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October 1999

Twelve Toughest Trails

Twelve trails that'll chew you up, spit you out, and have you begging for more.


Caribou Scramble

The fortunate few who reach the Caribou Lakes basin in northern California’s Trinity Alps can be divided into two camps: Those who brave the Caribou Scramble to get there, and those who use easier access routes.

Intrepid hikers who tackle the shadeless, waterless, merciless Scramble are easy to recognize. They straggle into the granite-walled paradise like battle-weary soldiers, nursing leg cramps and basking in the unmistakable glow of victory. They’ve just breached the jagged spine of Sawtooth Ridge and witnessed the glorious view of Caribou, Emerald, and Sapphire Lakes spread at their feet like jewels in a necklace strung across imposing gray peaks.

Caribou Scramble is located deep in the heart of the Trinity Alps, an isolated range that rakes the sky and delivers scenery and steeps to match. The Scramble itself is only 2 miles long, snaking up through manzanita in 100 heartbreaking switchbacks, give or take a few. Don’t give up, though, because to the victor go the spoils.

Where: The Caribou Scramble is located in northern California’s Trinity Alps, 30 miles northwest of Trinity Center via CA 3 and Coffee Creek Road.

Route: Best for solitude and scenery is a 26-mile loop beginning at Big Flat trailhead and linking Tri-Forest, Caribou Scramble, and Old Caribou Trails.

Grunt factor: 4. The Caribou Scramble climbs 2,300 feet, yet feels like 10 times that. Elevation gain/loss for the entire route is 13,000 feet.

The payoff: You enter the Caribou Lakes basin through its stunning backdoor. Plus you earn bragging rights; even a local ranger had to admit, "I’ve never gone up the Caribou Scramble. It’s bad enough going down."

More information: The Trinity Alps: A Hiking and Backpacking Guide, by Luther Linkhart and Michael White (1994; Wilderness Press; 800-443-7227;; $15.95).

-D. Lewon

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