Hiking to Caribou Ridge, Yukon

After discovering during a flight on Saturday that the craggy cliffs overlooking Spirit Lake are topped with a huge almost-level plateau, I was determined to hike up for a look. I started up the trail twice many years ago but got stopped by a grizzly both times – on Tuesday, I tried again. This is usually called the Caribou Mountain trail, but Caribou Mountain is actually a couple of peaks further southeast and would be quite difficult to access from this trail , so I’ve changed the name to “Caribou Ridge”.

The weather forecast was for mixed clouds and sun, but I hoped for one more day of Summer hiking. I got off to a fairly early start, at 8:40, with the temperature sitting at 6°C (43°F). Forty minutes later, I had parked the car along the South Klondike Highway just north of Dry Creek and was started up towards the trail. The top of the ridge was blanketed with clouds but I was quite sure that they would lift or burn off.
The start of the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
I took the wrong trail initially and it petered out, but I knew the direction of the trail so just continued through the open aspen forest until I ran into it. By 9:20, I could already look back down the trail at Lake Bennett. There was a cold wind blowing from the south, but the sun was trying hard to warm the world up. I was dressed lightly for the climb but had more clothes in my pack in case I needed them.
Lake Bennett from the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
I remembered some very steep sections on the trail, and by 9:45 I’d reached one of them. It was steep enough that I had to walk on my toes rather than flat-footed. The view ahead was a bit intimidating, but having the plateau I’d seen from the plane in my mind was all the incentive I needed to keep going.
Steep section of the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
The view back over the valley kept getting better and better, and Fall colours got more and more common – this was shot at 10:05.
Lake Bennett from the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
Ten minutes later, I reached the highest point I’d been to on the trail previously. It was right here, on my first attempt at the trail, that I’d come face-to-face with the bear we called “the Dry Creek grizzly”, and he made it clear that he wasn’t leaving. It only took me a second to agree that it was his trail, and I backed out of his sight and left.
The Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
The trail around that rocky bluff was the steepest and loosest yet. On this section of trail it’s more a “scramble” than a “hike” 🙂
Hiking the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
At 10:25, I got this shot by walking about 100 meters up a trail that branched off the main one. Sometimes these side trails seem to go nowhere, and sometimes I get rewarded.
Hiking the Caribou Ridge trail, Yukon
Damn, one of the Dry Creek grizzly’s descendants is still using the trail. I don’t recall hearing anyone else mention seeing a bear on this trail, though – maybe I just attract them 🙂 I actually would like to see him – as long as we’re on opposite sides of the valley!
Grizzly scat on the Caribou Ridge trail, Yukon
Looking south to Montana Mountain, the village of Carcross, and the Carcross Desert.
Montana Mountain, the village of Carcross, and the Carcross Desert
Climbing one of the moderately-steep sections where I could actually set up my tripod, at 10:45.
Hiking the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
Much of the centre section of the trail is on sharp shale – you don’t have to worry about running into mountain bikers on this trail!
Shale on the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
By 10:50 the ridge that the trail climbs had narrowed enough that hikers can see to the north, over Spirit Lake and Emerald Lake. The low ridge to the left is Watson Ridge, the dominant one is Gray Ridge.
Spirit Lake and Emerald Lake from the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
Now that’s a view worth working for! This was shot at 10:53. Hikers who don’t have a camera with them can obviously make much quicker progress than I do on trails like this 🙂
The view from the Caribou Ridge trail, Yukon
Passing the last stand of trees at 11:07. I like trees, but they sure block some great views, so I’m always very happy to get above them!
Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
Many people apparently stop on the flat section of ridge where the last trees are, as the trail gets noticeably less distinct past that point. Some of the trail condition can be explained by the fact that many people are hiking on snow by this point, but I’m quite sure that it also gets less use – that spot by the trees would make a great destination.
Caribou Ridge trail, Yukon
By noon, the trail had pretty much disappeared – you just follow the ridgeline up. The elevation here is about 1,500 meters, or 5,000 feet (Lake Bennett is at 655 meters, 2,150 feet). The higher I got, the stronger and colder the wind got. The winds were reported as being 40kmh or 25mph at both Skagway and Whitehorse that afternoon, but it felt much stronger at altitude, and the wind chill was probably not much above freezing.
Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
Success! This is the view of the plateau from a small summit at its south end, which has an elevation of 1,757 meters (5,764 feet). My plan had been to spend the day wandering that plateau, but the wind was just nasty. With all the extra clothes I brought, I was warm enough, but the screaming wind made me change my plans – I don’t like wind, so just had a quick lunch and headed back down. The plateau exploration was put off for another day.
Caribou Ridge, Yukon
The view to the northeast from the summit.
The view from the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
Directly below the summit, to the east, is a meadow that’s obviously very popular with Dall sheep. I used to be able to watch the sheep in that area from my cabin with a spotting scope. The slope that those sheep trails go up rises to a craggy, unnamed summit about 700 feet higher than my position, which blocks easy access to the Caribou Mountain summit.
Dall sheep trails on Caribou Ridge, Yukon
One final shot of Lake Bennett from the summit at 12:50 before I started down.
Lake Bennett from the Caribou Ridge trail, Yukon
On the way up the trail, I was warm at this spot without all the extra fleece on 🙂
Hiking the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
Just 10 minutes from the top, I met the first other hikers I’d met all summer, and we chatted for a bit. They’d hoped to reach the craggy, unnamed summit, but I explained that they were already well past the easiest access to it (along a sheep trail on the south side of the ridge), and that it was a pretty tough down-and-up climb from the summit they were almost at.
Hikers on the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
The view to the north, with Lewes Lake in the centre.
The view from the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
An hour and 20 minutes from the summit, almost at the bottom. A few minutes before this, I’d met another couple of hikers with their dogs. Six people on a single trail – now that’s a popular trail by Yukon standards!
Caribou Ridge trail, Yukon
To the left is the old trail that I would have hiked on the last couple of times. It went very close to someone’s home, so a new trail was cut. Some hikers report that a couple of aggressive dogs from that home are still bothering people on the new trail, but I didn’t see them.
Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
The start of the new trail is well marked by this sign asking people to not use the trail from mid-May to mid-June to avoid stressing the Dall sheep while their lambs are very young.
Start of the Caribou Ridge trail, Yukon
This large sculpture marks an old road that leads off the driveway to the actual trail. I’d sure like to hear the story behind it being there!
Start of te Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
With a “Private Drive” sign on the right and the sculpture on the left, the start of the trail is very clear, unlike the description on the most-used Yukon hiking Web site.
Start of the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon
And here’s the topo with the trail added in red. Although it was a much shorter day than I’d planned on, it was still a great day.
Topographical map of the Caribou Mountain trail, Yukon


Hiking to Caribou Ridge, Yukon — 7 Comments

  1. Another great hike that I hope to do soon! Thanks again for sharing your photos/comments Murray!

  2. Wow – I’d not only need a helicopter to get my bike up there, I’d need a medivac helicopter to get me off the mountain!

    “This trail had super slick and sharp rocks, which we ended up getting 4 flats between all of us.” doesn’t sound like a whole bunch of fun, though.

  3. Very entertaining. I think you hike like my wife and I. We aren’t interested in just saying we’ve been some place….we want to SEE it like you do. How much altitude did you gain during your hike?