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Trip Report    

Alpine Scramble - Caroline Peak

Caroline is an excellent viewpoint, but it's a lot of work getting there and back.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • This is a much harder route than the map would indicate; that said, the route conditions were probably as good as they get.

On July 24, 3 of us started from Alpental at about 1:00 pm, and hiked to Gem Lake where we set up camp.  The day was warm, but a cool breeze helped with the heat and also kept the bugs at bay.  Alas, the breeze died away in the evening and bugs were quite bothersome for most of the rest of the trip.

We got up around 5:15 the next day only to find that the mosquitos were already up.  We left camp shortly after 6:00 to take the trail that loses more than 1000' down to Lower Wildcat Lake, then up to the upper lake.  From there, the next step is to get up to the lowest point on the ridge to the north at about 4620'.  I tried this last year and aimed too far to the right (east) and was forced by terrain to a much higher point on the ridge on the wrong side of the saddle.  This year we overcompensated, and went too far to the left, but were able to partially correct this and got to the ridge a little ways west of where we had intended, but at least this was in the direction we wanted to go.  By the way, both last year and this year, we easily found the correct way down from the saddle, where occasional red or orange ribbons help.

On the map, the first half mile of the ridge toward the peak looks like it ought to be a pleasant gentle ridge walk; it is not.  Various rock outcroppings and dense small trees force the route off the ridge, sometimes more than 100 vertical feet lower.  Game trails sometimes helped, but usually petered out before long.  There is a steeper stretch from about 4900' to 5000' where we were able to ascend fairly directly.  After that, once again, the map seemed to show relatively easy travel, but route finding continued to be complicated.

When the summit came into view, we began looking for a route to the west ridge.  We found  a moderately difficult route up to that ridge, but on return found an easier one farther west.  Once on the west ridge, the short remaining scramble is very pleasant.  Views were great, with lots of familiar peaks seen from unusual directions.  It took about 6 hours from camp to summit. 

After a nice long stop on the summit, the return to camp took at least 5 hours, with route finding and brush bashing still difficult, not to mention the 1000' gain back to Gem Lake.  We packed up and left camp at about 7:00, and needed headlamps for just the last 1.5 miles.  Unfortunately, one of the headlamps wasn't working, so that slowed us down quite a bit, and we didn't reach the car until 11:30. 

It should be noted that the 5800' of total gain for this trip doesn't include all the ups and downs along the ridge north of Upper Wildcat.  The total has to be well over 6000'.

There's a lot to like about Caroline Peak, but it takes more effort than many are likely to want to expend.  The 3 of us are very glad to have done it, but won't be returning; when we're up for something this difficult again, we'll choose a peak we haven't done before.