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TR Sawmill Pass 5/18/13

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TR Sawmill Pass 5/18/13

Postby cloudlesssky » Sat May 18, 2013 9:02 pm

My wife told me to go take a hike so I did. The weather was near perfect for a trip to the summit of Sawmill Pass: mid-50 degrees at my 0700 start and light breeze all day.

The trail head is very low in the Owens Valley just north of Independence. The climb starts almost immediately and you're exposed to the direct morning sun for at least an hour+. Summer attempts should be started VERY early.
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Desert trailhead


I was able to see back to the trail head for an hour as I climbed (which is particularly demoralizing when you're coming down). Eventually you turn a corner and get a great view of the Owens Valley before you start transitioning to more familiar terrain.
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Owens Valley overlook


Eventually the trail starts looking like a typical southern Sierra trail.
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Wooded Trail


There are a few small creek crossings that are flowing pretty well. I'd suggest watering up because there was limited opportunity the higher I climbed. I got really startled at this crossing on the way down: I was bombing along, crossed the creek and ran into a mother and juvenile bear - they were not more than 20 feet away! I exclaimed "Sh*t!", my arms went flailing, the juvenile climbed the nearest tree and mom retreated. I was able to pass and move on down the trail, laughing to myself for the next mile.
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Creek crossing


Eventually I reach Sawmill meadow which is really beautiful. I didn't look hard, but there was no obvious stream flowing through. A couple seasonal streams were dry as a bone. There is a real nice camping spot just off the trail.
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Sawmill meadow


I came to Mule lake, which is nearly dry. I didn't see any water running in at all.
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Mule Lake


Shortly after Mule lake comes Sawmill lake. I looked for an outflow, but didn't see anything. The water level is low and the creek that would normally be driven by overflow wasn't.
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Sawmill lake


I was feeling pretty puny by the time I hit Sawmill lake. I donated blood a couple weeks ago and my oxygen uptake just hasn't fully returned. However I decided to trudge on since I was so close and it was still early (1130). Baby steps. I was surprised when I came around a corner and the summit marker was in front of me. I took the obligatory summit photo with a timer.
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Sawmill Pass


I decided to get a look at the Woods Lake Basin area. There's still lots of snow and the lakes are partially frozen.
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Woods Lake Basin


As for the Sawmill Pass trail conditions, I'd say they are pretty good. There are several downed trees on the trail but they are generally easy to bypass without too much effort. And there is little snow to cross. The largest field was just above Mule lake and was only about 20 yards. Everything else was just a few steps or you could work your way around it.
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Small snow crossing above Mule lake


I made it back to the trail head around 1700. Tired and ready for a shower.



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Re: TR Sawmill Pass 5/18/13

Postby maverick » Sat May 18, 2013 9:17 pm

Wow, Sawmill Pass no snow, Woods Lake Basin some snow, both usually under a couple
of feet of snow, at least, this time of the year. Thanks for the great TR & pictures
Cloudlesssky!
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Re: TR Sawmill Pass 5/18/13

Postby KathyW » Mon May 20, 2013 3:02 pm

Thanks for the report - you sure do move fast.

Did you get any pictures of Mount Baxter from the Sawmill Pass area?
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Re: TR Sawmill Pass 5/18/13

Postby Vaca Russ » Mon May 20, 2013 4:48 pm

Cloudlesssky,

Thanks for the great TR and informative pictures. My GF and I plan on spending more time on the eastern slope this year.

You were lucky to be surprised by the bears. I haven't seen a bear in years. I think part of it might be because a lot of time I bring along my dogs.

Thanks,

-Russ
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Re: TR Sawmill Pass 5/18/13

Postby richlong8 » Mon May 20, 2013 5:56 pm

Great timing on your report. I have a permit for Sawmill on Memorial Day weekend. I had basically planned to make a camp at the lake on day 1, then hike up to the pass on day 2, and check and see if Woods basin was iced out yet. I may reconsider.... or not!
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Re: TR Sawmill Pass 5/18/13

Postby cloudlesssky » Mon May 20, 2013 9:24 pm

KathyW wrote:Did you get any pictures of Mount Baxter from the Sawmill Pass area?


I don't have any "good" photos of Mt Baxter, but I think these two photo's provide some info.

The first is at Sawmill Lake. I believe Mt Baxter is the peak in the upper left visible between the V-tree limbs.
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Sawmill Lake


The next picture is from a little higher up, at the tarn just beyond Sawmill Lake. Mt Baxter is (I believe) more towards the center right in this picture.
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Tarn above Sawmill Lake


I have higher res images if you're interested and promise to post a TR after you climb it.
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Re: TR Sawmill Pass 5/18/13

Postby cloudlesssky » Mon May 20, 2013 9:41 pm

Vaca Russ wrote:You were lucky to be surprised by the bears. I haven't seen a bear in years.

I was happy to see them...after I'd gotten down the trail a ways.

These are the first bears I've actually met on the trail, although there have been near misses. Last year my buddy was 10 min behind me and ran into a mom and 3 cubs (!) that I missed just below Paradise Valley. And in Le Conte canyon once I saw plenty of scat right on the trail; and at one point I swear there was a bear in the bushes next to the trail as I went by, but I didn't stop to find out.

I think the bears on Saturday probably couldn't hear me because of the creek noise, plus I think I was the only person on Sawmill Pass trail that day so they weren't on guard.

Funny that I was worried about rattle snakes (and didn't see any).
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Re: TR Sawmill Pass 5/18/13

Postby KathyW » Tue May 21, 2013 12:44 pm

Thanks - The second pic helps - nice to see there is still snow in the chutes - very tempting. I was thinking of going up from Baxter Lake this weekend, but that side will likely be all melted off and a real slog. Not that I don't do my share of slogs, but snow chutes are much nicer than loose talus and scree if snow conditions are good.
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Re: TR Sawmill Pass 5/18/13

Postby cgundersen » Mon May 27, 2013 10:24 am

cloudlesssky,
Thanks for the great insight into snow levels up there; it's definitely going to be a dry year and I'm worried about fires; but, I also wonder how many times I've been lumbering up a pass and did not even notice you going by. Do you wear winged boots or simply have a 20 ft stride? Either way, that's an impressive sprint up Sawmill!
cg
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Re: TR Sawmill Pass 5/18/13

Postby cloudlesssky » Mon May 27, 2013 1:06 pm

cgundersen wrote:...I also wonder how many times I've been lumbering up a pass and did not even notice you going by. Do you wear winged boots or simply have a 20 ft stride?

Ha! With the price of gold these days I couldn't afford talaria (even if Hephaestus teamed up with Merrell to produce them with lugged soles for us mere mortals), and the only way I'd manage a 20 ft stride would be a misstep over the edge!
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