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Baxter Pass, Rae Lakes smoker.

Start- 9 August 2012, from Baxter Pass trailhead located where the desert floor meets the foothills right outside Independence, California.

Getting an overnight permit was extremely easy, as this pass is perhaps the least used in the Sierras (and for good reason). Did an online reservation, and picked up the actual permit at the Ranger Station in Bishop the day prior.

The Baxter Pass is 7000 feet of gain in less than 7 miles, and is not for the out-of-shape or inexperienced, not only is the climb "straight up" but you will lose the trail many times. I was an Army Ranger for 11 years, and I am no stranger to tough climbs. This adventure ranked in my top 10 hardest slogs for sure.

This trip report will include my packing list, and I used everything I carried sans one extra technical shirt.

Stay tuned-

A little way up Baxter, and you can see the 108 deg. F desert floor below. I started the hike at 11:00 AM because I couldn't wait, and I have been in worse conditions. My truck was parked at the trailhead, and I cleaned it out completely except for a camp chair and 2 liters of water (always leave water in your truck!).

My thermometer in the truck said 98, but with every step up, I could swear it got cooler. I would estimate that within an hour it was maybe high/mid 80's. It is that steep. Don't let the pictures fool you, it is extremely steep.

I started easy, as I was at sea level 24 hours prior. I had done some very hard training hikes, and it paid off big time. I was feeling strong.

Most Baxter trips that I researched stop at "Summit Meadows", then crest the pass the next day. Even if you are in great shape, this is no joke.

As I stated before, I took it steady and didn't start hauling ass right out of the gate.

Dark clouds, thunder and lightning rolled over from the West and it started to rain. I estimated that I would only get pissed on for maybe 20 minutes, so I just continued to climb and get soaked. Air temperature was pleasant, so I didn't put on my Dri-Ducks top.

Sure enough, after 20 or so minutes, here comes the sun. The rock in the image above was soaked just minutes prior. My gear is still wet, but who cares?

Start slogging uphill once again.

Here is the second wave coming out of the West, and this cat isn't going to piss for 20, it is going to hold and soak for a long time. I throw on the Dri-Ducks top, and continue to climb.

There are 2 water crossings, and the second one is famous for the "Phantom" trail. The trail just simply vanishes. On the map, there is a dog-leg reversal, but with all the vegetation and lack of travel, the trail vanishes. It was getting dark, and I was soaked, so I just shot an azimuth and went straight up a muddy wall. Sure enough, I found the trail after the climb.

I have now been climbing for hours, and "Summit Meadows" is still way higher up.

It is only getting steeper.........................oh yeah!

10 hours of hard climbing to go maybe 7 miles. No pictures past "Summit Meadows", I didn't have the time or energy to snap pics, just climb.

You will be climbing way over 1000 feet per mile on rocks such as these for 3-4 hours. I made the right choice and wore my lightweight mountain boots, and not the Trailrunners.

After multiple false summits, I finally hit the sign. Did I say it was steep?

I racked out right past "Summit Meadows" on day 1 (late start) and bombed the pass first thing in the morning.

If you want to be a colonist on Mars, then the Baxter Pass is a great training area. I climbed the Pass with 1 liter of water to minimize weight. If you are in shape you can get away with a liter in my opinion. I always have a 2 liter capacity, but chose to run a liter due to the steepness. I got to the top with a few ounces to spare. Perfect!

At the summit. Perfect bright day!

Hardest part of the adventure should be over.........................

Right below the summit................snow in August?

From 108F to snow in a North pocket, and within walking distance. Too cool!

These are the experiences where life gets put into place. This is why I work so hard, or, I should become a bum.

Lake on the map, no kidding. Size of a volleyball court and 1 foot deep.

Right below Baxter Pass on the North/South direction. No, I didn't download this image from NASA.

2 days so far, and no human contact........this is great!

The trail ahead. Yes, you have to come back up this cat to get home.

There is a picture perfect high alpine lake below.

For about 40 minutes at dusk, the lake below was going nuts with jumping/feeding trout. I didn't bring fishing gear (distance/speed hike) but I am sure that I would have limited in minutes.

Not a single footprint anywhere along the shore.

If you believe in UFO's or alien abductions, then this place is not for you.

My Eureka Backcountry 1 tent in all it's glory. For a rainy season tent, she cannot be beat. I left my fancypants tarps/tents and brought the ultra reliable Eureka. She pitches in minutes, and is bone dry. A 2.8 pound luxury.

I have been in the mountains since the 80's.. and the Backcountry 1 tent is truly impressive for inclement weather.

I put it up with the entrance facing East (to catch the morning sun) and it has impressed me time and time again. Thanks, Eureka!

Behind me is an adventure, with wildlife and fairy-tale landscape. I am not going to post pictures of the next miles before the Rae Lakes Loop, because that is reserved for those that hike it. It is truly a fantasyland of meadows, marshes, lakes, and wildlife of incredible proportion.

Spoiler- I saw ducks at 11,000 feet and widflowers the size of snowflakes.

No pictures, just yap.

Basically, you drop back into Dollar Lake, but it does not come easy. This hike is for seasoned hikers, trust me.

Dollar Lake is right at the edge of the classic "Rae Lakes Loop" and you can run run it clockwise or counter. The standard run is clockwise, but after Baxter, it doesn't matter.

I went clockwise and bombed Rae Lakes from the North.

The Rae Lakes bit is not worthy of reporting, (this is one of the most famous of all Sierra hikes) but I did manage to avoid all human contact.

To come back out of Baxter, you have to climb out of Dollar, then hit Baxter again, then save your knees for 7 miles down the mountain.

Must be almost home! A tree!

A cactus..................this looks kinda' desert.

Maybe I am almost home?

A lizard! These fools don't live in the snow, I bet my truck is close.


Hours of hiking go by............................................


Wow. Back at the truck.


Now to go meet my buddy and his family at Yosemite, and drink beer.

Great hike.

My buddy at Yosemite had his whole family there, including brothers and sisters with all their kids.

Super cute little kids everywhere! Life doesn't get much better than this.

One of my pals from NorCal brought his kayak, and everyone had fun. Smart move!

I will post the packing list later.


Hey thanks for showing Android. I really enjoyed the report and narrative. I admire the way you left things out; I worry about being a spoiler from time to time but you've articulated a more pertinent notion: “because that is reserved for those that hike it".

Packing list-

Backpack- Kelty Falcon 4000. Extremely comfortable and robust.

Sleeping bag- Western Mountaineering Caribou MF. 1 pound, 5 ounces down bag. Plenty warm.

Space blanket- USGI heavy duty blanket, after getting soaked, I would strip and get warmed up within minutes. A must-have IMO.

Jacket- NF fleece with half zip, doubled as pillow in a small REI stuffsack. Only used as a pillow this trip.

Shirt- Under Armour long sleeve, didn't use.

Shirt- British military UBACS, wore at night after hiking shirt got soaked.

Socks- One lightweight Thorlo, and one medium/heavy Thorlo pair, rotated.

Underwear- Under Armour shorts 2 pair, rotated.

Tent- Eureka Backcountry one with rainfly, but no stakes.

Water treatment- Katadyn Pocket. Fast, reliable, but heavy. Didn't use the last day, just drank from the creeks. No ill effects yet.

Canteens- 2 one liter Nalgenes, mounted external.

Rain Jacket- Dri-Ducks parka, no pants. Super lightweight and works great.

Gloves- Super lightweight pair.

Map and Compass- Waterproof map and Silva 1-2-3 compass. All you need.

Food- Bearvault 450 cannister and 6 pounds of food.

Stove- MSR Pocketrocket, and Snowpeak Ti 700ml cup. 2 mini Bic's.

Med- Moleskin, and 45 Motrin tablets (Ibuprofin).

Knife- Mini Swiss Army with scissors.

Headlamp- Princeton Tech.

Toilet paper- One roll and Wet-Wipes.



Hat- USGI Boonie or baseball.

Shirt- Nylon long sleeve.

Pants- NF convertibles.

Sunglasses- 20 dollar polarized from REI. Worked great!

Boots- Danner Mountain Light 2's. Worked perfect.

Walking stick- Homemade Eucalyptus, chin high. Perfect length.






Android is not exaggerating in the least about the Baxter Pass trail.  I have done it twice, but both times from the other direction – for obvious reasons, right Android?  Even while going down hill this trail punishes.  My knees fell like pulps of bruised tissue by the time I reached the car.  The trail on the east side (I say east side but the Sierra Crest takes an abrupt short zig zag at this point so the east side faces south, and the west side faces north) of the summit for the first 500 – 600’ of the descent is so steep that we were scree skiing at various points.  The only sign of a trail for some portions were the boot scuff marks on the rocks; otherwise the trail looks like any other part of the 35 – 45° steep slope.  The one inspiration the whole time was vivid Black Mountain , looming the to south, dark anthracite gray, with thick white quartz vein intrusions over its entire face.

I had to laugh, Android, when you compared the west side of the pass to Mars; that was my exact thoughts too.  Once the horizon of the crest blocks the view eastward, the only sign of life visible is the occasional desiccated sprig poking through the rocks at your feet.  The trail down the west side from this pass is relatively less arduous than the east side; nevertheless both sides warrant heavy duty boots with instep shanks.  The trail west descends the face down to a hanging valley above Baxter Lakes.  The bottom of this valley is filled with a rock flow of large cobbles, looking very much like a glacier made of stones.  The trail stumbles along over this formation, then spills over the edge down a steep face to the Baxter tarns below.  I found walking on the rock flow hard on the ankles, as there was no even or stable surface under foot along this stretch of trail. 

The vista at Baxter Lakes is completely devoid of vegetation, except the otherworldly sparse glade of trees and patches of sedge on the banks of these lakes.  The stark contrast between the life around the lakes and their totally sterile surroundings provide a peculiar, pleasant, oasis like feeling.  As often is the case in the Sierras, Baxter Lakes with its unique offerings is one of the least visited venues, yet lays only a couple of miles up a side trail from one of the most popular venues in the range.


Ed, exactly as described. If I do it again, I will bring a fellow hiker so that they can enjoy the scenery too.

I planned the trip as Baxter to access the Rae Lakes Loop, but Baxter pass alone is worthy of a Sierra adventure.

Baxter Pass to Dollar Lake back out of Baxter could be scheduled as a 4 day trip, and this is if you hike 5 or so hours a day. The mileage on the Topo says 12 and change one way, but the steepness and the completely unrelenting initial climb can turn 7 miles into 10 hours easy.

Water was absolutely not an issue, even in August, there is plenty.

I did Baxter to Dollar Lake in 2.5 days, and this was at a fast pace. The first day a heavy thunderstorm had me hunkered down for a while, but this was a blessing. I planned to slog straight through, but the late start and the overnight rest was nice.

If you plan to hit Summit Meadows before nightfall, then a very early start is in order. I started at 11:00AM, and had to really push to get to the Meadows.

I saw a Blue Grouse the size of a wild turkey right before Summit Meadows, truly a shocking sight. The deer were huge and sleek, not anything like the scrawny stuff in Yosemite Valley.

My pack weighed just over 30 pounds, and that is water, food, and all.

The mornings were extremely pleasant. Felt warm at 5:30AM with clear skies.


October 25, 2020
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