Lakes and Granite - Exploring the Trinity Alps

July 20, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I took advantage of the July 4th weekend to tackle a big trip off the top of my list - the Trinity Alps. This range has been on my list since I first drove south into California about a year ago, when the snowy, jagged peaks sticking above the horizon across from Shasta grabbed my attention. While I was researching the trip, most of the information available was not trail descriptions, but rather clipped accounts of off-trail scrambles and ascents of snowy peaks - my kind of trip!


Sunset over Lower Caribou Lake and the Klamath Mountains


After reading through a number of these, I decided on heading into the Caribou Lakes basin in the heart of the wilderness area. To make the trip even better, it didn’t take much convincing - just a few pictures from Google - to get a buddy from Sacramento to meet me at the trailhead. It was a long drive down from Corvallis to Northern California (6 hours!), but even the trip along Interstate 5 was beautiful as I passed through the Siskiyous and dipped down into the Shasta valley, the massif of Mount Shasta straight ahead.  I knew I was finally getting close to my destination when I turned off the interstate onto the rugged California Hwy 3, a narrow, twisting road that allows entry into the Klamath Mountains.


After meeting my buddy Peter on the highway, we headed up a gravel forest road and finally began our hike in to the Caribou Lakes.  The first 6-7 miles was a trying ascent, with seemingly never-ending switchbacks leading up to the shoulder of Caribou Mountain.  The California sun was brutal, especially on the open granite slopes of the mountainside.  With every snowmelt stream we passed along the way, we splashed water on our faces and dipped our hats to keep cool.  More than anything else, thoughts of swimming when we reached the lakes kept us going.


The granite-filled trail to the lakes.


The scenery when we finally reached the lakes, late in the afternoon, was nothing short of spectacular.  Three large lakes sat in a granite cirque below the toothy wall of Sawtooth Divide, the Klamath Mountains sprawling out endlessly to our west.  The lakes themselves were perfectly clear, revealing the granite slabs beneath the water's surface. Best of all, Caribou Lake was as refreshing as we’d imagined when we dove in!


Our first view of the Caribou Lakes basin as we approached along the trail.


Peter getting ready for a second jump into the lake.


The remainder of the evening was somewhat more eventful than anticipated when we suddenly ran out of fuel (more on that here), but the long day was entirely forgotten when the sun set and the Milky Way popped out over the divide.




The next day, Peter and I took on the challenge of summiting the Sawtooth Divide - a 1,200 foot gain in about 2 miles from Caribou Lake, with a nearly 2,000 foot drop on the other side.  The trail was buried under snow, leaving us to scramble up through the steep sections near the top of the divide.  Reaching the top was well worth the effort, though, as most peaks don’t boast nearly as expansive a view as the Sawtooth Divide!


Peter climbing the last hundred (nearly vertical!) feet to the Sawtooth Divide.


Looking down at Caribou Lake from atop Sawtooth Divide.


Parting ways with Peter the next day as we left the Trinity Alps, I was already thinking of how soon I could head back for another adventure.




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