Starting up the Steep Hollow trail head from Franklin Basin Road, we were able to follow the trail fairly well through the cow paths to meet up with the road, which was easily followed until we turned off toward Doubletop Mountain. The trail was obvious for a while, wandering through the tall subalpine firs and wild flowers like columbine, Jacob's ladder, Richards geraniums, potentilla, and varieties of penstemon. The fun started when downed trees on the visible trail forced us to do some re-routing. Either the cows or other hikers had done the same, creating a series of paths and leading us to wander here and there attempting to find the right one that would lead us to the meadow below Doubletop.
With the help of all the hikers and several GPS units, we finally dropped into the meadow and looked around at the steep sides of the bowl surrounding it, and Doubletop Mountain perched on top. High on a tree looking into the meadow was a memorial for Larry Burch, who we later learned was an avid snowmobiler who had a heart attack while adventuring, and his family chose to honor him out in the wilderness that he loved. With no trail to be seen, everyone picked their own best route up the steep slope: some choosing a long angled switch back to the lowest saddle, other taking a more direct route, or heading straight up for a ways before traversing horizontally to the saddle.
Anyway you tackled it, the going was tough! But the final push to summit Doubletop was easily accomplished compared to that -- too short even to really look for the small, bunny-like pikas we were so hoping to see! And spanning views from the top were worth it! We stopped for lunch and photos, of course. A group of hikers from Preston had set up a registry at the top, and we proudly added the Cache Hikers to the book! We all agreed that going down the same way we came up was probably not the best idea, and after consulting the GPS, Dave P. and Nikolai scouted an old trail down that turned out to be too steep and washed out to be a great option.
From our perch on Doubletop, we could really see the lay of the land and decided to follow the ridge to the south as it sloped more gently down, and find our way back to the path we came up using the GPS units to guide us. Best decision we made all day – by far the best route! Still a bit steep, but not nearly as loose footing, we found a game trail or possibly a foot path leading back down, and were able to follow it fairly easily to meet up with our track. As many hikers noted, we were in new territory, and while some were a bit nervous about the excitement of the new adventure, others remarked that it was just that: an exciting, new adventure.
Thanks for to Stephanie for narrative,and Dave W. for photos and GPS work, and special thanks to Stephanie for leading this trip after the original leader had to cancel.