The polish to the end of summer break was a return to South Lake Tahoe. For this is where Janna and I ended our Sierra Cascades bike tour the following summer, and it is a place we came to love. As we traced our route south from Lassen Volcanic National Park, we took the roads that we would have ridden last summer had we continued north. And honestly? Thank god we didn't. They were car-chocked, narrow-shouldered, and not nearly as epic for views as the routes we had ridden through in the Mohave and the Sierras. We enjoyed the "Lost Sierra" as the area is coined and its large coniferous spreads. It was heartbreaking to see how much had burned in the fires of last year. Seeing Greenville with buildings in ashes was solemn. We ended picking up several PCT hitchhikers and driving them to Chester along our way.
Janna had booked us at the Campground by the Lake - a city-owned campground near South Lake Tahoe with really solid camping, trees, and decent sites. We spent a few days there just relaxing and enjoying the beach where we biked to get around. Every evening, this massive black bear (the largest I had ever seen in my life) would come rambling through the campground all night long until the city police and animal control would come flying through multiple times a night on patrol to chase him off. But he got plenty to eat before they came as people seemed non-plush about putting their food away.
On our third day, we decided to summit Mount Tallac. It's a 9,734 foot peak with about a 3,500 feet of gain located in the Desolation Wilderness next to Fallen Leaf Lake right outside Lake Tahoe. We actually had no intentions of summiting it when we started. I had been perusing Gaia GPS, just scanning for hikes nearby, and saw one next to Fallen Leaf Lake. As filled our our permits for the wilderness and hiked in, I was gobsocked by how beautiful the area was - the plant life was diverse mix of Sierra species on high and desert species down low. We hiked up to a ride along Fallen Leaf Lake that afforded expansive views of Lake Tahoe and its ridge-bowl.
We arrived at Cathedral Lake, a small alpine lake. Janna and I dove into the water immediately on this hot day. The water was cold but crazy clear and the immediate evaporative cooling in the day's heat was solid. After swimming, we decided to hike onward, rising above treeline where we encountered a massive singular sequoia growing in the col of the mountain. Switchbacks carried us through and above a massive boulder-field to a saddle where I could see way back into the Desolation Wilderness and parts of the High Sierra in the distance. The trail seemed to continue up, so we decided to just go ahead and summit. After several hours of hiking through alpine flower fields, we came to the top.
The views were incredible in scope. All Lake Tahoe stretched before us as a small, inland sea with white coasts of sand rippled by waves. The distant ridge-bowl peaks on the other side of the lake where dappled with shade from the rising cumulus of possible summer monsoons. Behind us stretched the Eldorado National Forest and the repetitive peaks of treeless Sierra Nevada Range peaks. Pikas ran about the boulders while we sat - I was stoked to see them because climate change had really been altering their ranges.
After a while, we descended with late afternoon's softer light and into the day-warmed heat of the lake region. A day or two later, we packed up to return home for the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
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.
Crater Lake National Park
I've done a middling job of writing in a space for me, of trying to upkeep a log of memories. It seems that each year I live more and more but find personal writing drifting to the edges. I intend amends to me. Let me write and keep a space for living in thought.
The fire of Janna's Achilles combined with my re-inflamed left knee brought us to an early close on the Great Parks North route. After a brief return to Arizona to clean our gear and check-in at school, we head back out. Last summer, we rode the Sierra Cascades Route. Due to the record-setting heat domes, we got only as far north as Lake Tahoe (still about 1,000 miles) before we called it good enough. However, there were a few National Parks we didn't get a chance to ride through. With several weeks of summer ahead of us still, we make some last minute reservations and head back on the road to ride and hike through Crater Lake National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
We cross the sun-baked heart of summertime Nevada to arrive at one of our favorite Eastern Sierra towns - Lee Vining. We camp at Mono Lake RV Park which provides the same glorious tent-camping experience as we had on the Sierra Cascades. From there, we make our way to Crater Lake. Due to the late season snows, much of the campground, even in July, is still closed due to snow drifts. I was fortunate to grab a cabin reservation in the park.
We drop our stuff and head up to the rim proper. The water color is absolutely mind-blowing. I've never sapphire and known its shade until this moment. The crystal clear, deep, exosphere-shade lake captures our eyes endlessly. It is as epic as I enthralled my expectations with. Janna and I spread our dinner picnic style along a rim section and eat to the golden light of aging sun.
Post-dinner, we hike past the historic Crater Lake Lodge along a paved trail that becomes dirt. We meander up a climb that takes us to Garfield Peak. We get close to summiting but decide to turn-around as night crawls softly along the horizon. The hike was impromptu and we didn't bring our headlamps. But the blue-shift of lake shine and sun angle is too capturing to release me. We stand and watch as dusk escapes the edge of Earth to swallow the sky.
The next day, we wake up, eat some oatmeal and put strap food and water to our bikes for an all-day ride around the circumference of Crater Lake. Almost a third of the route is currently closed to cars due to snow and road damage. To bikes, it is completely open. We leave from our cabin at Mazama Village and start a relatively car-free climb up Munson Valley Road. The strategy is to avoid the climb at the end by taking on the ~1.5 k feet of climbing to start. We merge onto the West Rim Drive to a brilliant morning where the lake maintains its atmospheric blue that cuts the eyes and makes you stare.
We head west around the lake and decide it obligatory to stop at every possible viewpoint of the lake. At the overlook nearest Wizard Island, a grand piano is setup and a classical pianist is playing vigorously. Apparently this guy travels to the parks and is a big draw for his outdoor pieces. We just happen to be there at the right time and have most of his music to ourselves and Wizard Island. Continuing west, we parallel the edge and snow-clung peaks as the Pacific Crest Trail and its myriad of thru-hikers (mostly SoBo) intersect with us.
The views outwards from the Lake are equally enthralling. Sprawling north and south are peaks near and distant of other Cascade Range volcanoes. At one overlook we stop as a law enforcement ranger cordons it off. It turns out that Kamala Harris's husband is coming through anytime to do a piece on the Park and climate change. We continue on and merge with the East Rim Drive. Traffic begins to fade as we approach the far-north end of the lake and the imminent gate closure to motor vehicles. We pedal on and suddenly a series of Secret Service SUVs come down the road in a long train carrying the Vice-President's husband.
After the motorcade we go around the vehicle gate and have the entire highway to ourselves for the next couple of hours. Just well-paved surface, gorgeous climbing, distant snowy peaks, sapphire water, and perfect temps. We run into one other set of cyclists who biked up here in order to leave their bikes to climb the highest peak in the park. After seeing them, we take the side-route to Cloudclap, the highest road-point in the park at just under 8000 feet in elevation. We linger here, enjoying perfect temps at a spot that bills itself as rare to calm; typically, this spot has tremendous winds that scour the landscape and chases visitors quickly back to their vehicles. Only accessible a few weeks out of the year, today, we have it to ourselves in utter calm.
We venture back south and arrive at the Phantom Ship Trailhead. We stash our bikes behind the south-side gate and hike the loop out to the Phantom Ship Overlook. View-satiated, it's back on the bikes and South toward Mazama Village once more to complete the loop. I am thoroughly stoked by this ride that has sat in my desire-list for some time. Janna and I drop our bikes, take some showers at our cabin, and then drive back up to the Crater Lake Lodge area to eat our dinner once more along the rim in addition to heading over to the Visitor Center.
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