Tue, Sep 29, 2015
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 peakbagger.com, 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...
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