Indian Rock is a highpoint on the ridge east of Baxter with a surprisingly good view, for its elevation, of both the Owens Valley and the central Sierra. This is probably why it has a name, since it is shorter than several nearby points on the ridge. Climbing it would involve my first trip up Sawmill Pass, notable for its length (12 miles) and low start (4500 feet).
While I expected desert misery, Sawmill was a pleasant climb and an amazing running descent. The first 2500 feet or so is smooth sand, runnable going down and not too annoying going up. After turning the corner into Sawmill Canyon, a traverse leads to a surprisingly long and lush wooded climb up to Sawmill Lake. The trail is still somewhat maintained, with major deadfall cut within the past few years. Unlike many of the east-side entries, it is graded for and used by humans, rather than graded for pack animals and pounded into a trough filled with dust, rubble, and dung. Note, though, that the stream through Sawmill Lake is seasonal, as is Mule Lake below it.
Pat once again took the lead, and I was content to follow most of the way to Sawmill Lake. Stopping there to look at the map, we were both less than excited about Bob’s suggested route, a direct assault on a steep talus slope. Pat spotted a lower-angle gully farther up, so we continued up the trail around the lake, then left it where it switchbacks northwest. Our gully led pleasantly to the ridge, from which we could see others struggling up the talus slope below.
Reaching the highpoint, I realized that Indian Rock was actually a white fin 200 feet lower and to the southeast. While it looks intimidating, the climb from the saddle to the crest, and along the crest to the summit, is only class 3. From the summit, we spotted Bob descending from the highpoint, and waited about 15 minutes for him to arrive. He had taken the seemingly-miserable talus slope, but apparently found a decent line.
We crossed paths with the others at the Indian Rock saddle, then took the lower-angle way down, reaching Sawmill Lake in about an hour. I jogged parts of the upper trail, then started running more quickly through the woods along the running stream below Sawmill Lake. After walking the traverse to where the trail exits Sawmill Canyon, I reveled in a full-speed descent to the trailhead, where canned chicken and kimchi (thanks, Tommey!) awaited me.