I was invited to do one of the hardest backpacking trips in the lower 48: The Caribou Scramble is 26 miles with a massive 13k elevation gain. However it was kind of hard figuring out the actual route so we misidentified and embarked on this Caribou Figure Eight that even Summit Post suggested. Combining it with a class three Caribou rim traverse our trip was still a respectable 22 mile, 7k elevation gain trip with a warm (rare) alpine lake swim and plenty of granite scrambles.
(For the full Caribou Scramble start south on the Tri-Forest route along South Fork River, loop around the ridge to Portuguese Camp, go up the scramble into upper Caribou Lakes and then take Old Trail down.) [map]
It always takes a long time to drive up to trinity alps. Friday night we topped it off with avoiding over two dozen deer standing on the road over the course of the last 20 miles and a 10 mile dirt road drive its gated conclusion at big flat campground.
The Caribou Lakes Eight uses both the new Caribou Lakes trail which has a gradual incline and coddles you while the old trail drives a steep direct approach up the ridge toward caribou mountain. We took the new trail up, switched to the old trail at the intersection (map) and then did a mostly class 2 scramble traverse to caribou mountain summit. This took longer than expected like 1.5 hours because there is no defined trail.
After an hour on summit to lay down and take in the grand view of the bowl holding our alpine lakes. Dehydrated and out of water we hiked back to trail and descended to make camp. There were a lot of people here by the lakes so we decided to camp closer to lower caribou lake on granite slab. The water was the perfect temperature (cool not cold nor warm) and I swam, dived and reminisced of summers in MN swimming in forested lakes.
Trying to fit one more thing in the day I struck out to Upper Caribou Lake and and then off trail around Fork Trail off trial to ridge line. Once there I trail ran on ridge proper with a small 3rd class section over to the 12.5k unnamed peak in the southwest corner of the bowl. Accomplishing this in 45 min from Upper Caribou Lake I then continued on ridge line racing the setting sun to find the saddle where the real Caribou Scramble came over and into the lakes bowl from its lush valley 2700 ft below. I missed the trail and spent another hour off trail scrambling on the ridge line and on descent getting back to camp.
The rock here is all solid and the alps are a scramblers playground. Not the shale ridges like the lower sierras which bleed scree down to their base. This also means once off trail it can be really hard to find it again. On my rim running adventure I didn’t find trail again until a quarter mile before camp.
That night we sleepy on granite slab looking over the water outside of tents gaping at the stars backlit by glowing galaxies and the biggest shooting star we’ve seen.