Among the passes into the Sierra Nevada from the east are 4 that have a reputation as being more difficult than the others. Mostly because of the elevation gain from trail head to pass ( >6,000 ft). Terms like “nasty four” are used. The passes are Shepard, Sawmill, Taboose, and Baxter . I had hiked the first 3. Time to check out the forth.
Day 1: Jack, John, and I arrived at the Baxter Pass trailhead in the late afternoon to 90 F and with dark rain clouds over the mountains. It was windy, but there is a nice campsite which is sheltered from the wind. We had our dinner and beers there before settling in for the night.
Day 2: After a quick breakfast we started hiking just after 7 am. The sun was coming up over the White Mountains, but there were a lot of clouds in the sky. Tropical storm Genevieve had brought a lot of moisture to Southern California. The clouds were a good thing for us since the trail up the North Fork Oak Canyon provides very little shade. Right away the trail starts climbing and never really lets up. We made good progress and reached the campsite above the falls at Summit Meadows by noon. At just under 10,000 ft we had climbed 3,900 ft from the trail head. With another 2,400 ft to climb we decided to take a nice long lunch break which included a nap.
Recharged we continued up. Dark clouds were building up over us and sprinkles cooled us down. At about 11,500 ft it started to rain and we heard some thunder, but saw no lightning. So we continued on. Then for the last 1,000 ft of climbing to the Pass it was raining and very windy. Temperatures fell to below 50 F. We pushed on. When we reached the pass the clouds had all but passed and blue sky appeared. It was no longer windy. We rested and warmed up a bit before continuing down 1,100 ft to the upper Baxter lake where we right away found some perfect camp sites. Tired from climbing 6,300 ft in 8.3 miles we setup camp, had a hot meal and crawled into our tents for a good night of sleep.
Day 3: At 8 am, after breakfast, we set off for the very steep 1,900 ft climb to Baxter Peak. The first 800 ft to an unnamed lake were easy, but then it was talus, mostly quite loose, all the way to the top. We each took slightly different routes as we were working our way up. Each move taking full attention with all the loose rocks and boulders. Eventually we made it to the top. Unfortunately the views were not so great since there was still a lot of moisture in the atmosphere. It was very hazy, almost foggy. Nevertheless we took a nice break celebrating the hard work of getting up there. In this type of terrain we don’t move much faster down than up, so it was slow going on the talus again. Back at camp around 3 pm we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon napping and resting.
Day 4: After breakfast and breaking up camp we left around 7:30 am for our return hike. Dreading the 1,100 ft climbing to the pass starting us off. I was a little in front of the others and managed to catch a glimpse of some Bighorn sheep strolling over Baxter pass. On the pass we rested and met the first people so far on the hike. A young couple who was coming to the end of an eight day hike from South Lake. On the way down we met 5 more hikers coming in, Friday traffic. This was a sunny day and even going down the heat did get to us a bit. It did help that we had the stream to fill up our water supplies. At around 3 pm we were back at the starting point to end a great trip.
Now which is the “nastiest” of the 4 passes? I don’t know, they all have their own character and a lot depends on the weather conditions. They are all hard work for sure when carrying a heavy pack.
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