Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Trail To Baxter Pass

Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge

Baxter Pass 12,300'
Mt. Baxter Center And Acrodectes Peak Left Of Center

Trailhead 6,000’ Baxter Pass 12,300’

Baxter Pass is considered one of the “Four Nasty Passes”.

I have also done the Taboose Pass trail and the only thing better about Baxter Pass is the drive to the trailhead. From there what passes for an unmaintained trail is barely beyond a “use trail”. It is understandably seldom used. Two hikers, one whom had just been discharged from the army, passed me. They were the only people I saw in three days. I saw them again at the pass.

I picked up my wilderness permit in Lone Pine and headed to the trailhead. I began my hike at 9:15am and made camp for the night around 10,000’ after about 7 hours of hiking. My Suunto Ambit indicated a stingy 5.56 miles to my tick-infested campsite while my Garmin indicated 7.39 miles and 4,191’ of gain. The chart on the website must have been scaled from a map because the entire trip is only supposed to be 5 miles. Resupply water whenever you can. Much of the time the creek is too far below the trail.

The following are my reflections on the first day. There were three creek crossings. The first crossing at about 6,400’ a small tributary of the Oak Creek North Fork soon after you enter the John Muir Wilderness. The second crossing is Oak Creek from north to south at about 6,700’. When you get there, cross the creek. Don’t try to follow the trail on the north side of the creek. Wear long pants also. There are stinging nettles (the gift that keeps on giving) near the bank and buck brush covering the trail in plenty of places. The trail along the south side of the creek is difficult up and down. It is narrow with powdery edges that collapse dangerously. There are no switchbacks because there is no room for switchbacks. You are going up and down a canyon with steep sides. The third creek crossing is switching from the trail following the south side to one that follows and remains on the north side of Oak Creek. Not long after crossing the creek the final time, there is a campsite on the south side of the trail in a grove of half burned evergreens. There is a campsite indicated on the map at about 10,000’. I camped near the creek but did not see any evidence of an established site.

The second day I intended to summit Baxter Pass, drop down to Baxter Lakes and return to my campsite. Not long after heading out at 7am, I came to what looked like a series of Cairns directing me west (you can see it on the GPS download). I wound up in a steep gully and had to retrace my steps till I could climb out, head south and rejoin the trail. I lost about an hour to this nonsense. The worst part was the wasted energy trying to climb out in several places. The lesson I should have already learned is that not all Cairns are useful or correct.
The final part of the climb is a sharp bend to the north. You have been headed toward Diamond Peak (about 13,000’) up until you begin the switchbacks. There is a false summit so don’t think you are there until you see the sign. I did a lot of resting on the final part of the climb. I summited and took photographs with a 24-70mm lens and a (3 pound) 100-400mm lens. I was hoping once again to photograph Bighorn Sheep. You can see their paths in the bronze colored area. No luck again. I headed back and arrived at camp about 4pm. My Ambit indicated about 3 miles from my camp to the Pass. Once again, this was longer than reported.

The final day I broke camp at 6:60am and arrived at the trailhead in about 6.5 hours. Tired legs don’t go down steep hills any faster than fresh legs go up. My total ascent for the entire route was 7,141’

What’s the best advice I can give another person in his or her seventies? Don’t do the Baxter Pass trail.     

 Looking East At White Mountains

 Creek Crossing
 North Fork Of Oak Creek
 Trail Route

 "Campsite" With Running Water
 Diamond Peak
 Author Literally One Year Older Than The Beginning Of The Hike
 From The Switchbacks
 Looking West

Lake 11,830 above Baxter Lakes

There is a video slideshow with additional graphics on YouTube here;

1 comment:

  1. Dale

    I'm 55 and in Jun16 exited an 8-day segment of JMT a couple days early via Sawmill.
    In Jul16, I revisited in reverse, and Sawmill sounds like Baxter. I fished for three days in the basin west of the 11.3k pass and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude mostly gifted by the arduous trail.

    You've inspired me. Good knees and trails to you.