Caribou Mountain P1K CC / WSC / TAC

Tue, Sep 29, 2015

With: Bob Sumner

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Bob had driven across the state from his home in Nevada for the soul purpose of joining me for a single peak in the Trinity Alps. Aside from being a P1K which explains my main interest, Caribou Mtn is one of five summits in the Trinities that land on the somewhat obscure list called the Western States Climbers list. Originally conceived by the now defunct Peak and Gorge Section of the Sierra Club's Motherlode Chapter (based in Sacramento), the list was never officially adopted nor properly vetted. Most of the peaks were culled from the SPS list with the addition of DPS summits in the Whites, Inyos and Death Valley, a good dollop of North/Central NV summits, a smattering of North Coast CA peaks and a handful of Oregon volcanoes. Having reviewed the list a good deal I've concluded that it's not terribly interesting, missing many good peaks, having too many Sierra ones and generally looking like it was hastily thrown together. Still, no one has yet laid claim to climbing them all, which in and of itself has raised some interest. It turns out that according to, Bob and I are tied for 2nd place in the Front Runners List with 241 of 283 summits. The consummate Daryn Dodge, who has been tearing through peak lists as fast as anyone, is speeding through this one as well with 249 as of September, 2015. And while I don't care much for the list, Bob does, as demonstrated by his willingness to drive 10hrs each way just to tick off one more. Impressive or crazy, take your pick.

The hike and climb to Caribou is not particularly long nor difficult, about 10mi roundtrip with 4,000ft of gain starting from the Big Flat Campground at the end of Coffee Creek Rd. The popular Caribou Lakes Trail climbs to Pt. 8,118ft about 3/4mi NW of the summit before dropping down to Caribou Lakes. From the shoulder it's a cross-country scramble to the summit another 400ft higher. We'd spent the night at the Goldfield CG about 5mi down Coffee Creek, driving to the higher TH early in the morning for a start before 7a. This early start wasn't so much because we might run out of daylight, but to facilitate ours drives home afterwards. Earlier in the season, the crux of the day comes with the bridgeless crossing of the Salmon River found just below the campground. Compounding this is no obvious signage to suggest where to cross or where to pick up the trail on the other side. Luckily the river was about as low as it ever gets and we were able to find a spot with easy rockhopping to get ourselves to the other side. A little investigation on the opposite bank found us a trail sign and we were on our way.

Once on the trail we began the steady climb, taking an hour and a quarter to hike the first three miles to Caribou Meadows, located at a saddle where a trail junction is found. The right fork leads to the newer trail, several miles longer as it contours around Pt. 8,118ft on its western flank but avoiding the extra elevation of the old trail as they both eventually make their way to Caribou Lakes on the west side of Caribou Mountain (if you've gotten the impression that most things around here are called "Caribou", you'd be right - there's also a Little Caribou Lake north of Pt. 8,118ft, but we never saw that one). We took the steeper, older trail with another 1,800ft of gain to go. Now climbing the NE Ridge to Pt. 8,118ft, the trail breaks out of the more heavily wooded lower half of the mountain briefly, opening views as it climbs back into another wooded section higher up. At a clearing we found two young ladies in the process of packing up camp on their way to Caribou Lakes. Theirs was the only other vehicle back in the large campground. Needing refueling, Bob called a break to down some energy bars not far below the pass. Once, done, we were at the trail's highpoint ten minutes later, looking across Caribou's NW Ridge.

The cross-country portion across the ridge took us an hour, most of that lower on the NE side to avoid difficulties on the ridgeline. Some of this had some cushy grass sections, but most of it was rocky granite interspersed with stunted trees. We didn't return to the ridge until reaching the very summit around 10:15a, 3.5hrs after starting out, a good morning's workout. There was no register that we could located, but the views more than made up for it, especially those to the southwest overlooking Caribou Lakes with the highest summits of the Trinities framing them in the background. I had secretly been hoping I might talk Bob into continuing the traverse to the highpoint of the Sawtooth Ridge another two miles further on. The distance and difficulty proved to be too much - even if I'd been by myself I'd not have undertaken the effort. Instead I began looking east and north for alternate routes down from Caribou. Either route would lead down to the Salmon River where a trail could be picked up back to the start. The east side route looked most interesting, but since I couldn't see the lower half of the route I didn't want to commit to something that might have cliffs lurking further down. The north side looked promising, however, and Bob figured out what I was up to before I had a chance to verbalize it. He scoffed at the idea but said he was happy to let me go down on my own while he returned by the original route. And I would have done just that as I announced my intent to do so, only to have Bob quickly change his mind and decide to join me. I think he didn't really considerate it reasonable until he could see I was determined to give it a try.

I derived great amusement in telling Bob how awesome the route would be, and was, all the while we were descending. On his part he would gripe and complain and fret that I was leading us to disaster. "Oh, I know what you're thinking," I'd say, "'This is such a freaking great route but I can't tell that to Bob or he'd start bragging about it.' That's Ok," I continued, "complain all you want, but I'll know deep in your heart that you enjoyed every minute." And so I kept up such banter as we descended almost 3,000ft of class 2-3 granite slabs down an untrailed drainage with no assurance we wouldn't run into a horrible brushfest before we were done. We ran into a few constrictions that took a combination of luck and minor bushwhacking to get through, but each led lower and I only extolled all the more on the route's merits. Below the slabs we came upon a short section of brush and boulder before finding shelter and easier going under forest cover leading down to the river. We found the trail again around 12:15p and followed this back to the TH over the next half hour. The alternate route had been both shorter and faster than the ascent route which Bob may have only grudgingly agreed to. He's not one to try new routes when the old ones work perfectly fine and I'm still not sure if he was glad to have joined me on this one, but he seemed happy enough when we pulled back into the campground - he'd gotten his peak and now his drive back home would be enhanced with a feeling of great satisfaction. For my part, I had only a six hour drive, give or take, and would be back home by 7p that evening, having enjoyed a fine three days in the Trinities...

Pete Yamagata comments on 11/17/15:
There is a history to the Peak and Gorge lists. The first was formulated in about 1968 by Gene Markley. Poorly done, it didn't even include Mt. Whitney and Half Dome. With bad data, it was revised in about 1970 when, and often criticized by Dan Dobbins, the lead peak bagger at that time. Notably, Mt. Rose (NV) is listed as a CA peak. When they asked me to revise it in about 1983, I asked for comments. Three comments came in that the list was "perfect." So, I left it like that was, with Mt. Rose listed as a CA peak. Obviously a completely screwy bunch of peak baggers, no one really cared too much, and please, to all, don't take this too seriously. I left it to the chair, Jackie Stroud, at the last moment whether to include Russian Peak. She said, "No." She completely screwed up the section, voting by her friends to be in charge, with five incidents under her rule. We published the booklet, but I gave them all to Leo Krastins to deliver them to the Peak and Gorge meeting as I was too busy to attend, it being a 20 mile drive each way for me. I never heard whether they got them. I somehow imagine that he threw them all away! I never saw whether the booklet was even distributed. Based on the previous Peak and Gorge lists, I made corrections, and included the worthy peaks. At 283 peaks, I started to work on them, but never with any good partners. As the Peak and Gorge dissolved, it was stolen as the WSC list, which I worked to have removed as I was told, somewhat of a liability hazard. Compared to the older lists, the data was corrected, and made up or imaginary peaks were removed. As the WSC webpages, John Sarna, presumably by him in charge, I don't see how any confirmation is done, as they all do not ever check registers. I completed the OGUL list 3X, but I am not credited. Knowing the MLC SC, probably many phony claims are proclaimed, as it is their present way that the true HPs of say Round Top and Castle Peak aren't recognized as the true summits.
Pete Yamagata comments on 11/17/15:
From the beginning, lists weren't much of my way. I suggested a mathematical point system, based on gain, distance, difficulty, prominence, so any good peak could be counted. They were set on a list, as by the L.A. peak sections, of which they copied. Only in their spirit of lists did I consent to revise their list, and my own Climbing-Knapsack Section never had any list. I had long recommended the L.A. peak section lists. Most nobody worked on them up north, since they had an anti-L.A. bias. Harry Erl, the hand-picked chair to succeed Markley, declared no peaks south of I-15. And no L.A. peaks. So, it was his designate that Antonio, Gorgornio, and Jacinto weren't to be counted. Or any much of HPS peaks, since that was "L.A." They also declared Coast Range as unworthy. I had to put in Snow Mtn., the Yolla Bollys, and the Trinities. And then the DPS peaks. Just screwball, arbitrary, and unreal criteria for choosing what peaks were to be counted. Not even a vote. The iron fist of Markley ruled the section, and some revolted, like me. Good that prominence and other lists came into being. These people just sought to imitate the L.A. sections. They eventually failed, and no longer run trips or anything but their Net presence, which just requires a web host. Only give thanks to me that non-existent peaks have been removed.
Pete Yamagata comments on 11/17/15:
Give also thanks to me that Caribou is on their list. I actually looked at a map to figure worthy peaks, as the founder Markley just looked at his AAA map, incorrect. I was the only one to get topo maps by the USGS. The leadership was incredibly incompetent. In 1975, we nearly went all the way to Las Vegas to bag Charleston, which we didn't summit because the plans were so poor. By then I began to discern their prefs for cathouses. Why they even had NV peaks. Easy now to see they are not interested in bagging peaks, as with my efforts to keep it going. No ladies after the drives, as they openly admit to. Well, "guys will be guys," by them. Disease, slavery, trafficking, that's the real legacy of the Peak and Gorge.
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