on a year that is not so dry. It was interesting to see some Columbine - the yellow ones up near Sawmill Pass even with how dry it is.

Before this trip I had not been on the Sawmill Pass Trail since June 18, 2006, and then I just went up and over into the area near the Pass on the west side to do Colosseum Mountain. In 2006, there was plenty of snow above 10,000' and I lost the trail in the snow between Sawmill Lake and Sawmill Pass. The outlet inlet flows from Sawmill Lake were huge waterfalls in 2006. On this trip there was no snow unless you want to count the few patches up near Mount Baxter, but none on the trail. There was just a trickle of water flowing into Sawmill Lake from Mule Lake and no visible water flowing out of Sawmill Lake. The creeks lower down are flowing this year, but very low. It's dry and dusty, but there are still mosquitoes in the forested areas especially near Sawmill Meadow and lower down along the creek. Bugs were not a problem at the pass or once you got out of the trees. The Sawmill Pass Trail doesn't get much use and is hard to follow in places - especially in areas on the west side of the pass. In 2006 they were doing trail maintenance in the burn area above Sawmill Meadow when I was out there, but it's hard to tell now. The trail is generally easy to follow to the pass, but it is obvious it doesn't get traveled much - there are a number of down trees on the trail. At least the trail isn't over engineered with a lot of monster steps like the JMT. They were putting in more steps and rubble on the JMT near Glen Pass - I don't understand that situation. Even the gentle slopes have steps on them on the JMT and people just go around them - maybe the steps are for stock and not humans.

I didn't run into many bugs between the Kearsarge Pass Trailhead and Glen Pass - very dry, but there was also a breeze.

I'm not planning ahead much right now because I'm busy at work, but I'd like to keep doing sections of the JMT over the next few years until I see it all. Over the years with all my short out-and-back trips I've covered about 70 miles of the JMT; so I have a lot more to see. I guess my next tough pass might be Mather Pass - not an east side pass, but I hear it is tough.
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Re: TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby KathyW » Tue Jul 10, 2012 7:06 am

If anyone is looking to do a solo shuttle trip, I want to let you know that Paul at East Side Sierra Shuttle gave me my ride from Sawmill Pass Trailhead to Onion Valley - it worked out great. His contact info is: http://eastsidesierrashuttle.com/
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Re: TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby maverick » Tue Jul 10, 2012 8:10 am

Thanks KW for the info, about what was expected for this kind of year, though nature
never ceases to surprise!
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Re: TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby Hobbes » Tue Jul 10, 2012 11:17 am

Question for Kathy, Mav and others: which of the big 3 (Baxter, Sawmill & Taboose) would you prefer to exit if you went in via Kearsarge?

My thoughts are with reference not only to scenery (ie isn't Baxter burned out?), but also ease of shuttling between THs.
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Re: TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby cgundersen » Tue Jul 10, 2012 4:07 pm

Hi Hobbes,
I'm guessing Kathy has had the most recent experience on all 3; it's been about 6 years since I did Baxter and it is a monster in either direction, but as I've mentioned elsewhere, it's the only place I've seen bighorns. For overall scenery, I'd take Taboose #1 (and, Sawmill a close #2). But, the Taboose trail sucks (filled with loose rock much of the way) and the road to Taboose is horrible. I did Sawmill a couple years ago, and I'm guessing that since Kathy did not complain, the burn area up around the Hogback must have filled in considerably. I had no problems following the Sawmill trail but my only caveat is that the last few miles on that exposed hillside before the trailhead can be unbearably hot and dry (so, carry plenty of water). Kathy was smart hitting it late! But, hot & dry will be true just about anywhere this year........ Obviously, part of your calculation will need to include the greater distances to Sawmill & Taboose (and, do you want to "do" Pinchot pass to get to Taboose)? Then again, if you check Mav's Taboose report from last year, that's a good reason to check it out. Overall, it's a coin flip!
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Re: TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby quentinc » Tue Jul 10, 2012 9:41 pm

KathyW wrote:They were putting in more steps and rubble on the JMT near Glen Pass - I don't understand that situation. Even the gentle slopes have steps on them on the JMT and people just go around them - maybe the steps are for stock and not humans.

I noticed the same thing when I was there in June. My paranoid suspicion is that the pack stations somehow manage to dictate how trails are maintained. It also bugs me how trails are continually redesigned to add yet more switchbacks. Kearsarge and Cottonwood Passes are two striking examples. Maybe it's not just the pack stations -- perhaps there are some hikers who like endless switchbacks? It's gotten to the point that I x-country almost the entire route up to Cottonwood Pass. Once I'm at the pass, I walk from side to side for an extra hour to make up for missing out on the switchbacks. :)
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Re: TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby LMBSGV » Tue Jul 10, 2012 10:06 pm

Thanks for the report and wonderful photos, Kathy. And also the East Side Sierra Shuttles link since having to go and in and out by the same trailhead had always been a major annoyance in terms of trip planning. I'm now fantasizing various trips for the future.

Quentin, I totally agree about the switchbacks. Kearsarge is now rather ridiculous and I think the new route of the trail is for pack stock and not for hikers.
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Re: TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby cgundersen » Wed Jul 11, 2012 3:32 pm

Q and LMB,
I've not been on Kearsarge or Cottonwood in ~3 years, so I assume the new & improved is very recent? I must say, I really liked the job the crew did on the Pine Creek trail a few years back, and my last time over Forester there was a crew fixing the North side big time (it needed it). But, I was stunned to see stupid, new loops on Island(!!!) Pass. Still, if you want to avoid switchbacks, try Taboose. There were a few more than I recalled from my only other visit, but whatever the last crew did to that trail was not for the better. Still, it leads to gorgeous country and sees very little action!
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Re: TR: Onion Valley - Kearsarge to Sawmill

Postby maverick » Wed Jul 11, 2012 5:05 pm

Hobbes wrote:
Question for Kathy, Mav and others: which of the big 3 (Baxter, Sawmill & Taboose)
would you prefer to exit if you went in via Kearsarge?


Well let see, from the JMT to the top each pass is: Taboose 3.6 miles/565 ft, Sawmill
3.9 miles/1001 ft, Baxter 5.7 miles/2100 ft.
Taboose has great views east and especially west back towards the Bench Lake area.
Staying at Bench Lake is worth the climb over Taboose any day, plus the flowers
near the top of the passes western side is outstanding (in a good year) and you have
Striped Mountain Basin to the south of the Taboose trail which is quite pretty too.
Sawmill is more elevation gain but you have the beautiful Wood Lakes between the
JMT and the pass, also less of a grueling ride out from the trailhead on the eastern
side.
Baxter is okay but no where as pretty as the other two, and the trail is a little hard
to follow in sections.
If conditioning is not an issue, and rough, rocky trails do not bother you, than go with
Taboose (best scenery), otherwise Sawmill is your answer.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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