The view north from Sawtooth peak is virtually unimpeded.
Sawtooth Peak is a rarely-visited summit (I counted 17 people total in 2005, most of whom were part of a large Sierra Club party) on the Sierra Crest, overlooking the Indian Wells Valley to the east, and the Domelands Wilderness to the west. This peak is arguably a more worthy endeavor than the local high point, Owens Peak
, offering superior views of the high meadows and rolling, pine-covered hills of the interior peaks.
The flora are dominated by single-leaf pinon, with interior live oaks also common, and Gray pine and Juniper putting in the occasional appearance. The understory is relatively open, making for reasonable off-trail travel in most places. Big Sagebrush is most common, along with native grasses and a handful of small shrubs and flowers.
The most straighforward way up Sawtooth Peak is via the Pacific Crest Trail, which crosses Canbrake Road (part of the Chimney Peak Back-Country Byway
) about a quarter mile south of Chimney Peak Campground, and 13+ miles north of Highway 178.
Coming from Los Angeles, San Diego, or points east of the Sierra Crest, find your way to Highway 14 and follow it to the 178 west cut-off, some 46 miles north of Mojave, or 7 miles south of the US395/SR14 split. Take Hwy 178 west 18 miles to Canebrake Road and turn right (north). The intersection does not have the usual highway signs. A dirt road with a couple of BLM information boards is all there is.
From the Central Valley, find your way to Lake Isabella via Hwy 178 out of Bakersfield or Hwy 156 out of Delano. From there, take Hwy 178 east 20 miles to the above-mentioned intersection of 178 and Canebrake Road.
Canebrake Road is graded dirt that is easy passable by 2wd passenger cars, but don't expect to go much more than 35 mph, and usually slower. The PCT crosses Canebrake Road 0.2 miles south of Chimney Peak Campground. Other than a small sign on the west side of the road indicating the distance the the campground, there isn't anything to mark the trail crossing. There are two spots to pull completely off the road, but other than that, no obvious parking. If you're there in the off season and nobody else is around, you can probably get away with parking on the side of the road, just pull over as far as you can so you don't block traffic. If this doesn't appeal, or there are lots of people around, a better option is to park at the campground and hoof it the extra 1/2 mile round trip. There is a dirt road that can be followed from the campground to the PCT, though I was unable to locate it. If you find it, you can avoid walking on Canebrake Road and getting a face full of dust every time a car drives by.
The peak can also be approached from the east up the aptly-named Sand Canyon. An unmarked dirt road leaves US395 about 5 miles north of the 395/14 split, opposite Brown Road. Follow this west a short distance to the locked gate at an elevation of about 3,200 feet. The suffering begins here.
A more interesting approach is from the north. Follow the road up Ninemile Canyon about 10 miles to a pass just above Chimney Meadow. Park here and strike out cross country up the crest. Canebrake Road can also be reached from Ninemile Canyon Road. Turn left at the intersection and follow the road to Chimney Peak campground and the PCT.
| From Lamont Meadow via the PCT
||~5 mi one-way/2,500'
|| By far the easiest way to do the peak. From the TH at Canebrake Road (assuming you can find parking) follow the PCT more or less east as it contours around a large, unnamed subsidiary peak, and then heads up the canyon above Lamont Meadow. The trail gains about 750 feet in a little over three miles until reaching a saddle on the crest. Here it turns south towards Spanish Needle and Owens Peak, but your route leaves the gentle trail to head straight up the ridge line directly north of the saddle. Several use trails meander up the slope. None is better than the others, so pick the one that seems to keep you away from scree and dense brush. Resist the temptation to look for a trail on the open slope to the east. There isn't one. After about 400 feet of steep climbing the ridge kicks back and turns to the north east. Staying more or less on the north side of the ridge proper seems to offer the best options as far as staying out of dense pine and oak goes.
| From the East via Sand Canyon
||7+ mi one-way/4,800'
||Follow decommissioned dirt roads for a few miles, then use trails. There are many ways to go. All of them involve scree.
| From the north
||3 mi one-way/2,300 gain, 600' loss
|| This route is purely hypothetical insofar as I am not aware that anyone has done this. However, it could be an interesting outing, following the Sierra Crest for about three miles from where Ninemile Canyon Road crossed the divide, all the way up the crest to Sawtooth Peak. PM me if you know someone who has done this.
The PCT and Sand Canyon routes are walk-ups until you hit the summit block. The west side offers a class 2 scramble to the top, but it would not be difficult to find a class 3 path to the summit.
An ascent of Sawtooth Peak is often combined with Spanish Needle and/or Lamont Peak, typically in a semi-loop requiring a car shuttle between the Chimney Peak campground area and the Lamont Peak trailhead. It's a long day, but a way to bag several interesting peaks in one fell swoop.
The closest campground, and a good staging area for the many peakbagging possibilities in the area, is Chimney Peak Campground. There are 36 sites with picnic tables, pit toilets, and fire pits with grills. No fees or reservations. Gathering down wood for fires is allowed, though you are encouraged to bring your own. There are water hydrants here and there, but if they are functioning, they should not be used. Naturally occurring Uranium contaminates the local ground water.
Sawtooth Peak lies within the Owens Peak Wilderness
, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. There are no fees or permits required. No mechanized vehicles are permitted.