Up and over Taboose Pass (August 2004)

This trip took place in the summer of 2004 (August) with the company of my son Paul (age 13). (See also the notes on my 2009 trip.) I am logging the miles per day as an aid to planning future trips. My goal is to get beyond doing 5 miles per day on the first few days of a trip, I am going to have to get in better shape and learn to carry a much lighter load. (Back in 2004, I was carrying over 50 pounds, including a rope and some climbing hardware).

Taboose Creek is one of the four "nasty" passes which give access to the Sierra from the east side. (The four are Taboose, Baxter, Shepherd and Sawmill Passes.) Each climbs roughly 6000 feet in more or less 8 miles. Of the four, Taboose Creek is perhaps the friendliest, following a nice stream almost all the way along.

Our Trip, 2004

I figured that, being from Tucson, we are used to heat (August being well into our summer), we are in decent shape (we routinely hike up and down Mount Wrightson in a day), Paul is a teenager, bursting with energy. So, there is nothing unreasonable at all about deciding to hike into the Sierra via Taboose Pass.

Sunday - August 1, 2004

We left Tucson mid afternoon and managed to get to somewhere near Parker and made camp.

Monday - August 2, 2004     photos for this day ...

Next day we got up and drove into Parker for breakfast, a fairly sorry experience because we were treated to a loud narration of the previous evenings gambling by a loud voiced "lady". My impressions of Parker are all rather negative, and not solely based on this incident.

We left, gassed up, and drove to Lone Pine. We did not have permits or reservations, and when we got to the desk at the Ranger Station, they naturally assumed we wanted to hike the Whitney Trail, and told us there were no openings until perhaps October. We told them no, our interest was in Taboose Creek, and wonder of wonder there was no problem at all, that day, the next day, or any day. We showed them our bear canister and continued the drive north and found the trailhead. We made camp in the trailhead "parking lot" and were amazed amidst the desert vegetation of Owens Valley to hear a rushing stream hidden in the willows!

Day 1 - August 3, 2004     photos for this day ...

Next day, up and on the trail. Both of us carrying heavier packs than we should have been (I won't discover ultra light backpacking for another few years). We don't make the pass, but camp below a steep cascade and get acquainted with a nice fellow who left the trailhead the same time we did. He is hiking in to cache food for a hike of the Muir Trail he plans to do a few months later. He is a retired motorcycle policeman from San Francisco. I have come to the conclusion that virtually all people you meet in the backcountry are nice folks, people with values similar to my own, people worth getting to know. That night we camp on the level top of a huge rock (about the only level ground available anywhere). Just as we are dropping off to sleep, there is a loud noise of some animal scraping and clawing on our bear canister. We lay there wide eyed for some time, expecting a bear to be sniffing around our rock before long, but she never does. In the morning our canister is still perched atop a little ridge where we had placed it, and our friend expresses his opinion that if it had been a bear, the canister would have been batted off into the weeds somewhere. Who knows!
We hiked 4.3 miles, stopping about 1 mile short of the pass.

Day 2 - August 4, 2004     photos for this day ...

Today is up and over the pass. The pass itself is a nice place with a couple of small tarns, lots of interesting rock, some relics of snow and a marvellous view to the west. Some young people at the pass give me and my son resentful looks, as though they own the place and we are intruding (neither young nor old people belong apparently, only them). This actually led to some useful introspection on my part, hammering the nail home from my thoughts from the day before. These people are a time machine, showing me myself from years gone by. From the pass it is a nice hike down through tundra and meadows to ultimately meet the John Muir Trail, where we turn north and after climbing a ways we turn west to follow a small stream up to where we make camp just east of Mount Ruskin. We spend a cold night and are bothered a bit by mosquitos (should move our camp up away from water and into the wind a bit).
Hiked 5 miles.

Day 3 - August 5, 2004     photos for this day ...

We make an attempt to climb Mount Ruskin. We hike up to the lake south of the peak and do some climbing that makes us glad to have the 80 foot rope I brought along. We decide the peak is just too serious for us, but we get a grand view above a declivity on the north side of the ridge. The terrain is beautiful granite slabs above timberline and the weather is perfect. This night we put on every bit of clothing we brought along, crawl into our sleeping bags and spend a comfortable night, and awake to find a bit of ice formed in our water bottles.

Day 4 - August 6, 2004     photos for this day ...

Today the game is to hike past the two small lakes north of our camp and climb to the col south of Vennacher Needle with ideas of hiking over to Lake Basin. Once in the col we realize the magnitude of the task before us and decide against it (someday I want to visit Lake Basin and Marion Lake), and climb Vennacher Needle instead. The climb is straightforward, but is an exercise of upward motion over a lot of somewhat unstable talus. The peak is labelled 12996 feet, and I tell Paul that his head is at 13,000. We return to camp past two lovely lakes and admire Split Mountain to the east. Wonderful views from Vennacher Needle.
Hiked 4 miles

Day 5 - August 7, 2004     photos for this day ...

We had ideas of climbing Split Mountain today, but instead we decide to just roam north into Upper Basin, the high point of the trip being the large lake east of Mather Pass below Mt. Prater. The whole area is granite slabs, tarns, and glacial erratics. A great day exploring a nice area without pushing ourselves to the limit.
Hiked 8.5 miles

Day 6 - August 8, 2004     photos for this day ...

Time to pack up and hike out. Our food has run quite thin on the trip (two full sized guys sharing a single bear canister). One lesson learned is to never bring food that requires cooking. Only bring stuff that requires the addition of hot water and mixing, and then maybe some time to sit and absorb water. The South Fork of the Kings River is a pleasant and vigorous companion, especially as we get close to the place where the Taboose trail departs to the east. We keep moving and hike all the way to our car where we again camp at the trailhead.
Hiked 9 miles

Monday - August 9, 2004    

Breakfast in Lone Pine and drive all the way home to Tucson.


A great trip. Should have done more of these with the boys. Paul got quite sunburned, and I should have planned for that. Also our food was barely adequate, and I hadn't realized how difficult cooking things would be. This trip again shows the pattern of 4 or 5 miles of hiking the first days and 8-9 miles towards the end of the trip. I know I can hike 10 miles in a day with a light pack on a day hike (but what about at 11,000 feet?), so this can largely be blamed on heavy packs. As the trip goes on, the load gets a little lighter, but the legs get a lot stronger. Given that we were just barely warm enough in August, it is hard to argue that we should have carried less shelter or lighter sleeping bags, although Paul's bag was pretty beat and packing down flat. Even in early August, night time temperatures above 10,000 feet were dropping below freezing.

One smart thing we did on this trip, was to work from a base camp for 3 days and avoid hauling our heavy packs around. The other thing is that we found a campsite off the Muir trail, giving us solitude in the busiest season in the Sierra (of course entering via Taboose Pass helped a lot as well).

Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!

Tom's hiking pages / tom@mmto.org