Daily Archives: August 30, 2013

Lassen Volcanic National Park


Mt Lassen. I love the groundcover in the foreground; it was like walking in a deep shag carpet.

Lassen Volcanic National Park lies about 2 hours south of Lava Beds NM. It’s formed by the earliest recorded volcanic explosion in American history; the Lassen volcano erupted in 1915 and was caught in a series of great photographs (great in part because of the period car in the foreground).

South of Lava Beds lies Modoc National Forest; it’s a scrabbly forest and the roads were in a wretched state of repair. Thankfully they were basically empty; for the worst potholes I swerved over to the other side of the road. Then it was along the highway and through another national forest to Lassen, which was about 2 hours away. The other national forest was being logged (this is relatively common), and there were orange ribbons tied around many trees near the road indicating that they were the next targets for chainsaws.

I knew little about Lassen before arriving. In many cases, actually, I arrive at these parks with little information, so after passing through the entrance station I usually pull over and examine the map, trying to find the closest visitor’s center. On my stop here, I asked for advice on a few hikes and found two 5 mile hikes and one 12 mile hike.

The peak from the parking lot. Doesn’t look so bad, right?

Mt Lassen itself is an utterly charmless pile of rubble and sand. It towers 10,400 feet, far above the other nearby mountains. After the eruption of the volcano, the park was quickly designated a national landmark. Like all the rest of the volcanoes I’ve visited, this one remains dormant, which means that it could become active again! It’s surrounded by the remains of the last eruption; there’s also a system of hot springs and fumaroles, and a variety of lakes, forests, and other outdoor activities. Many of the hikes are quite long; the road spans the western part of the park and a web of trails lies on the east, making it a great location for long backpacking trips. I saw several groups setting out during my stay.

Although the park is crowded, the summer rush was just starting to tail off. Between the forests and various geological features, I found the park closely resembled Yellowstone. Instead of geysers, it had a mountain, but much else was the same. I consider it a better Yellowstone, myself, because I preferred the forests and fumeroles here to those I saw at Yellowstone (fewer people was also a plus).

Visiting on a lucky Sunday, the trail to the summit was open. It’s closed most of the time, I guess to protect vegetation. So, starting around 2 pm I began my hike up Lassen. It’s 2 miles up and 2 miles back, and the hike consists almost entirely of switchbacks on loose rock. I was nervous because of the altitude and my experience in the Grand Tetons, where I reached only 9700 feet – 700 feet less than I’d reach here. Although the hike was a challenge and I was out of breath for the duration, I was happy to cover the 2 miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain in an hour’s time. The only problem was how dull the hike itself was – the treeline was left behind only a mile into the hike and it was only endless switchbacks from there.

Unlike a elementary school science project, there wasn’t any ‘cauldron’ at the summit, but general disarray. There was a small, semi-flat area and various peaks and lumps around it. I climbed up one section of rock and had a snack. Surprisingly, there’s always bugs at these altitudes, usually bees. There were also mountain chipmunks – similar to a regular appearance, but much broader and with a stubby tail.

On top of the world

The hike itself was extremely popular and quite crowded, even on a Sunday afternoon. The problem with some of these hikes – I’ve noticed this particularly for marquee hikes in these parks, such as Skyline loop in Rainier – is that much of the crowd has done little hiking before and the common courtesies that are commonplace on most trails are not observed. I guess the same way courtesies in a small town don’t exist in the city. People don’t hike on the right side of the trail, span the trail in groups, don’t step aside to let those ascending pass, and don’t acknowledge you on quieter sections of the trail. It can make for a frustrating hiking experience.

Resident at the peak. My boot is visible in the lower right. He was less than a foot away!

After the climb I was pretty worn out, but decided to do another short hike, this time to see some of the geological features, which situated in a section of the park known as ‘Bumpass Hell.’ Apparently they were discovered by a Mr. Bumpass, who promptly slipped and burned his leg in one of the springs.

I was hoping against hope that this would be a flat portion of the trail; I quickly found that it wasn’t, and that hiking at altitude had used up quite a bit more energy than I had expected. Thus, this 7 mile hike turned out to be more grueling than I’d anticipated. It was worth it, though, as finally after curving around a few mountains I reached Bumpass Hell.

I actually took the long way, as I’d told the ranger I liked hiking. Still, it was fairly isolated and there were only a few people; a far cry from the Times Square feel of Yellowstone. Like all hot springs complexes at the National Parks, this one featured a boardwalk to keep you from boiling or burning yourself.

Bumpass Hell hot springs and fumaroles. Boardwalk on the top to prevent boiling oneself.

Unlike Yellowstone, which has many geysers and a variety of small pools, this complex had much larger features and fewer of them, something I found more impressive. Springs and fumeroles are notorious for their ‘rotten eggs’ smell, caused by sulfur (which I don’t mind much), which was absent here; this time it was more of a ‘scorched rotten eggs.’ Much worse!

I enjoyed the area despite the smell. It was quiet and the mudpots were impressive; Bumpass Hell was ringed with mountains and the end of the nearby trail I’d climbed was parched yellow and white. The sun was setting and I wanted to stay longer, but I had to get back to the van.

Hills next to Bumpass Hell. The trail wound down from these.

In all I climbed, according to my pedometer, the equivalent of 355 flights of stairs, and hiked about 12 miles. I was pretty happy about this. Thankfully, I also now had a Coleman stove and so was able to do some real cooking (at least as real as possible without much refrigeration), making myself an omelet for dinner.

The next morning I set out early on the 12 mile loop that was recommended by the ranger. The highlight of this was supposed to be ‘Corral Meadows,’ which was reputed to have wildflowers. Still suffering from second-day soreness from the previous hikes, I took it slow. The start of the hike was great – some nice views of Lassen and interesting forests, covered with a single kind of groundcover.

After that, though, the wilderness began to look similar to the landscape in southern Oregon, and when I reached the ‘meadows,’ I never saw any flowers, or anything particularly interesting. Furthermore, a few broad streams weren’t bridged very well and I slipped into the water, soaking my shoes and one leg. At least my camera stayed dry. By the time I returned to my car, the shoes were mostly dry but were caked with a layer of mud.

I left the park that afternoon, happy with my stay, and headed to a laundromat to wash my clothes (and shoes!), and then head due west to Redwoods National Park.