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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spVLakr7Qys&feature=youtu.be