a mountain path
talking to myself
under the volcano
In 1915 Mount Lassen erupted – twice. Two years later Lassen Volcanic National Park was formed and like so many of those early parks the centerpiece is a road that runs through it. I’d wanted to spend a but of extra time here since I wasn’t even really aware of this park before the tour (shameful I know) but the best way to do that was to slowly ride hwy 89 through the park and check out the scenes as I did. As that was on route and there are campgrounds at both ends of the park I was able to both do a bit of the route and explore the park a bit. Of course to really explore it would require more backpacking than I’m set up for, but I definitely got a taste.
The morning was dominated by the climb up to the Lassen Summit, which for a good portion of was all in woods. Now these woods varied from thin trees, minimal underbrush in the ‘devastation zone’ to big old growth trees and riotous shrubbery where clearly more rain falls, to ice plants, Madrona, lodgepole pine and other high altitude friendly plants as I approached the summit. There were the biggest pine ones I’ve ever scene littering the ground, some as long as a foot. I heard a couple of here fall from trees in camp and it was like a rock dropping out of the sky. I took a short info trail in the ‘devastation zone’ and it stuck me that this was just like being at Mt St. Helens but this eruption had occurred 100 years ago. But there was a similar pyroclatic flow and flood from melting glaciers and similar deposits of ash. So you could see how the forest recovers, or hasn’t, in at least that length of time.
The other major activity I did on the ascent was to hike out to Kings Creek Waterfall. This was about a three mile round trip hike and turned out to be a bit more strenuous than I’d have thought for such a popular hike. It was almost entirely over shale and there were several rocky descents down to the falls. The trail came right to the top of the falls and you could look down them and then walk around to see the water rushing over the rocks. After. Burner Falls yesterday it want quite as impressive but a sweet cascade nonetheless. As I hiked back big black clouds rolled in and a few large drops of rain fell. I hurried back to my bicycle as I hadn’t put the covers on.
It had been a pretty long gentle climb up to the ~7500′ I had reached at that point. But the last ~1000′ were a series of switchbacks during which the greens thinned out and the surrounding peaks were revealed. Thunder began as I left Kings Creek and I saw a few jagged forks of lightening against the blackened sky. But on reaching the summit of 8533 feet, the highest point so far, the clouds had streamed around the mountain and there was a bit of blue sky on this side. Frankly the clouds had made for a cooler climb up and with the strong wind up here I was even a bit cold. Felt nice. The descent was broken up by visits to numerous scenic areas. Clearly going from the SW corner to the NW is the preferred route as the overlooks are numbered starting here and the various peaks – also labeled – much more dramatically come into view.
But the big attraction on this side is Bumpass’s Hell which also required a 3 mile hike over sand and shale to get to. Bumpass Hell is a hydrothermal area not unlike what you’d encounter in Yellowstone National Park. It was a blasted region, bone white and sulfur yellow, with chemical turquoise ponds and steaming vents. There were boiling pools of water, fumaroles that out gassed steam with a loud hissing, belching mud pots and a chalky, blue stream that ran out of the valley. Certainly a place to fire the early settlers visions of hell.
It was a fast descent to the entrance with another’s small geothermal area on the roadside at one point but primarily between pile a of ash, basalt cliffs and open areas looking onto forested mountains. I know I only scratched s surface here but what a great park; one I’d like to do some backcountry hiking in. I camped at the Southwest entrance walk-in campground, which was small and pretty empty this Sunday evening. As darkness fell the thin clouds that had been here all afternoon were lit a faint pink. The rising nearly full moon was like a candle behind a screen.
the whiff of sulfur
and giant pinecones falling
like rocks from heaven