Trip Report - Lassen National Park

Brokeoff Mountain at Dawn (Matt Pritchard) More photos below.

By Matt Pritchard

The weekend was born out of necessity. We were jonesing for some time outside and it needed to happen soon. The autumn is good for this kind of trip. The mercury is falling, kids are back in school, and areas that host hordes in the summer are thinning out before winter. You can pretty much pick a spot on the map and plan a trip in little to no time. We zeroed in on Mt Lassen without much thought. It's been on our list for the past few years, it is easy to get to, and neither of us had been to the area since we were knee-high to a grasshopper.

We hit the road well before dawn on Saturday morning, with Jody assuming captain duties. I flew second-seat and slumbered through the bulk of the drive - not waking until we veered off I-5 near Red Bluff. We pulled through the park gates around 8:30 and dumped our gear at a nice spot in the walk-in campground. Before long, we were back in the car, heading towards the Mt. Lassen trailhead - a few miles down the road. Mt. Lassen is the southernmost of the major Cascade peaks. Having last erupted in 1915, it is considered to be the largest plug-dome volcano in the world. The main cone of the volcano rises two thousand feet above the surrounding area, topping out at 10,453 ft. Before the 1980 eruption of Mt. St Helens, Lassen was the most important volcanic research area in the U.S. To this day, it serves an important role foretelling the recovery cycle of St. Helens and other recently erupted volcanoes.

Hiking to the summit of Mt. Lassen is a pretty straightforward deal - a well worn trail winds 2.5 miles and 2,000 vertical feet to the summit. Switchbacks lead the way up the rocky, barren slopes that characterize so many of the Cascade peaks. We took our time and enjoyed a blue-bird day in the mountains. We had plenty of company, including a large group of high-schoolers from Eureka, who offered a fair amount of entertainment. A wee bit of scrambling at the top put us on the summit inside of two hours.

To the north, we could see Mt Shasta in all its glory, more than 3,500 ft. higher than us. In every direction small cinder cones told a clear story about the rumblings underneath the earth's crust. On the northeast side of the mountain, we could see the devastated area caused by the massive mudslides that accompanied the mountain's most recent eruption. To the south was a bird's eye view of Brokeoff Mountain, another gem of the park - it might not be as geologically interesting, but the hiking and climbing opportunities abound. A quick descent put us in camp in the early afternoon and gave us the rest of the day to relax and catch up on some reading and sleeping.

For people that spend most of their outside time backpacking, the occasional car camping trip can be a real treat. Why? Let's start with comfy camp chairs, coolers of beer, massive food lockers, real mashed potatoes, and tri-trip grilled on the hibachi. With full stomachs and tired eyes, we settled down for the night.

We woke early Sunday morning to take advantage of the good light near Bumpass Hell. There are two hikes you are pretty much required to do when you visit Lassen - the first of which is the hike to the summit. The other is the hike to Bumpass Hell. This area most vividly describes the history and the character of the park. Bubbling (literally) with geothermal activity, the pools, vents, and mudpots around Bumpass Hell burp, gurgle and spew a noxious funk of hydrogen sulfide and steam. Crisscrossed with boardwalks and guardrails, there is a very Venusian quality to the place, giving it the feel of Jabba the Hut's personal day spa. By starting early, we were treated to beautiful light and absolutely no crowds. For the 30 or 40 minutes we spent there, we didn't see another person. It afforded us some great photos, which can be seen below.

We returned to camp after our hike and decided to call it a weekend. We had other hikes on our list, but we needed to save something for next time - also, we were feeling lazy. We hit the road around noon and spent the car ride home talking about trips for '05. It's shaping up to be a very good year.

Click here to check out a video of a steaming mud pot.

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