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Lassen Volcanic Adventure

Making an attempt to coddle M’s sore tendons, we headed up to Lassen National Park on Monday, partly because it was the only national park in California that had opened its campgrounds.  Partly because we know and love it.  But we were after larger game.  We wanted a backpacking trip.

On late Friday afternoon I wrote an email to their website asking about such a trip.  Fifteen minutes later I had my reply from a ranger, and he told me that Juniper Lake was open, and that if we didn’t see a ranger, we should just leave a filled out wilderness permit at the trailhead.  He warned us about potential snow and mosquitoes, and wished us a good trip.  Nice! 

So off we went.  It’s a long drive to that part of California and we didn’t get to the trailhead until about 1:30. We looked, but we didn’t see any permits or place to leave them anywhere near the trailhead.  OK, fine.  We went anyway. Nothing ventured; no adventure. 

We did leave a full trip itinerary with both of our daughters, just to be safe. The weather report call for a 10% chance of rain...but we did better than that.

It’s a short hike, less than two miles, to Horseshoe Lake, but we still managed to get caught in a rainstorm—one that lasted a good three hours.  In the meantime, we set up our tent and sat out the rain in relative comfort—one of the real advantages of taking three-man tent on a hike for two people. 

After a nap and a pleasant conversation, the rain stopped, and we got out to explore Horseshoe Lake. It’s a beautiful spot, with easy access to the lake, and a very cute ranger cabin along the east shore.  That’s when I discovered the reason that my pack was so light.  I had left my fishing gear at home…and not on purpose.  Oh well.  I would just have to sit back and enjoy nature instead.  And the views from shore, including a large collection of goose feathers.

It was cold and a bit dreary when we went to bed, and the wind put up a good show that night.  But by morning the sun was out, at least part of the time, and we really got to appreciate the scenery.  By the way, despite the warnings from the ranger, we had seen no snow at all except for a few tiny patches way up on Mt. Harkness, and not a single mosquito.

The trail down to Snag Lake follows Grassy Creek—perfect bug habitat if ever there was one—but we still didn’t see a single skeeter. 

Since it’s only a few miles to hike, we were set up in camp at Snag Lake before noon—in time to pack a lunch to head over to the north end of the lake, where the “fantastic lava beds” (the exact words on the topo map) were to be found.  We ate lunch there near a trail crew—somehow we always seem to hike the trails in Lassen the day BEFORE the trail crew clears them—and then went back to camp to nap and take the afternoon off.

We spent some of that time watching the amazing bird show—everything from a bald eagle to a blue bird, and battling flotillas of grebes and Canada geese out on the water, literally hundreds of them.  Combined with the loon we had heard at Horseshoe Lake, and the ouzel we saw in the creek, it made for a good day’s birding for us.   

Later that afternoon we had a very odd encounter with some very kinky deer, who apparently really liked the dirt in the areas we had peed.  Don’t ask me why, but they even got to the point of tracking M as she left to find a convenient bush.  She had to chase them away to get a bit of privacy, and as soon as she left the area, they moved in.  Not exactly vampire deer, but weird nevertheless. 

In the evening we hiked up a nearby hill to get a better view of the lake and we ate dinner on the beach below our camp, catching the last rays of the sun as the temperature dropped and dropped.  It got down close to freezing that night.

The next morning the icy lake was steaming in the sunlight.  We hiked out early and were at the trailhead before noon.  We drove into Chester to buy a sandwich, and then took the long way round to go over the northern part of the park and then enter through the Manzanita Lake entrance.  Because I had reserved campsites once I heard from the email ranger, we had a place to stay for three more nights in Lassen.  Lovely.

So Thursday morning we hiked up to Chaos Crags, and were sad to see the terrible fire damage in that area.  But it still has some magnificent views--including the one above towards the Trinity Alps.  And after lunch we hiked over to Nobles Emigrant trail. Taking a cross-country route from Reflection Lake, and really loving the solitude of that trail.  Another stab at cross-country brought us back to the Lily Pond Nature Trail (perfect navigation I might add!) and from there we went back to camp and took a tour around Manzanita Lake.

This is one of our favorite short hikes. It has amazing views of Mt. Lassen, like the one above. And a chance to see all kinds of wildlife. This time we saw lots of birds, and added an osprey, another bald eagle, and a whole family of ten little ducklings lined up on a log.

For our last day in the park, we were confronted with a challenge, as many of the trails were still described as snow covered. But the NPS had also said that about Snag Lake…so we knew we could take their warnings with a grain of salt.  Given that bit of skepticism, we went to hike to Cold Boiling Lake (snow covered trail, according to the NPS) and found the first two hundred yards met that description perfectly.  In fact, we met someone who told us he had gone up the trail for a couple of hundred yards, and it was a mess. He had turned around.

Eh.  As M said; “If it gets too bad, we can always turn around.”

Once beyond the initial 200 yards, the trail was in nearly perfect condition.  Yeah, there were a few patches of snow, but you could easily walk around them if you didn’t want to walk over them.  And less than thirty minutes later we were looking at the lake.    

And I was looking at the map.  Bumpass Hell, the top hike in the park, was closed definitively because of snow, a rock fall on the trail, and damaged boardwalks down the cliff side.  But there was a back way into Bumpass Hell, and it ran directly from Cold Boiling Lake up along a ridge. 

Wanna try it?  Yes we did.  And it was a huge success.  There was one creek crossing that caused some concern—as the rock work had washed away, but what was left was stable, if not convenient.  And there were three steep snowfields to traverse, but the snow was pliable, and we were able to kick steps in as needed. 

And then we found ourselves all alone in Bumpass Hell, with nary a hiker to be seen.  Amazing.


We fully enjoyed the views, ate our lunch overlooking sapphire  Crumbaugh Lake, and hiked out to the Kings Creek Picnic Area trailhead to discover a car in every spot…the place was crawling with people  But most were only interested in maybe hiking to the first lake, or just playing in the snow.  We kept our hellish secret to ourselves.

The views from this trail included Mt. Lola and the Sierra Buttes, 95 and 77 miles away, respectively. Stunning.

We got back to Manzanita Lake in time to have a nice nap back in camp, followed by dinner and more relaxing.

By the way, the campsites on all three sides of ours were reserved for the night, but nobody ever showed up—giving us the luxury of even more space and quiet in this lovely campground.

The next morning we packed up and drove for home, having spent five wonderful days hiking in Lassen.  We saw zero mosquitoes on the whole trip.  On most hikes we saw virtually nobody on the trail.  And  we got a very much needed escape from sheltering in place.  Five nights.  Twenty eight miles of hiking.  No bugs.  And great bird sightings.  A perfect week in the woods.

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