Trip Report: Caribou Wilderness A Paradise for Lake Lovers

This past year, I completed my second backpacking trip to the Caribou Wilderness, which is located southeast of Lassen National Park in Northeast California.

Both trips were memorable – the first for standing at the edge of Turnaround Lake at night and seeing the sky reflected in the still, crystal clear lake as if they were melted together in one endless landscape of stars. Spectacular. The second was notable for the weather – a beautiful day of short-sleeve t-shirt temperature weather ideal for hiking, followed by a storm that dropped snow on our tents and left the morning an icy wonderland AND an icy mess.

Backpacking trips are often like that: great contrasts of weather and hiking conditions that are ever changing. From sun to storm in minutes, sometimes.

My regular backpacking companions Wild Bill and The Duke both got doses of how weather can change and how you need to be prepared for everything. Bill took a swim just before sunset and when the storm suddenly came in and obliterated the sun, he was on the edge of hyperthermia by the time he got out, dried off and dressed.

The next morning, The Duke couldn’t get his hands to work to light the matches and therefore unlike most mornings, we had no fire. No warmth. No coffee. Since we were planning to leave that morning anyway, we decided to stuff our ice-stiff tents in our outside pack pockets and head for the trailhead and our car. Within an hour, a dose of sun had warmed us up and an hour after that we were in a cafe with hot coffee and a big breakfast of sausage, eggs and pancakes the size of dinner plates (literally).

Photos of Turnaround Lake morning after storm, earlier the previous day on a sunny afternoon and views of Mt. Shasta, view from atop Red Cinder
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Caribou wilderness averages 6,900 feet. With the trailhead at nearly 6,000 feet, the elevation gain is slight and the hike into the first of about a dozen lakes as little as three miles. It is the kind of place where you can hike in, set up camp and get in some great day hikes.

We were roughly in the middle of the wilderness. Hiking one direction took us around 10 lakes in 10 miles. The walk is entirely level so you can stride along at a relaxed pace, stop for lunch, take a swim, shoot some digital photos, sit and smell the forest, or just enjoy the sounds and sights of nature. By the way, my ultralight digital camera is a 3.2 megapixel Konica Minolta DiMage Xg (5 ounces with battery) and carrying case. I snap it on to my sternum strap, which gives me instant access.

Caribou Lakes
Caribou Lakes near Silver Lake is the eastern trailhead entrance and within a few miles gives you access to Triangle Lake on the north end and on the south end to Hay Meadows. We set up camp in the middle at Turnaround Lake.
Caribou Peaks, Black Cinder Rock, and Red Cinder are points of interest. The highest point, Red Cinder, is 8,370 feet. From here there are majestic views of the lofty mountains that surround this primitive wilderness. Located on the eastern slopes of what was once Mount Tehama, this area is surrounded by the volcanic peaks of Swain Mountain, Bogard Buttes, Prospect Peak, Ash Butte, Red Cinder Cone and Mount Harkness.

Two other great volcanoes, Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen, are both visible from the top of Red Cinder.

As seems to have happened so often in the past two years, we picked hikes where we saw virtually no one else. Isn’t it a great feeling to have the whole wilderness to yourself?

Be safe. Be light. Be one with the pack.

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