Laguna Seca Trip: Day 5 – Lassen Volcanic National Park

Wednesday, July 13

I awoke about 5:30 but didn’t want to get out of the warm bag. By 6:15, rising was mandatory. The campground was quite still, no one was moving, no one was making any noise. My breakfast is in the bear box, and I was never able to open it without quite a clang so I was an early noisemaker. I had my usual camp breakfast, an apple and protein bar. Then off to hike.

I started with Kings Creek Falls. The guys I talked to last night said I could get there from the South part of our camp or I could take the easy way from the Kings Creek Falls trailhead. I elected for the easy way. It’s marked as 1.4 miles each way. Before starting, I was going to take a picture of the map at the trailhead. Figures, the SLR isn’t working today.

The trail descends from the road. Early on there are signs of recent trail maintenance. Then we get to a broad meadow. There’s a nice view of Lassen Peak from here, when you’re on the return trip. After a half mile there’s junction. Proceed down the cascade section of the trail or take the longer, less steep horse route. But there’s no choice – the cascade section is closed for trail maintenance. Two tenths of a mile from the falls there’s another junction, this one to Bench Lake.

At the falls they’ve built a viewing platform. I poked around a bit, looked at it from the platform and from creekside, but there wasn’t much there to hold my attention. I headed back to the last junction and took the trail to Bench Lake. It was a nice walk, but the lake is more of a puddle, snow fed, with no inlet or outlet stream. It’s surrounded by trees and lacks a view. It also lacks an comfy place to sit and relax, so it was back to the car. Nearly back to the trailhead the work crew, five guys, passed me heading to work. When I first arrived at the trailhead, there was only one other car parked here. Now it’s starting to get crowded – several cars there, with corresponding groups of people heading down to the falls. I reckon this hike to be 4.8 miles total.

Next was Cold Boiling Lake. The guys last night said I shouldn’t bother. I went anyway. First, it’s not like I had a full day of hiking planned. Second, the Bumpass Hell trail is closed. That was definitely on the list but has to be scrubbed. There’s a trail from Cold Boiling Lake to Bumpass Hell. I wondered how far up that trail you can get. So I went to find out.

Cold Boiling Lake is as the guys said, not really worth the bother. And the Bumpass Hell trail from this end is closed a hundred yards above the lake. But the trickle of gasses bubbling out of Cold Boiling Lake is the first sign I see of active volcanic processes. This hike amounted to 1.4 miles round trip.

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How big is it?

As expected, there is a rich insect life in the area. The bug spray was definitely a sound investment. Here at this rather drab little lake there was an abundance of dragon flies. Walking along the shore the hiker generates a cloud of dragon flies, like Pigpen from Peanuts. All around you for a short radius is a riot of dragon flies. I’m used to seeing maybe a handful of dragonflies in one spot at home. Here they were countless.

I continued south on the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, stopped at the Lassen Peak trailhead and again at Lake Helen and Emerald Lake. I briefly considered hiking to the summit. It’s 2.5 miles and about 2000 vertical feet. Difficult, but doable. I made up two reasons not to do it. There’s a lot of snow on the mountain and I didn’t have any spikes. Plus, I could do it tomorrow morning if I want to change my mind.

Just below the peak trailhead are Helen and Emerald lakes. Helen is still half frozen, deep blue water. Emerald is, well, emerald colored. I stopped at the Bumpass Hell trailhead hoping the overlook actually overlooked the place but it doesn’t. You have to hike down the canyon and around a bend to actually get to the place.

Next stop is Sulphur Works. There used to be a spa and sulfur mine here. The road goes a sidewalk’s width away from a fumerole. You park in the lot and take the sidewalk up a few yards to view it. It’s not just a view – you get a lungful of steam and sulfur. The parking lot is also the trailhead for Ridge Lakes.

After finding a shady spot to snack on my trail mix, I put my hiking shoes back on and headed up the trail. Not far from the trailhead I ran into a couple from Denmark. I asked if the trail is this steep all the way. They had only gone a short distance farther to view another bubbler. We discussed where there were hikes that yielded views. I told him that so far, the best views seem to be from the road. The answer to my question, “does it stay this steep” is “No, it gets steeper.”

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Ridge Lakes

It seemed to take a long time. I stopped quite often. Even so, I was maintaining a two mile per hour pace and caught up to a family very near the lake. At first I saw just the two boys, the older, bigger one chasing the younger with a stick. As I entered the shade they were resting in they were getting ready to continue. “Do you think it’s much farther?” Mom asks. I tell them I think it’s just over this next rise. She’s skeptical; they thought that two rises ago.

I was right, the lake was just over the rise. It was a quite gratifying hike, 2.2 miles round trip, climbing 1,045 vertical feet. Quite steep, but short and surprisingly free of people. I’m accustomed to hiking ten miles to see only six people over a three hour span. The family didn’t stop at the outlet but went in search of a nice place to sit. They took perhaps the prime spot. That’s okay, I wandered around a little.

The lake was quite scenic. Clear water, fed from melting snow. By now I was wishing I had more water. I considered getting water (and using the Steri-Pen) at the lake’s outlet. I was thinking this water would be some of the best water you could get. But I was concerned about it. The Steri-Pen will handle the biological problems, but are there chemical problems? Frankly, it troubled me how clear the water was. A few tufts of healthy looking grass grew with an inch or two of water over them, but I saw nothing growing or swimming in the water. I’d hate to ingest a bunch of arsenic or something. If I was going to fill the bottle, though, it would certainly be here, before it flows through the sulfur canyon below.

2016-07-13 13.32.24sI sat at the lake nearly an hour. A few interesting things: I saw some dirt tubes. I’ll call one a negative, one a positive. The positive are like small speed bumps, solid mounds of loose dirt. The negatives, I think, may have been tunnels but are now trenches. Are they the paths of melt water running underneath the snowbanks? Or did some creature have a network of tunnels under the snow?

I could stay as long as I wanted, thirty minutes or until dusk. Sitting, watching the world go by, sometimes the mind wanders. I pondered the emergency of an eruption. Here at the lake, I could be back at the car in thirty minutes. Quickest way off the mountain is to continue south. I’d have to abandon everything at the campsite, leaving with only the car, the electronics, and the clothes on my back.

In a gross sense, the trees and ground cover are similar to what I see at home, a mountainous pine forest with networks of streams and lakes. The trail is much smoother, though, with far fewer roots and rocks. Much of the ground cover is different. I saw no ferns and lots of Mule’s Ear, a broad leaf flower.

The family outlasted me; I headed down the trail after an hour, more or less my usual visit to an alpine lake. From Sulphur Works I continue downhill to the visitor center at the southern entrance. I got water there, washed my face and hands. I took a quick look at their terrain model of the park but didn’t browse the gift shop.

Heading back to the car I see that a guy is unloading a pallet of freight eight or ten spots downhill from where I parked. No big deal to walk the slope, but not so fun to pull a pallet jack up. I had a pull through spot, saved me the trouble of backing in to a spot. If I’d parked somewhere else, this guy would have had an easier time of it. “Don’t they let you use the loading dock?” The truck entrance is a few yards north of the parking lot entrance. “There’s already another truck there, and besides, my trailer is too long.”

One thing I wanted to do was see if I could get cell service. I almost forgot. I was about to start the car when I remembered. No cell service, but somehow I was able to receive and send text messages. Done with what communication I could perform I retraced my steps back to the campground, getting there just after three.

A lazy evening in camp, being off the trail so early. I relaxed for a while, read some of my book. For dinner I had one of the freeze-dried meals I brought: Chana Masala. The package says it serves two, but the guy at REI said it’s a decent meal after hiking all day. Whereas the rice and tuna was just short of a meal, this was more generous.

Last night we had a few bats chasing flying insects through the campground at dusk. No bats tonight. The only notable guest I had in my spot was a pretty little bird – red head, black and yellow body. Didn’t sit still long enough for a picture.

While looking for bats, a car pulled into the spot across the lane from me. A Mitsubishi Eclipse, a sporty coupe. She was the driver, blonde, skinny. He was the passenger, tall, lanky, with long dirty hair, scraggly Van Dyke beard. Not your stereotypical campers.

They got about eight big grocery sacks of stuff out of their car and spent some time trying to figure out the bear box. Their neighbor seemed to be giving them advice. I kept thinking I’d be putting the tent up if I were in their shoes. Turns out they didn’t have a tent, slept in the car. They built the biggest fire in the park. At one point, they had flames standing eight feet tall. I wondered what the heck they were going to do with all that food.

What with all the light and smoke from campers fires and the growing moon, it didn’t look to be a good night for stargazing. No matter, what else do I have to do? I wanted to listen to Holst’s The Planets but I don’t have a version of that loaded on the iPod. I do have Manfred Mann’s Solar Fire, which is partly based on Holst, so I listened to that. To cap the evening’s program off, it was Astronomy Domine by Pink Floyd.