Aug 13, 2021
|Photos / Slideshow
|Maps: 1 2
Day of the Sierra Challenge was the hardest of this year's summits, with more than 20 miles and almost 8,000ft of gain. The Sierra Challenge had last used the Sawmill Pass Trail in 2017 on an outing to Woods Peak. I had skipped that day, the only time the Challenge had gone over Sawmill Pass. This would give me another chance, visiting Woods Pinnacles on the Sierra Crest north of the pass. I was feeling quite good today and was able to tack on two other unnamed summits along this section of the Sierra Crest between Colosseum Mtn and Mt. Baxter.
There were seven of us gathered in the quiet darkness at the Sawmill Pass TH for a 5a start. A few others had started on the trail even earlier. It was a quiet first hour by headlamp, after which time the sky began to lighten in anticipation of a new day. The sun rose over a smoky horizon, brought on by fires continuing to burn in the state. It wasn't until almost 6:30a before we were high enough for the first trees to appear. This gradually transformed into a lusher section with Meadows and heavier timber, the heart of which is Sawmill Meadow. After the first hour, it was just TomG and I hiking together, the others out of sight somewhere in front or behind. Shortly before reaching Sawmill Meadow, we found Sean, who'd started earlier on his way to Colosseum Mtn. He would hike with us a short distance before dropping behind. Above the meadow, the trail climbs more steeply again, reaching Sawmill Lake where the forest again begins to thin out. The trail becomes more rocky the closer we got to the pass, trees giving way to low scrubs that can endure the scouring winter winds racing over the crest. We reached Sawmill Pass just after 9:30a, four and half hours after setting out. We found several signs indicating our entry in SEKI National Park, and a USGS benchmark dating to 1951.
TomG and I went over the pass and followed the trail for about 1/4mi on the other side before angling off for Woods Pinnacles, another 3/4mi to the north. The peak seems oddly named as it doesn't look very pinnacle-like from the west side of the crest. We aimed for the saddle between it and Peak 11,863ft, then up the class 2-3 South Ridge. We made deviations on one side or the other to get around minor obstacles. We found Clement and Trey already at the summit, having done the traverse from Peak 11,863ft - these were the fast guys. Not long after our arrival, Chris showed up as well. He'd started an hour earlier not just to meet up with us on the summit, but because he had a rather large day planned including Colosseum and Cedric Wright. TomG had had similar thoughts, and now that he had Chris to egg him on, his thoughts coalesced into joining him. Clement and Trey were up for Colosseum, but would skip Cedric Wright.
Views from the summit extend south to Mt. Baxter and Woods Peak, north to Colosseum, west across the Woods Lake Basin to the center of Kings Canyon NP, and east to the Owens Valley. A register had been placed at the summit by Barbara and Gordon in 1983. I recognized about half the names in the seven pages, including Jeff Moffat who'd climbed it a year earlier. After we'd put our names to the last page and packed it away under the rocks, the others all headed north to Colosseum while I turned back to the south for Peak 11,863ft. My route was easier, basically following the class 2 ridgeline between them that also happens to be the Sierra Crest. I met up with Andrew on my way down from Woods Pinnacles. He was tackling the same three peaks as myself, but at a more relaxed pace. After passing over the saddle, I went up one false summit and then on to the highpoint of Peak 11,863ft, about 50min after leaving the first summit.
Clement and Trey had reported no register on this summit, and having forgotten to bring one of our own, we devised a way to split the Woods Pinnacles register in two so I could leave one here as well. Considering the few number of visitors that either sees, it seemed a decent plan. After a short rest I headed off the southwest side of the summit, making a direct line back to Sawmill Pass. It was the easiest cross-country portion of the day with gradual slopes and much sand in the lower half. I was back to the pass by noon, finding TomB's friend Dash resting in the shade of a large boulder. He was a bit knackered from the climb to Sawmill Pass and didn't want to slow TomB down any more than needed, so elected to skip the summit and wait for TomB here. I tried to persuade him to join me for the easier climb to nearby Peak 11,984ft on the south side of the pass. I thought I had him almost convinced, but in the end he declined and I went on alone. It was only about 0.4mi to this last summit and took a little over half an hour to find my way up the rocky slopes to the equally rocky summit. I found no register atop this one (there are several points vying for the honors, so I checked them all), but had no more to leave. It was now after 12:30p and time for me to be heading back.
Rather than return to Sawmill Pass, I took a descent line to the northeast, intercepting the trail a few switchbacks below the pass, and from there continued back down. It would take me another three and a half hours to make my way back down eight miles of trail. Blue skies had given way to threats of thunderstorms, and while no rain would come of it, it did help cool the afternoon some. I found a small group of folks back at the trailhead that included AJ and a few of the fisherfolk that had finished early. Once again, brother Jim provided cold libations that did wonders in reviving sore and tired bodies. The group would swell over the next hour as folks trickled back off the Sawmill Pass Trail. Afterwards I would head back to Independence for dinner and a much needed shower and rest...
Somehow, AJ beat all of us to the summit and back by more than two hours, and I have no documentation of him on the day, save for the very end. Worse, writing this six months later, I have no memory, either. It seems unlikely that he could get up and back without my spotting him. More probably we met him around Sawmill Pass on his way back from the summit and I just can't remember. He did not sign the summit register, but they are often hard to find unless you dig for them.
This page last updated: Tue Feb 1 11:42:59 2022
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