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Caribou Lakes – Trinity Alps Wilderness

On the fifth day of our vacation the forecast was finally free of the threat of thunderstorms. We’d been saving our visit to the Trinity Alps Wilderness for just such a day since it was the longest drive to a trailhead that we had planned. From Mount Shasta City the quickest drive would have been to take Forest Road 42N17 which we had been on for our hike to Mt. Eddy to Highway 3. After being delayed by an ongoing chip and seal project on the drive home we opted for a slightly longer drive by taking the Gazelle Callahan Road to the highway. We followed Highway 3 south for 23.5 miles to Coffee Creek where we turned right onto Coffee Creek Road which we followed to its end at Big Flat Campground.

We parked at the signed Caribou Lake Trailhead and set off on the trail which quickly entered the Trinity Alps Wilderness.
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The trail descended for .2 miles to the South Fork Salmon River where we had expected to have to get our feet wet but a downed tree provided a dry crossing.

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On the far side of the river we faced the choice of taking the shorter, steeper Old Trail or the the longer but gentler New Trail. Our planned route was to go up to the lakes on the New Trail and return via the Old Trail which would result in a figure 8 as the trails crossed paths at Caribou Meadows. We wound up not even noticing the Old Trail splitting off to the right as we passed by and were soon climbing along a fairly open hillside.

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The wildlife was out that morning and we spotted several quail and a snake before reentering the trees.

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We then spotted a bear cub about 200 feet off the trail, downhill in the trees. We both stopped and immediately looked uphill to make sure we weren’t between it and mama bear. We weren’t, she popped her head up from behind a bush near where the cub had been (it ran off downhill). Mama looked at us long enough for me to pull out the camera, turn it on, and then press the power button again instead of taking a picture as she followed her cub deeper into the forest.

We continued the gradual climb to Caribou Meadows arriving in just under three miles from the trailhead.

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There was a sign here for the Old Trail as it crossed the New Trail and headed off uphill.

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We stuck to the New Trail as it continued its slow climb winding around hillsides towards the lakes.

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After passing through an area of burnt trees the trail emerged onto a granite hillside. More wildlife and various wildflowers greeted us along this section.

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We passed through another stand of burned trees (where we found a couple of ripe berries) before arriving at Browns Meadow, 1.6 miles beyond Caribou Meadows.

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We took a seat on a rock near the edge of the meadow and just enjoyed the sound of a flowing creek amid the peacefulness of the wilderness. As we started to get up I looked behind us and noticed a doe walking through the meadow. She disappeared behind some vegetation heading in the same direction as the trail. Thinking we might get a chance to see her again we resumed our hike but were quickly distracted by a plethora of butterflies.

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The trail crossed the creek we’d been listening to.

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As we began to climb away from the meadow I looked back and spotted the deer in the meadow after all.

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We passed another small stream giving life to quite a few colorful flowers.

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2017-07-27 10.31.06Orange agoseris

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We got our first good look at Mt. Shasta just before rounding a hillside covered in pink fireweed.

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As we came around the hillside snowy Caesar Peak came into view with the slightly taller Thompson Peak behind.

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We were on a 2 mile stretch of trail between Browns Meadow and another junction with the Old Trail. This section of trail had some spectacular views across the valley where Caribou Creek was roaring down over the granite.

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Eventually Caribou and Lower Caribou Lake could bee seen in the basin below Caribou Mountain and Sawtooth Ridge.

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We arrived at the junction with the Old Trail and took a look up at our return route for later.

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From the junction it was a about a half mile downhill to Snowshoe Lake which was now visible along with the two Caribou Lakes.

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The views from above were simply amazing. We began switchbacking down towards the lakes passing mossy runoff streams and meadows filled with wildflowers.

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We arrived at Snowshoe Lake and found a spot along the shore to soak our feet in the cool water as we listened to the sound of water cascading into and out of the lake.

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IMG_6183Snowshoe Lake’s outlet creek

If Snowshoe Lake had been it the hike would have been well worth the effort but there was more to see so after a thoroughly relaxing break we sallied forth following cairns to a small unnamed lake in a meadow.

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This little lake was fed by creeks flowing from both Snowshoe and Caribou Lake down to Little Caribou Lake. We crossed the creek from Snowshoe Lake on some downed logs and found ourselves on a granite landscape above beautiful Lower Caribou Lake.

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Water from snow melt pools flowed over the white rocks in some places.

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We made our way along the rocks to the inlet creek which proved to be another breathtaking sight.

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We followed the stream up to the small lake in the meadow where we hopped across it.

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We continued to climb up along the creek until Caribou Lake came into view.

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Snowshoe Lake was also visible once again below Caribou Mountain.

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We passed several small pools of water on the way to the large lake.

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Snow heavy enough to keep small trees down still lingered along the shore.

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The scene was too big to fit into a single picture making a panorama necessary to even attempt to capture the grand scale of this place.

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It is possible (and recommended by those in the know) to hike around the left side of the lake and follow a faint path a little over a mile to a viewpoint along Sawtooth Ridge.

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We had contemplated attempting it but that would have made a long day even longer and we still had two more days of hiking ahead of us so we decided to leave that side trip as an excuse to come back to this amazing place someday.

We intended to return to Snowshoe Lake by staying up on the granite above the small lake in the meadow. We started back wandering between even more snow melt pools.

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Along the way a snake caught our attention. It had captured a small frog and was in the process of swallowing it. We felt bad for the frog but it was interesting to see nature at work.

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We did a poor job of sticking to our planned route and found ourselves back down at the small lake after all. We had a little trouble remembering where we had crossed the creek between Snowshoe Lake and this lake but eventually spotted the logs again which jogged our memories. We made it back to Snowshoe Lake and started the warm climb up to the junction with the Old Trail.

Taking the Old Trail would cut approximately 1.2 miles off our return trip but it also gained about 1000′ of elevation in the first .8 miles as it climbed up and over the shoulder of Caribou Mountain. The shorter distance coupled with a different trail and the promised view from the top was too tempting to pass up despite it being rather warm out.

The Old Trail started up through the trees on a mission to seemingly go straight to the top of the ridge as quickly as possible.

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The picture taking ended quickly as I became focused on simply trying to keep moving uphill. Eventually I looked back during a couple of breaks to check our progress and admire the lakes. The extra elevation revealed many more of the peaks of the Trinity Alps.

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By the time we made it to the top of the ridge we were really wondering what kind of maniac devised this trail. The result of it though was an amazing view. Mt. Shasta loomed to the NE.

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Mt. Lassen lay to the SE barely visible through the haze.

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Closer by the ridge ran SE to the summit of Caribou Mountain, a route that will be very tempting when we return with more time someday.

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To the SW was the heart of the Trinity Alps.

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We had been a little concerned with the possibility of encountering snowfields near the top but we did have our MICROspikes handy just in case. As it turned out there was only one small patch of snow left as we started down the other side, and it posed no problem.

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The descent was twice as long as the climb but it was no less steep losing nearly 2000′ in 1.6 miles to Caribou Meadows.

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Along the way we passed a partly obscured view of Little Caribou Lake which lay in its own glacial cirque to the SW of Browns Meadow.

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The trail did level out a bit for a short stretch where we could look back at Caribou Mountain and the forested slope we’d just descended.

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A final drop brought us back to Caribou Meadows.

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We decided to complete the figure 8 and continue following the Old Trail down to its other junction near the river. After passing through the meadow the trail once again dove seemingly straight down along a small stream crossing it twice.

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Beyond the second crossing the trail leveled out traversing along an open, hot, hillside. The GPS track shows that this final 1.5 miles to the junction resulted in a net loss of elevation but it sure felt like we were going uphill a lot.

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We were pretty hot and tired as we trudged along and began getting funny looks from the locals.

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Things cooled off a bit when we finally reached some trees along the river near the junction.

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When we arrived at the junction with the New Trail we wondered how we’d missed the split that morning, we didn’t see any signs but the tread was clear. A good example of how easy it is to miss things even when you think you’re paying attention. We recrossed the river on the log and returned to our car a bit tired, a little sore, and completely satisfied with our first visit to the Trinity Alps. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Caribou Lakes

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Marble Mountain Wilderness Day 2 -Summit Lake to Paradise Lake

We began our second day in the Marble Mountain Wilderness by waking up early and watching the morning sunlight hit the cliffs above Summit Lake.
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We had originally planned on eating breakfast on the rocks at the north end of the lake, but more hikers had arrived the night before and someone had set up camp there. The mosquitoes were out and Heather had quite a few bites already so after packing up camp, setting out just after 6am, we decided to have breakfast somewhere on the trail.

We were headed for the Pacific Crest Trail, a .7 mile climb from the lake. The trail began on the west side of the outlet creek and was obscured by some blowdown. There was a fair amount of it along this section of trail but nothing that was too difficult to get around. The scenery along the trail was beautiful alternating between forest and meadows.
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Near the top of a series of switchbacks we stopped to cook breakfast on a large rock outcropping next to a meadow that could have passed for a lawn.
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The rocks offered views and wildflowers as well as some protection from mosquitoes.
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Sierran woodbeauty
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Lewis flax
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We climbed through another damp meadow with shooting star, marsh marigolds and western pasque flowers before reaching the junction with the PCT.
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We reached the PCT junction just in time to meet a thru-hiker on his way to Canada. We couldn’t help but be a little envious as he sped off with his lighter pack. We knew he lacked some of the luxuries we were carrying, but his seemingly effortless walk was a stark contrast to the labored climb we’d just made.

We were glad to be on the PCT and after a short break we started north toward Paradise Lake which was 10.3 miles away. The 3.5 mile section from where we had started to the junction with the trail to the Sky High Lakes was wonderful. Because the PCT sticks to ridgelines whenever possible it provides some good views and minimizes elevation changes. There were some areas where the trees had burned but there were lots of wildflowers along the way and other areas where the trees were not burnt.
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Torrey’s blue-eyed mary and Jepson’s monkeflower
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Monument plant
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Catchfly
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Ballhead sandwort
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Penstemon
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Oregon Sunshine
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Trinity Alps in the distance.
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Scarlet gilia
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We had been considering staying at Shadow Lake on the 3rd and 4th nights of our trip so when we reached the signed trail for it, we decided to detour down to the lake to check it out.
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There had been a fire in the area at some point in the last few years and the trail was further north than our map or GPS showed it. We had already passed another spot where a second trail was shown on our maps without seeing any sign of it. This trail started out climbing up a ridge before beginning to descend down to Shadow Lake’s basin.
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From the ridge we could see Frying Pan and Lower Sky High Lakes in the Sky High Lakes Valley which was below the basin that held Shadow Lake.
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We wound up turning back when we encountered a decently sized snow drift over the trail.
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We could see a little bit of the lake from there and just didn’t feel like it was worth it to attempt to navigate the snow given the steepness of the trail and having our full packs on.
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We would run into another couple the next day who did make it down and camp at the lake. They had found a way around the snow with the help of another gentleman but said that it was pretty “sketchy” so we were glad we had chosen not to continue.

Back on the PCT the flower show was only getting better as we approached the Sky High Lakes junction.
Buckwheat
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Blue Gilia
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Paintbrush
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Aster
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Nettle-leaf Giant-hyssop
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From the Sky High Lakes junction the PCT remained on the ridge for another .5 wildflower filled miles to a three way trail junction.
Orange agoseris
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Mountain coyote mint
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Grand collomia
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Penstemon lined trail
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Marble & Black Marble Mountains
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Washington lily
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Toothed owl’s clover
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At the junction the PCT headed downhill to the right toward Marble Valley. The trail to the left headed to Big Elk Lake while the Marble Rim Trail continued straight ahead. We were tentatively planning on hiking on the Marble Rim on Thursday but for now we stuck to the PCT.
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The PCT descended beneath the marble of Marble Mountain for 1.1 miles to the locked Marble Valley Shelter.
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We took a break near the shelter before beginning the climb out of Marble Valley. The trail was fairly level as we passed the Marble Gap Trail on our left and crossed Canyon Creek. Then we began to regain the elevation we’d lost coming down into the valley. We began encountering patches of snow and glacier lilies below Black Marble Mountain.
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Marble and meadows dominated the scenery as we continued north of Black Marble Mountain toward Box Rock Camp.
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From Box Rock Camp the trail climbed through more meadows to a junction with the Box Camp Trail at a saddle known as “Jumpoff”.
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Views to the south included the snowy peaks of the Trinity Alps.
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Views to north opened up here and we spotted the familiar Kangaroo Mountain and Red Buttes.
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The PCT switchbacked down a couple of times before leveling out again. Patches of snow lingered on the trail in spots. Most were easily crossed or bypassed with one exception. One large, sloped drift extended quite a way downhill into the trees and required some careful maneuvering. Beyond that patch there was one other large snowfield over a creek but it was much more level and other hikers and created a nice track to follow across.
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Not long after that snowy creek crossing Kings Castle came into view.
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Our destination, Paradise Lake, lay below that peak and we were anxious to get there. It had been a beautiful day, but it was warm and we were pretty drained when we passed the Paradise Lake Trail coming up from the right.
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Our first impression of Paradise Lake was to wonder how it got it’s name. The setting was pretty impressive, but the lake itself was fairly shallow, a little muddy, and had some vegetation on the surface.
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Despite the lake not being spectacular the area had some other nice features including a small waterfall cascading into the lake and a meadow full of shooting star.
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A nearby osprey indicated that there were fish in the lake.
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We picked out a camp site, pulled out our Alite Mayfly chairs and plopped down for a rest.
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We had originally planned on taking a climbers trail up to the summit of Kings Castle in the afternoon/evening, but we were having second thoughts after the long hot day of hiking. The longer we sat and looked at Kings Castle the higher it seemed to get.

We had passed the hikers who had made the tracks in the snowfield and they arrived and set up camp on the other end of the lake after we had settled in. Several thru hikers also passed by including one gentleman from France who stopped to take a picture of our campsite. He was attempting to document all the possible camp sites along the PCT. His impression of the lake was the same as ours, with a name like Paradise Lake he was expecting a lake with clear blue water.

We had almost talked ourselves out of attempting the climb up Kings Castle and were now thinking of trying it in the morning before we broke camp. We had not been able to definitively make out any trail heading up from the lake but after having dinner we decided to at least see if we could locate the climbers trail to see if it was even worth trying in the morning. We put our day packs on just in case and set off on a trail we’d seen across from the inlet creek at the south end of the lake. The trail led up a small hill then turned into a small stream. The other hikers had gone this way to the small waterfall where they had taken a swim earlier so we knew we could go further. We veered off the trail onto a rock shelf above the lake to bypass the flooded trail. Just before the stream that fed the waterfall we cut back through the brush to pick up the climbers trail.
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The climbers trail was faint but there were a few small cairns to help in locating it. Being just after 6pm, we knew we had enough light if we wanted to try and make the summit, so we sallied forth.
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We had to pass through a cloud of small bugs before starting the steep ascent to the ridge along the south side of Kings Castle.
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We lost and picked up the trail a couple of times until we hit a meadow on the steep slope below the ridge. Here the trail became clearer as it switchbacked up to a saddle.
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The trail became even fainter as we continued toward Kings Castle. The hillside was covered with wildflowers and we did our best to avoid stepping on them as we made our way up.
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Split-hair Indian paintbrush
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We also had to watch out for the local residents.
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To reach the summit we had to swing out and around the rocky south eastern face of Kings Castle to reach the summit where someone had fashioned a rock bench.
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The 360 degree view included Mt. Shasta to the NW. This would be the only time the 14,180′ mountain would be visible to us during the trip.
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Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps
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Red Buttes
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As we sat atop Kings Castle we were glad we’d wound up making the climb after all. We eventually climbed down and returned to our tent to turn in for the night. As we were falling asleep a chorus of frogs began croaking. It was a sound we hear all the time in TV shows and movies but in reality most nights in the tent are nearly silent except for the sounds of wind or running water. Maybe the lake was named correctly after all. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157667735301193