Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a breathtaking little secret.

We got a generous dose of nature's medicine over the course of 6 days in the truly North part of Northern California.

Lassen is about 4 hours north of the Bay Area, an hour east of Redding, and the least visited National Park (I think that is a true statistic but don't hold me to it.)

I don't mind if it stays that way....but it is confounding why it is the case.  I have only been to Yosemite once and was underwhelmed, partially because of the high expectations but mostly because of the crowds.  I can't understand why Yosemite is 10000000x more popular than Lassen.

I'll let the pictures do the talking.



Our first campsite was in the center of Lassen at Summit Lake.  The lake was serene and the campsite is one I would definitely return to because of the convenient location near great trails, some of which start right at the campsite.  However if you want to avoid kids, this isn't your spot.  They play in the lake all day.  And avoid spot C11.  We were too close to the primitive toilets for the comfort of our noses.

Nice and early before the kids take over

We pulled off 5 mostly comfortable nights in a small backpacking tent.  The secret is to lay out a thick comforter, and then use your sleeping bags on top.

Our first hike was 8.5 miles from Bumpass Hell parking lot to Kings Creek.  That's pronounced "Bump-iss," unfortunately.

Lake Helen
We hiked by Lake Helen on the way in and out, and I dunked into it as we approached the end of our miles.  It was a hot 90 degrees out and I was dreaming of this reward.  Lake Helen, it turns out, is snow melt and I later learned is the coldest lake in the park.  I might have screamed while dunking in.  Genius pick on my part.



As the park name implies, Lassen consists of several volcanoes, one if which was so massive that when it blew, it left a ragged outline of mountain peaks and a huge valley of geothermal activity in its wake.  The geothermal activity is a nice preview of what Yellowstone has to offer.

Bumpass Hell is the most exciting geothermal attraction.  It hissed so loudly with steaming sulphur that you could hear it from a mile away.  The attraction is named after a guide who lost his leg after stepping onto a loose layer that collapsed into a boiling mud pot.







The rest of the hike towards King's Creek was silent, empty, and full of gorgeous meadows, flowers, animals and lakes.  We saw some unique birds, beavers, a ton of chipmunks, and thankfully no bears.  Lassen is bear country, which is the one reason that national parks are not perfect.  Bears scare the balls out of me and I wouldn't be sad at all if we could sprinkle magical bear food on the ground that turns all bears into cartoon-ish Winnie the Poohs or Yogi Bears.




We didn't see this coming since our hike was hot and dry....but somehow during our 8 hours away from camp, our campsite got rained on.  It's July so we reasonably didn't put our rain tarp over our tent.  

Our sleeping gear was soaked.

We had about 1 hour of sunlight left to lay out everything to dry in the sun.  It worked? ish? Lesson learned -- always put your rain tarp up!


Another day, another hike.  12 mile "lake" loop from our campsite, past the Twin Lakes, the Bear Lakes, back to our site.


We took a dip in one of the Twin Lakes.


The rest of this hike was creepy and depressing.  We tried hard to find something to appreciate in the acres and acres of blackened trees (from a 2012 fire).  After all, fire is an essential part of the life cycle of the wilderness. But we failed to appreciate it.  No shade = extra hot.  About 4 miles of fire graveyard.


At the end of this day it was time to head over to our second campsite, at Butte Lake.  This was a good 1.5 hour drive from our first campsite, to give you an idea of the size of Lassen.

We passed through Lake Manzanitas, which is a major entryway for everyone coming from Redding, and thus more crowded than it deserves to be.  We filled up on an ice cream cone, fire wood, and ice for our cooler.

We also stopped by this "book exchange" on the side of the road because I forgot to bring any reading material.  The options were slim, very slim, and I reluctantly picked John Grisham's "The Firm."  What a fantastic pick.  It is (accidentally) the funniest book ever, EVER, for the modern lawyer at least.  It is so silly and dated and not-quite-accurate.  Two small examples: it repeatedly refers to "flunking" the Bar exam, which is something I've never heard.  You pass or you fail. You don't "flunk."  Another is the constant reference to how billables are a uniquely big deal at this firm.  "It's all about the billables."  Newsflash: that's every private firm in the country. I'm going to start a new blog where I go page-by-page and discuss hilarious findings.  It's such a bad book.

When we got to our site at Butte Lake, it was raining again.  We stalled and stalled before setting up camp, hoping the rain would stop, but it didn't.  We unpacked and made a quick meal and I stole the Gentleman's raincoat since he brought one.  I had wisely declared it would be 90 degrees the whole time, and therefore brought nothing warm or waterproof.



Our Butte Lake site had access to one of the parks most memorable trails: the Cinder Cone trail.  You pass by miles of solidified lava chunks that flowed from the Cinder Cone volcano about 350 years ago.  Then you hike straight up the Cone itself.


Presenting, lava!!

First glimpse
If you take a good look at the picture below, you can see the small specks of two people hiking up the trail.  It is so, so steep and challenging.  My legs were shaky with fatigue just halfway up.  The entire volcano consists of cinder, so it is a steep hike up earth that is the consistency of sand and pebble.  A lot of people don't make it to the top.  It seems to never end.

But once you reach the top, the reward is so very worth it.




Straight up Cinder Cone


Looking into the mouth of Cinder Cone 


A view of the miles of  solidified lava flow

Painted dunes and more lava flow

Mount Lassen yonder.  The trail to the peak was closed for maintenance/improvements, so we missed out.



RUNNING

During our 6 day trip, I ran on days 3, 5, and 6 (4 miles, 5 miles, and 8 miles respectively).  I mostly ran in circles around the campsites because I'm not a fan of running by myself in bear country.  

I was not the only weirdo running.  Our neighbors at one site were 4 young runners who seemingly did nothing but run.  I woke up and saw them running; we started our fire at sundown and saw them running.  I tried to make friends with them, but quickly learned they were incompatibly younger than me based on the degree of valley girl accent.

I'm running a half marathon in San Francisco tomorrow (Sunday July 27).  It's probably going to be really uncomfortable for me.

My doctor never officially lifted his "no speedwork, no hill work" stay on my running, and I never officially dove back in to hard work.  The extent of my speed work since the Boston Marathon, three months ago, is one fast mile (at 5:50); a 5k (to be discussed later); and a 9 mile "effort" run at about 7:15 pace.  I haven't done anything more strenuous because, quite simply, I'm not done with all the work required to fix my leg.  Something is still not quite right, despite some improvement.

I'm trying to make my brain understand that it is more eager than my fitness would allow.  I should go out tomorrow at a 7:15 pace, and just try to hold that, or speed up.  But I won't.  I'll probably fall into old habits and start at a 6:30 pace, then totally die after 4 miles.  That sounds ok though.  I'd rather at least freaking try.

And maybe, just maybe, the FueledByLolz training plan of "no speed work at all, ever, except occasional 5ks" will magically work, and I can pull off something close to a 1:30.    

****

Who has been to Lassen?

What's your favorite National Park? I spend a lot of time debating this in my mind.  I think my list goes: Grand Canyon; Zion; Yellowstone.  I am DYING to go to Glacier National Park next.

41 comments:

  1. I've never been to Lassen - the only time I ever hiked in California was up to Mt Whitney - but those photos are stunning. But Cinder Cone looks like a miserable-ass walk.

    The Firm is ancient - it was published in like 1991. We have interns younger than that book. I think I read it about ten years ago, but I LOL'ed at your description!

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    1. That's a huge part of why it was so funny to read. So dated. It talked about how ENTICING this amazing offer was, for this top 1% Harvard/Yale law grad, but the salary offer is anticlimactic by today's standards.

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  2. I am absolutely jealous of all of your photos. They look gorgeous. I'm glad you enjoyed your time there and good luck tomorrow (today?) at the San Fran half.

    That climb looks like it would make you sore for days. Ha ha.

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  3. Fave National Park: hawaii volcanoes. Hiking over surface breaks of FLOWING lava! Steam vents! Putting objects in lava!

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    1. I was just talking to someone about this today - the Big Island? I have to check this out. I've also been dying to go to Kauai (sp.?)

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  4. Is there a difference between flunking and failing?

    JEALZ. I miss mountains. :(

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    1. The difference is that one is a term used in reference to the Bar exam, and one is not....it's just a funny thing to read. especially because Grisham apparently practiced law.

      Maybe not the best example of why this book is so hilarious. Another: "Mitch ribbed the ribs apart, slinging sauce into his eyebrows." wwwwhhhat!? I imagined that visual for 10 minutes laughing out loud. It's too good.

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    2. He ribbed the ribs! That can be very messy. Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to go sausage some sausage.

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  5. We lucked out when we went to Zion, and arrived the day after it snowed, so it was extra beautiful. We went with my sister's FIL, who is a ranger there,so he took us on a guided tour of all these random back-country hikes we otherwise wouldn't have known about.

    I also really loved Yosemite, but especially loved the parts in the north and east of the park without all the people.

    Sequioa > Yosemite > Zion > Everglades.

    Those pictures are aaamaaaaazing.

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    1. That sounds so lovely...I was in Zion in the spring, and the water flow was too strong to hike the Narrows, so I can't wait to go back. I want a ranger guided tour!

      Looking into Sequioa and Everglades...

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  6. I've been to Glacier and it's exactly as amazing as you're imagining. Just don't go in June if you don't like bears. July and August are the best times to go. I recommend St. Mary's City because it's not as crowded as some of the other areas around Glacier. The hiking is amazing, but yeah...buy bear bells. Trust me on that :)

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    1. Fuck. Do they hibernate after June? How many did you see? What did you do?

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    2. I think they're hungry in the early summer but fat and happy by late summer so they stay more to themselves. But I could be wrong.

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  7. Holy shitballs that is some gorgeous country! Thanks for sharing. :)

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  8. I love love LOVE Lassen! In fact, we were there in August 2012 during that very fire. For the most part it didn't bother us (just smelled smoky occasionally), but we'd planned to go all the way through the park starting at the south end & heading north, & the Fire Department blocked off the road about halfway through because they didn't want people getting any closer. So I would love to go back & see the north side of it. But YES, it was so great to be at a gorgeous, beautiful state part during peak season & have it still be somewhat reasonable in terms of the number of people there. I've found winter in Yosemite is lovely, particularly when it snows, because it's basically empty.

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    1. The one time I was at Yosemite was in winter, for my sister's wedding. We were hitched to a large group so didn't get to go on any glamourous hikes, but the little was saw was lovely. Somehow it still didn't hit me the way some other parks do!

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  9. a) I was the random girl with the green plastic clapping hands who yelled "go uhhhhhhh Caitlin!" as you ran down Haight today, because I had a blog-name-or-real-name brainfart. You looked good at that point (mile 20 of the marathon -- 7-ish of the 2nd half, I think?) so I hope it was a good race!

    b) I just turned my computer screen to my husband with the cinder cone picture up and screamed CAN WE GO TO LASSEN RIGHT NOW? Tell me the truth, though, was the trail up the cone unpleasant? For context, I find hiking up dunes generally unpleasant because I sink in the sand.

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    1. Yeah!! I heard my name, but my name was on my bib so I wasn't sure if it was a friend or not. Hope you had a fun time cheering. I felt better than I thought I would, except for mile 13 when I felt dehydrated and deathly, so I would call it a good race.

      The trail up was GREAT in a pain-lovers way. We were charging up because some kids behind us were on our tail and we knew they were hurting, and we wanted to "win". It is really hard, but you stop and take breaks so it's manageable. The dark cinder attracts heat so go early (or to watch the sunset) and it will be pleasant for sure

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    2. Awesome! My husband grew up scampering all over dunes in Michigan and I feel like I need snowshoes every time I go near one, but this sounds like it would be manageable, and watching the sunset from there sounds like the best.

      I would have rather been running, but cheering by bike was pretty great.

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  10. I just left Glacier today. It's completely amazing, though I went with my parents so didn't really get to do any hiking.

    I love Yosemite, but the crowds can totally be a killer. I like going to the popular parts (the valley) in the off season, like October or March. Going in the fall means that the leaves have changed colors and March has good waterfalls and snow capped peaks. If you're there in the summer, the east side of the park and Tuolumne Meadows gets you further from the crowds and is the start of great long hikes.

    I also love King's Canyon, but that's another one that you've got to get in to the back country to appreciate. I like hiking in from Onion Valley off 395 and coming up over Kearsarge Pass.

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    1. What's Glacier like right now? Blog report requested!

      Thank you for the Yosemite area/ Kings Canyon recommendations, I'll flag these for the next time we head that way

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    2. I will when I get back. I'm in Jackson right now, about to head into Tetons tomorrow.

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  11. Great pictures! We went to Glacier when I was a kid. I remember it being really neat even though the overall trip was really weird. I want to go back with my kids. I'll be sure to tell you when we go and where we're staying so you can avoid us ;-) We also went to Lassen (well, Burnie Falls to be precise) when I was little. That was more "normal" of a trip, and I do remember bears. This summer we've been going to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and it is AWESOME. The big trees are beyond amazing...the most amazing things I've ever seen. It's also about 4 hrs north. Have you been there?

    My last two things...now you need to go watch The Firm movie with Tom Cruise so you can laugh even harder AND... are those your Distance shorts?

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    1. My brother in law yelled at us for not going to Burnie Falls. It somehow wasn't on my radar :( Humboldt Redwoods State Park is a great reminder. I think I went camping there when I was little, definitely worth a visit.

      The Firm is on our Netflix queue. I read chapters out loud to the Mister and we are fully committed to finishing the book and watching the film. Can't wait to see you plays "Black Eyes", the EVIL lawyer...mwuahahaha

      Yes, I've delegated my Distance shorts to hiking. Although I also just wore them to a half marathon. Old habits...

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    2. *who plays* not you plays...

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  12. I love your blog.
    I have never been to Lassen but just got back from the roadtrip through the US NP a month ago. In 32 days we visited Yosemite, Sequoia, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Yellowstone and Glacier. I liked Zion and Glacier the most. THere was stil a lot of snow in Glacier at the beginning of July. ROad to the Sun was closed due to an avalanche. We saw couple of bears there, one close to the campground Many Glaciers, right at the parking lot. We stayed in St. MAry and Apgar and I loved both campgrounds. It definitelly was not as crowded as Yosemite or Yellowstone.

    SOrry for the grammar, I am from Europe,so my English is not perfect.

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    1. That sounds like THE BEST 32 DAYS OF YOUR LIFE!!!! wow!!!! That's more high praise for Glacier, I have to get there soon.

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  13. I never comment, but I live between Yellowstone and Glacier and visit both frequently. Glacier is a great park for hiking. So get ready for long, rambling hike recommendations from a stranger.

    The Highline Trail (about 11.5 miles) and Siyeh Pass (about 10 miles) are both really nice hikes. They are both point-to-point, but you can park at one end, and take a shuttle to the other. They are both lovely, but relatively popular--especially Highline. But I think they are well worth the time and effort.

    The Dawson-Pitamakan Pass loop is my very favorite hike in Glacier (of course I haven't done them all). If you don't mind a long day hike (18 miles), I highly, highly recommend it. The trailhead is at the Two Medicine campground--so it works great if you can get a site there. The first part is a bit of a slog, but the rest of the hike is fantastic. And there is a great fly fishing lake around mile 12 (Old Man Lake)--or a great lake for lounging, if you're not inclined to fish. I recommend hiking the loop clockwise (hitting Dawson Pass first). I think it is slightly easier in that direction. You also hit Old Man Lake later in the hike, when you might benefit more from some cool water.

    And I should probably stop there before I write the equivalent of a Glacier guidebook here.

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    1. These are making me salivate! 18 miles is intense. I think the most we've ever done in one day is 16, which was tough, and it wasn't very challenging terrain.

      Thank you for being my personal guidebook :) blog comments re traveling have proven to be very rewarding in the past, so I won't forget to dig this one up when we make our way to Glacier.

      p.s. sounds like you live somewhere awesome! How's the running out there?

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    2. If you're ever going to do a super long day hike, this is the one to do! You'll be beat by the end--but it's worth it. The most challenging part is the first push up to Dawson Pass. It's mostly flat/downhill after that. There's a lot of exposure between the passes, but that comes with amazing views. Not a good hike for the acrophobic though.

      I live in Missoula. I'm not much of a runner anymore, but there's definitely a strong running community here. There are certainly plenty of lovely places to run in Montana. And the Missoula Marathon is great--I ran it a couple years ago.

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  14. What an amazing post!!! Your pictures are gorgeous! We just got back from a week on the rogue river in Oregon, and I am having withdrawals from nature while sitting at my office desk right now. This didn't help. haha. I want to be there!

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    1. Come over and we'll go hike Big Bertha, the monster hill behind our home. To fix our withdrawal.

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  15. I've never been to Lassen, but I've gone camping at Castle Crags near Mt. Shasta... so, sorta close?? I'm definitely forwarding this post to Tim though, because I want to go camping for our anniversary in September and Lassen is on our shortlist. One question: if you were to only go to Lassen for 3 days/2 nights, which places would you recommend?

    As for National Parks, I have only been to Yosemite and Grand Canyon. They're so different that it's hard for me to rate them. I've only been to the touristy party of Yosemite once (the valley), and for only 2 hours, but I loved our trip to Tuolumne last year. We did an awesome, 15-mile hike up to Clouds Rest. Here's my blog post about it: http://jensrunningblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/adventures-in-yosemite/

    Congrats on hitting 1:30 using the FueledByLOLZ plan!

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    1. I would recommend Lake Manzanitas or Summit Lakes because they are "centrally" located and you can get to all sides of the park. Lake Manzanitas is known to be the busiest part, but that can be a good thing.

      I checked out your post - you guys are serious with the hiking poles and all! Maybe I have to hike up above the valley to appreciate Yosemite. I never experienced a view like that while I was there.

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  16. I have only been to Yellowstone, Glacier, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The smokies are my favorite!! Gorgeous in a completely different way than the mountains out west.

    Your pictures are amazing! Would love to visit some of the parks out in CA!

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    1. I just looked up pictures of Great Smoky Mountains. Wow!!!

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  17. Jasper National Park (and not just because one of our cats is named for it)

    https://www.google.com/search?q=photos+jasper+national+park&rlz=1C1CHWA_enUS527US527&espv=2&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=YSHcU_C4FoyHyATsvoKICw&ved=0CDYQ7Ak&biw=1042&bih=566

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    1. I suddenly need to go to Canada immediately. Definitely adding this to my list, are you SERIOUS with those colors!?

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  18. Lassen looks beautiful! The mister and I are suckers for National Parks. We just got back from the Grand Canyon and I think it is now my #1.We hiked down the South Kaibab trail, camped at Phantom Lake near the Colorado River, and hiked back up the Bright Angel trail. It was incredible.

    A couple years ago we went to Glacier National Park. Our favorite parts were boating on Lake MacDonald (near Apgar Campground) and hiking to Iceberg Lake (near St. Mary's campground) (10 miles roundtrip), We barely caught the opening of Going to the Sun Road due to snow clearing. GNP is gorgeous; everything looks enormous and if you can stay awake long enough for it to get dark (11pm+) there are more stars than sky.

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    1. Perfect grand canyon hike. We did a similar hike and it's difficult to comprehend that canyon. Majestic.

      I like the sound of "Going to the Sun Road." I'll definitely wait for those stars, that's one of the best parts of camping!

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  19. Oh man, I love going to National Parks! Zion and Grand Teton are my current favorites. I think my next road trip will be to see Canyonlands and Great Basin. Then up to Mt. Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic.

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