Day 8 - Indian Rock
Indian Rock is a 12,200-foot feature on the long ridge descending from Mt. Baxter between the Baxter Creek and Sawmill Creek drainages. The easiest approach is up the Sawmill Pass Trail, about 20mi round trip with 8,000ft+ of gain. The trail has a reputation for being long (12mi to the pass) and hot (starting elevation: 4,500ft, the lowest of the Eastern Sierra THs). We found the trail far more pleasant than anticipated and enjoyed the outing a great deal.
We started at 5am in anticipation of heat and incoming weather. There were only seven (Kevin T, Sean, Pat, Michael, Jonathan, Tom, myself) at the start, attrition taking it's toll by the 8th day with plenty of no-shows. Phil started early at 3:30am to tackle Colosseum instead from the same TH. The weather cooperated far better than we might have hoped. It was mostly overcast at sunrise which gave us only bit of sun around 6:15am, then perhaps an hour or so later in the morning. The cloud cover kept things quite pleasant for the entire day, never raining more than a few drops in the early afternoon. The trail rises more than 2,500ft in the first three miles, all sand and desert and not all that pleasant going up. This was the part we did mostly by headlamp. The fourth mile descends gently into Sawmill Canyon where trees are first encountered. After the fourth mile the trail crosses a few creeks and stays in a very pleasant belt of forest for more than four miles. This section is extremely pleasant, far better than the narrow belt of trees encountered on the Taboose Pass Trail.
I made it to Sawmill Lake in about 4hrs with Jonathan. Sean and Pat were somewhere ahead, the others somewhere behind. While Jonathan stopped for a nature break and waited for the others, I headed up the rubble-strewn cirque south of the lake. It was a monstrous boulder climb up to the ridge, topping out some 200ft above the top of Indian Rock. One then downclimbs 400ft before the final 200ft of class 3 climbing on the West Face and SW Ridge of Indian Rock. From the high point on the ridge I spotted Sean and Pat just reaching the summit about 20 minutes ahead. They had found another route to the summit, climbing higher on the trail before cutting south towards the ridge.
It took me 5.5hrs to reach the summit. There is a fine view of the Owens Valley, and more peaks than one might have guessed for a lower summit east of the crest. Williamson and University dominate the view to the south, Mary Austin, Black and Diamond to the southwest (with Clarence King just poking up behind them), Baxter to the west, and north as far as Split Mtn. We found no register and left none. As I was descending Indian Rock with Pat and Sean, the other four started up, within a few minutes of each other. We went back down the Sean/Pat approach route, taking little more than an hour to reach Sawmill Lake - a better route than the one I had picked out.
The descent from Sawmill Lake was the most pleasant running trail we've seen in the Sierra. Nearly all of it was free of nasty rocks and small boulders, compact and smooth for the most part. Sean was back before 2pm, Pat and I about 20min behind him. The continued cloud cover kept the temperatures reasonable and the jogging descent a pleasure.
I really looking forward to tomorrow's romp up George Creek
. Until last year, this route was closed for most of the year and all summer. There are a number of peaks that are all most easily approached via this route, including Williamson, Trojan, Barnard, Barnard East and Carl Heller. Should be great fun with a large crowd heading up this classic bushwhack by headlamp.