Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Taboose Pass As An Overnight Hike

Dale Matson

See Note On Waypoints At End
3D Version Of Route

Taboose, Sawmill and Baxter Passes are three lesser-known routes into Kings Canyon National Park (Fresno County) from the East in Inyo County. They are lesser known because they all have difficult climbs over 6,000’. Part of the attraction for me was the possibility of seeing the endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep.

From Fresno it is a tossup to go south over the Tehachapi Pass or North over Tioga Pass. I prefer the seasonal highway 120 route through Yosemite. It is about 4.5 hours to Bishop to pick up the wilderness permit. Taboose Creek/Aberdeen Station Road is about 12 miles south of Big Pine off highway 395. The 5-mile drive west to the trailhead is slow, confusing and painful even in a high clearance 4X4. Think of it as a warm up! The trail follows Taboose Creek up the gorge and is made obvious by the thin green line of vegetation. Red Mountain to the northeast is a prominent feature that can be seen for much of the climb as you look back to the east toward the White Mountains.

Because the steep sides limit the trail route options and falling scree/talus covers the trail, it is easy to understand why this trail would need continual maintenance. It is also why there are only about four established campsites along the 9 miles from the trailhead to Taboose Pass. The trail travels primarily on the north side of Taboose Creek but crosses over to the south side for a time. The best campsite is on the left side outbound near the “No Fires” sign at about 8,400’ of elevation. There are two small campsites as the trail crosses the creek again and remains on the north side. The final campsite I noticed outbound is a spot for a single tent in a small grove of trees to the left. I spent the night there after reaching Taboose Pass. I was able to reach my wife by Satellite phone to let her know my location for the night. There is no good place near the pass so I hiked back about three miles to that spot.

Signs At Taboose Pass Weather Closing In

Campsite At 9,600'

Cardinal Mountain (13,402')

There is a certain disappointing irony about the trail following the creek. Much of the time the brush is too thick to get to the water or the creek is so far away or below the trail that it is impractical. I was ‘fortunate’ in that my outbound climb was overcast and rainy. This is not ideal weather for photography but great for climbing in the mountains. When I got to the pass, the weather had completely closed in and it was quite windy and rainy. I thought of Lawrence Conn who perished near there in 2012. Even though I was a bit weary, pitching my tent at a lower elevation (9,600’) seemed like a better location and easier breathing and less chance of the rain turning to snow.

I don't believe that starting at 10:30 am would have allowed me to make the long and steep climb on a hot day. I did not see many folks. Eventually the trail leads over the pass to the John Muir Trail to the west. If one needed to exit the JMT, It would not be a difficult 3-mile climb from the JMT to Taboose Pass with about 2,000’ of altitude gain.

The following morning the sun was shining and I got some brighter photographs. The return leg from where I camped was 6 miles of descent. On rested but still weary legs, it was enough hiking for that day. The drive home required two stops for naps.

Note: I like to download waypoints into my GPS along a trail from my mapping software program on my computer. My GPS allows me to do a “Go To” a selected waypoint and this gives me more exact information as to where I am on a trail. I always mark the trailhead before I begin too. Waypoint 1 above Waypoint 42 is an excellent campsite on the south side of the creek. I considered camping there on the way back down on day one. It would have been "A bridge too far". There is a YouTube video of this hike with more graphics here:     



  1. Two thoughts as I reflect back on this hike. Until I hiked over Baxter Pass, this was my most difficult climb with a backpack. It is relentless. Secondly, There may have been bighorn sheep above me but unless they are close enough to see with the unaided eye, you will probably never see them.

  2. Hi Dale, thanks for your blog post! I am planning on hiking Taboose Pass, Sawmill Pass, and Baxter Pass this summer. I'd love to get in touch with you to get some additional advice for hiking these trails


  3. Hi Jacob,
    I haven't done Sawmill Pass yet. My best recommendation is not to do any of these passes as a single day push. What about going of the northernmost pass from the east, hitting the JMT and coming back on one of the two other passes?
    From the west, the start point is much higher.

  4. Hi Dale, thanks for the response! I am looking for a personal challenge. My plan for all three of these hikes is to spend the night at Onion Valley before driving to the trailhead and starting in the morning. I'm planning to take 2 days to get through Taboose Pass. Once I do Taboose Pass I'll have a better idea of how the next 2 hikes will go.

    1. I might try Sawmill Pass this summer. The pain of Taboose Pass and Baxter Pass seems to be diminishing. Perhaps those memory cells are gone. Sawmill Pass from the east side starts the lowest but Sawmill Lake would be a good overnight spot. I think the view from the pass would be great and it is another chance to photograph bighorn Sheep.