Pushing my limits on an ambitious weekend to find solitude off the beaten path and visit one of the “Big Three Brutal Passes” of the Eastern Slope.
Trailhead: in Kearsarge Pass Trail and out Baxter Pass Trail
Passes: Kearsarge Pass, “Charlotte Col” (unnamed, off trail), and Baxter Pass
Trip odo: 27.2 miles (+7.7 bicycle)
Elevation Gain/Loss: 7,590/10,430ft (+103/2030ft bicycle)
For Days? Yes, 2 days
This was a fun one. As one of the notoriously difficult Eastern Slope passes, I wanted to finally check Baxter Pass off my list. Rather than slog up 6,000ft and back, I decided to link it with Kearsarge Pass through Sixty Lake Basin, another must-see spot on my list. I parked my car at the Baxter Pass trailhead and hopped on my mountain bike for a quick ride into Independence where I snagged a hitchhike to Onion Valley Trailhead before finally hitting the trail. And of course, already having been over Glen Pass during my push north on the PCT, I decided to make it interesting and go off trail to find an alternative way into the basin. An unnamed notch (barely) gave me what I needed with a bit of excitement thrown in as bonus.
As if day 1 wasn’t enough adventure for a weekend, day 2 featured spectacular challenges with spectacular reward. Roughly 16.5 miles of wandering on trailless terrain or unmaintained trail challenged my route finding abilities and brought me through some of the wildest and varied country I’ve encountered in the Sierra. All experienced in near solitude despite crossing the John Muir Trail.
There’s a reason Baxter Pass is rarely visited. It’s a totally brutal place to access, no matter how you try. By the end, my feet were tender, legs shredded by scrub, and mind dizzy with fatigue. With adequate time, however, the brutal can become blissful. Baxter Pass is worth the effort. Take it slow. Hike for days, preferably more than 2.