Summer break's edge gathers closer to its close. I can feel it. Though only mid-July, a return to school is only a week or so away. We finish up our rides and time at Crater Lake National Park and push southwards to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Again, this is a place that last summer had escaped us. It was very nearly the next National Park on our bikepacking trip north on the Sierra Cascades, and less than a week away when we quit. We learned shortly after ending our tour last summer that a significant fire had swept across the massive forests of the Lost Sierra in Northern California, burning through Greenville and cities of its like. There was equally a sizable fire that spent its payload burning through Lassen Volcanic and its northern and easterly slopes.
We were intrigued then, to see this park. Unlike Crater Lake, where we went to bike almost exclusively, we decided that a pedestrian approach at Lassen would best bring us its features. We drove south and setup camp in the Manzanita Lake Campground on its north-end. After quickly setting up the tent, we jumped in the car and drove through the pockets and folders of year-old burn timber that stood thick, black, studded along the main highway bisecting the park. But eventually, the burn fell away as the alpine of the Cascades hung low on the peaks.
The goal was to hike Lassen Peak - a 10,456 ft. summit of the namesake Volcano that erupted so many decades ago. With the weekend drawing in tomorrow, we felt sure that the trail and parking lot would be packed early and sure in the morning. Janna and I decided to avoid the crowds by doing an evening summit with a dusk descent. Our bet paid off as the parking lot held only a handful of cars. All in all, we saw maybe 3 other pairs of people on the trail. And the climb was gorgeous.
We ascended in golden hour as the bent sun kept the temperature right and the colors popping. Lake Helen with its memorizing alpine sapphire blues grew smaller before us. Gnarled whitebark pine trees stood sentient on the talus slopes. Again, even in July, snow lingered on portions of the switchbacks. Up on top of the volcanic dome afforded us miles of horizon to gaze from, including linking distant Cascade peaks. Janna and I had the summit to ourselves after a choose-your-own-adventure boulder scramble. As we descended, the umbra of the mountain cast hard into the distance, a large triangular bulging shadow cast across the land. It was awesome.
At morning the next day, we packed up quick to grab a picnic table along alpine Lake Helen again. This seemed a gorgeous morning spot breakfast. A picnic table, blue skies, sapphire lake water, and volcanic treeline rock made up the view. After this, we decided to head to Bumpass Hell, the largest geothermal features found anywhere west of Yellowstone. I had done really little research for this place and was blown away by the features at hand. As we descended the trail, large sulfur-emitted geothermal pools, gurgling boiling mud pots, steaming rotten creeks, and extremophile-stained mats of rock and Archaea colored the land. It was freaking spectacular. We spent quite a while walking along the boardwalk that carefully wound between acid pools and belching clay.
After that, we descended the trail down through a valley filled with yellow-bellied marmots. We arrived at Cold Boiling Spring along its namesake lake where gasses escaped the Earth causing its water to roil. We spent some time enjoying the shade and cool temperatures there on this hot and sunny day before hiking back up the trail.
I drove us down the Visitor Center where read up on the obligatory boards about the geologic, human, and biological history of the area. After this we drove to Sulfur Works where we parked and started a very steep climb up the surrounding forest, parallel to West Sulfur Creek. There was almost no one but us when we arrived at Ridge Lakes. We sat for a while and enjoyed the lakes under the afternoon waning. Afterwards, we descended the time and were astounded by how close the boiling mud pots were to the road at Sulfur Works. Literally, right on it.
I definitely felt like Lassen Volcanic was a pretty amazing place, and more-so, I was pleased that we came back to enjoy this place by foot instead of just barreling through it on bikes, trying to make our daily miles, as would have happened should we had continued on the Sierra Cascades Route.