Lassen NP Entrance
The entrance sign to Lassen National Park.
Took 99 north to Chico, CA, after a quick stop in Sacramento to grab a lifejacket and inner tube at Big 5 Sporting Goods. My mission is to scope out the local tubing spots. Using a web page as a reference, I checked out the Sacramento River tubing spot, which is calm water, and Butte Creek up in the foothills, which is more rapid and shallow (and colder). Both locales are absent of tubers, so it must be much too early. This stuff probably starts around Memorial Day at the earliest. I have the info now though, and I will return here later in the summer.
With no tubing possible at the moment, I still have to occupy myself, so the mountains beckon once again. I head off to Lassen NP. Both the drive up and the park itself are absolutely spectacular. Once inside the park, the landscape is completely snow covered. The sides of the roads have 15 foot walls of snow. I will need snowshoes to hike here. Following a tip from the girl in the visitor's center, I head back down the road about 10 miles to Mineral, where the single store in town apparently rents snowshoes.
Lassen NP Visitor's Center
Lassen NP Visitor's Center
I go ahead and buy the snowshoes from the nice lady who runs the place.
Back in Lassen, I walk up the closed road to the trailhead where I will start my snowshoe adventure. The place stinks like sulfur (like someone passed gas) from the volcanic springs bubbling up. I can't seem to find the trailhead in all of the snow. I try to scale one of the vertical walls of snow on the side of the road, and almost make it to the top before sliding back down again rather precariously. Second time's a charm however, but now even with the high ground I can't see any trail or steps in the snow. All this effort, only to have to climb down this damn wall of snow again. It's getting too late to start at this point, I've wasted too much time. Plus, I forgot my headlamp. I'll declare defeat and try again tomorrow.
The next morning I set out for my overnight snowshoeing trip into the Lassen backcountry. The trail I'm taking will take me to Ridge Lake(s?). Armed with visitor center advice, I find the trailhead, or at least where it would be under the
Lassen NP Topo Map
Lassen NP Topo Map, inthe visitor's canter.
15 feet of snow (directly behid the parking lot bathroom). I ascend up the trail, or at least where I think the trail is for quite awhile. This is my first time snowshoeing, and while it's obviously more strenuous than plain hiking on dry land, it's really not stressing my endurance. The main problem is that I've discovered that wearing summer hiking shoes in the snowshoes is a big mistake- the snow is all over them and melting, causing my shoe and then eventualy my socks to get soaking wet. Thankfully, it's not THAT cold right now (probably only around 50 degrees) so there's no risk of frostbite. Though, I may not be able to camp out here tonight.
After while I start to have doubts as to whether I'm still going in the right direction, so I break out the ever useful droid and activate the GPS. Lo and behold, I am indeed going in the wrong direction, off by about 30 degrees. I correct myself and carry on uphill. I eventually arrive at what undoubtedly is Ridge Lake, now completely snow covered. My brand spanking new Kelty backpack has a torn strap. Going to have to return
Boiling smelly water
The boiling sulfurous water at Sulphur Works, near the trailhead.
it when back in civilization. From here I can see the ridge behind the lake, where there are ski tracks clearly visible. I set out around the lake and head up to the ridge, following some backcountry skiers, until I get to the top of noname mountain (it's actualy called something like that) which is just north of Brokeoff Mountain (no relation to Brokeback Mt.) Up there I meet the aforementioned backcountry skiers, one of which happens to be a woman from Sonora, CA whom I'd met in the entrance parking lot. The guy she was with gave me a swig of his whiskey and then they were on their way. After enjoying the view briefly, I head back down, following some ski tracks they told me would be a more direct route.
I decide I'm definitely not going to camp up here , given the wet state of my socks and shoes. The trip back down seems more difficult and definitely MUCH more treacherous than the trip up. I'm pretty sure I'm walking (stumbling is more like it) through the high risk avalanche area. The snow covered slopes are steep, and it's getting difficult to walk on them
Venting steam at Sulphur Works
Venting steam at Sulphur Works
without sliding down. This is definitely slowing me down. I eventually get to a very steep slope and take about 45 minutes CAREFULLY and meticulously placing each step so as not to slide down the hill. Occasionally, I do slip and slide down 10-15 feet on my rear end before recovering. Some steps I take cause micro-avalanches, with the top layer of snow sliding all the way down the hill. It's actually quite cool looking, but a bit unnerving as well. After what seems like an eternity, and having made a huge mess on the previously pristine snowy slopes, I descend to the road level and head back down the road to the entrance parking lot.
Back in the parking lot I meet up with the backcountry skiers I met at the top, and have a beer with them. After playing some soccer with their young son Owen, and then losing to a game of ring golf to the woman, I head back to my truck. There I chat with a couple guys from Santa Cruz and Monterey (one of which is a .NET developer) until nightfall and then head into my truck for the night.
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