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Backpack Atop Sawmill Pass

Big Pine, California



20 miles

Elevation Gain

6700 ft

Route Type



Added by Gilberto Gil

This backpacking trip provides access to both the John Muir Trail (JMT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and offers up beautiful views of Woods Lake Basin.

At 11,347 ft., Sawmill Pass lies on the Sierra Crest and enters Kings Canyon National Park in the Woods Creek area. Both the John Muir Trail (JMT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) can be accessed through this pass.

The Sawmill Pass trail is a steep and arduous climb, gaining over 6700 feet of elevation to the pass in 10 miles. The trailhead is located right past a Powerhouse just below an elevation of 5000 feet in the Owen's Valley with no water or shade at the trailhead or along the first few miles of the trail. Once the first 3000 feet of elevation is gained and in Sawmill Canyon, the trail climbs through mostly forested slopes providing some relief from the sun as well opportunities to get some water from a flowing creek. The trail then heads to Sawmill meadow, with towering granite walls around making it a great spot for lunch. Beyond the meadow the trail zigzags up a headwall eventually reaching snow (at about 9000 feet) requiring the use of snowshoes to avoid post-holing. With snow covering the rest of the trail, a topographic map of the area will be useful in continuing on the correct route up to the pass. One will pass the frozen Mule Lake and the beautiful Sawmill Lake before crossing a timberline basin and making the steep ascent to the top of the pass.

Once atop the pass, take in the view of the High Sierra. One could then continue down to set up camp in the Woods Lake basin or find a spot much closer to the pass. Camping by the pass will provide beautiful views of the light of the sun hitting the nearby peaks creating a spectacular sunset and sunrise. However, the pass is exposed, being well above the tree line, so camp here only during fair weather. If one has the extra time and energy, attempt an easy class 2 summit of either Mt. Cedric Wright or Collosseum Mountain, both of which are an easy walk from the pass.

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