Sierra continued part 5 – Sawmill Junction to Bishop

Doing this a few days late because I’m lazy and easily distracted. 

The boys and I have come out of the Sierra. It was probably doable, it would have potentially been lots of fun and very beautiful but we decided to can it because the creek levels were more like rivers. Impassable is a word being thrown around loosely in the endless amount of trail hype chat going on and I wouldn’t say that they are however for our group the time spent trying to get across these swollen water walls and then the exhaustion of walking on slushy snow outweighed the satisfaction of getting through the Sierra in a linear fashion. They’re mountains, they’ll always be here.

It didn’t rain on us during our last night out and we spent the morning packing slowly, Justin laughing at me looking like a marmot scurrying round packing my things among the boulders. We crossed Woods Creek on a large snow bridge and spent the morning following contours and rock scrambling till we could eye ball Sawmill Pass. We felt exhausted and stopped lots for breaks. Sawmill is easy, it’s more like a small hill among some quite steep ridge lines. It’s wide and flat at the top. The sun cups were almost knee deep and a real pain to walk on. I turned round and took a last look at the mountains I’ve come to love so much. I don’t feel happy to leave the sierra but i didn’t feel happy continuing on. 

We jumped off some huge boulders onto a steep snow drift and ran down the backside of Sawmill Pass. We ran, like you would down a sand dune. Huge, bounding leaps, the snow too slushy to bumslide until we reached the shoot. A number of beautiful lakes run adjacent to Sawmill trail. We walked past their icy green blue edges until we found one which had a stream exiting it and rushing down the slope into the desert. We lunched for hours beside it, I had two swims and a sleep. Eventually we packed up and hit the trail. Down we went, out of the mountains and into the desert. It was a shock to the system. In the dryness, heat, and exposure we suffered. My boots which I loved so much baked my feet, none of us carried enough water and we raced, at times ran down the trail. It seemed to take forever, and I missed the snowy wonderland I had been so ready to leave only hours before. Once you leave the treeline on Sawmill Pass there isn’t water until the trailhead. 

We collapsed under the shade of the trailhead sign, shared the last of the water I had and began trying to find a lift out of what we believed was a hell hole. Bruce walked down to an old empty building and on the way found a stream, he came back wet and with water. We all went down for a swim then put our packs on, ready to walk about 3 miles to the 395. There was no way I was going to put my boots back on so I walked in my wet dandies. As we trudged down the road Santa’s Helper rang me, he was on his way to come get us. We dumped our packs and got back into the stream. 

On the way back into Bishop I looked back to the Sierra, still not quite ready to admit defeat and let them go. Even now 3 sleeps later as we are hitching a ride to Reno and beyond I’m still not quite ready. Our bodies are made for walking, and to have the chance to stretch that physicality as you do when walking through snowy mountains is one of the most satisfying and amazing experiences I’ve ever had. The extremity of the environment surrounding you, the focus and complete presence needed at times has removed me from so much of the babble that normally surrounds everyday life. If I could take my current mind set and project it into my future I would. Out in the wilds of the Sierra you let go of everything else and use all your being, all your senses and smarts to help you out. I believe it brings out the best in people. You work as a unit, no one can last out there alone, you live in the moment and stretch your limits and boundaries. 

Bishop has been great, but it’s well and truly time to leave. The hostel california is a home to hiker trash dirt bags, and it is here that you solidify that identity in many ways. Bunches of hikers sit around talking about hiker things, cooking food, getting clean and resting tired bodies. There are a number of repeat offenders who come back  intermittently and use the hostel as a base. It weird, hiking is cool, who would have thought. 

Bruce and I are headed to Chester today, will be on trail hopefully tomorrow. We are going to Justin is chasing tail, and meeting a girl elsewhere. The groups split, but hopefully not for long. 


2 thoughts on “Sierra continued part 5 – Sawmill Junction to Bishop

  1. Hiking in lumpy dumpy dirty slippery degraded snow is a real drag. I don’t know how any of you do/did it – it’s a tribute to mental fortitude & determination. However, it really represents the worst of both words. It has neither the pristine alpine conditions you get in April & May for early season climbs like Whitney. Nor does it allow access to cross-country hikes to distance off-trail lakes teeming with wild trout.

    My suggestion is to either come back in August if you intend on finishing @ the border. Or, alternatively, and this might be the option for everyone feeling the same way as you about being thwarted, is finish your hike in the Sierra. Get yourself to Bridgeport and jump on @ Sonora pass. Re-supply @ Tuolumne and head to VVR. From there, aim for Whitey & out. You should be able to do 20-25 mile days, cutting down on your food carry.

    Btw, Sawmill is one of the four “bad boys” which includes Shepherd, Baxter & Taboose. They all have 6k climbs (or descents in your case), but provide elevator rides to the best, most remote regions in the entire range. For anyone who has ever gotten the bug – and it sounds like you do – becomes obsessed with beauty.

    PS The difficult ford you made @ Window (flowing into Woods creek) includes the area covered in this book:


    • Since you didn’t get to fully experience this:


      You should aim for this:


      And no, I’m not going to tell you where it is. But yes, that is a beach. As an added bonus, this is one of 3 lakes in the entire Sierra range that holds the largest wild Golden trout. But, it’s a 2 day, off trail x-country hike just to get there. However, as a little hint, it’s in the Whitney zone. Just another reason to finish your hike on a bang.


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