Day 56 (September 23)
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Day 2: Lassen Peak Hike
Hiking the Lassen Peak Trail
Did you know that Lassen Peak is the largest plug dome volcano in the world? This revelation spurred my interest in hiking the mountain even more! Passing the Lassen Peak trailhead yesterday was a total tease, and we are pumped to summit Mt. Lassen today.
The exposed, sunny hike on the Lassen Peak trail is 5 miles round trip, and we will climb from 8500 feet to 10,457 feet. With almost 2,000 feet of elevation gain, the trail seems a bit intimidating, however the magnificent views along the entire trail definitely keep one energized and entertained. That said…yes it is a steep and moderately difficult hike!
Ok, let’s start up the mountain. No, not this way…
But this way…kind of. Just past where Robert is standing (foreground) the trail switchbacks. The hiker ahead of him is going up the correct trail. The trail going straight up the mountain is a mantrail – meaning not an official trail, and detrimental to the environment. Really you don’t want to hike this mantrail anyway because it’s too steep!
If you look very closely at the rock outcropping below, the left rock has a circular formation, called Vulcan’s Eye.
The trail isn’t too steep early on, and we are hiking through wonderful boulder-strewn subalpine meadow interspersed with trees. Enjoy these small shade breaks while you can, as we will soon be above the treeline. We have barely climbed at all yet and already have fantastic views of Lake Helen and Brokeoff Mountain.
Glaciers have not been present on Lassen Peak in a very long time, however it is easy spot where glaciers moved down the mountain. Beyond, one witnesses the skeletal aftermath of large forest fires that burned over the past couple of years.
We reach a small level area at the end of the nicely maintained trail. This is actually a false summit. Most hikers stop here, as it is safe and easy to walk around, affords mountain vistas in every direction, and also a good view of the caldera.
Yes, the sky really is that blue! Clear skies today provide for amazing views of Mt. Shasta, Lake Shasta, and numerous other lakes within the park boundary including Lake Helen, Emerald Lake, and Terrace Lake.
Summiting Lassen Peak
In order to reach the “top” of Mt. Lassen, one must walk a short distance through a permanent snow field and scramble to the rocky summit.
Standing at the edge of the snowfield, Mt. Shasta is perfectly framed by the jagged rim of the caldera.
The path to the summit beckons. See where the trail appears to end on the mountainside? Well, it pretty much does. From this point one must use hands and feet to scramble up steep scree and talus slope. I do not shoot any photos on this section of our trek because…well, that would have been stupid and dangerous. And I’m not ashamed to admit this part was a little scary for me.
Footing is tricky at the summit, be really cautious up here! Other than standing up occasionally to take a picture, we stay seated or keep our centers of gravity low for safety. But oh those views! I’m so glad that I faced my fear of that final push, and made the scramble up. Here we tower above the caldera and get an even better view of Mt. Shasta.
I wonder what this tower is monitoring? Weather? Geothermal activity?
We eat lunch on the summit and have a nice chat with a native New Zealander who now lives in Hong Kong. Our Kiwi friend is kind enough to take this photo of us from the summit, standing in front of Lassen Peak’s caldera.
Exploring Lassen Peak’s Caldera
We see no one hiking inside the caldera, however the well-worn network of trails tells us we will not be pioneers, and there are no signs posted to discourage hiking inside the caldera or on the rim. So from the summit, we scramble back down the slope of talus and scree, hike through the permanent snow field, and head down inside the caldera. Woot!
The images below were shot while walking the rim of Lassen Peak’s caldera. The rim offers more magnificent views of Mt. Shasta and Brokoff Mountain.
There are some unusual rocks in the caldera.
Although Lassen is currently dormant, it is still an active volcano. Robert spies steam emitting from some small fumaroles on the eastern side of the rim – a good reminder to be mindful of where one walks around up here. I was not able to shoot a good picture of the steam rising from any of the fumaroles, however you can make it out in this short video I shot (a 360 degree pan from the rim of the caldera).
I cannot remember the name of this little plant, however I seem to recall from info posted at the visitor center said it lives only on Lassen Peak. If any of you dear readers believe that I am misremembering, please do correct me and tell me the name of this plant.
Lassen’s Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels
We set off back down the mountain and before we get far down the trail, we make a new animal friend. Having seen
chipmunks golden mantled ground squirrels (thanks to blogger wineandhistory for the correct identification!) on the way up, I had been wondering what they eat up this high on the mountain, as there isn’t much growing above the treeline. Just before I shot the series of pictures below, in a move more swift than a Lebron James dunk, this little guy ripped up a dried plant (like the one pictured above) by its roots and gobbled it in five seconds flat.
To my delight, our new friend also posed for lots of pictures.
At this point, I have a little conversation with our furry friend. I ask him to kindly not eat the handle of my trekking pole (they like the salt from sweat). I kid you not, he responds to me as if he understands me!
After ten minutes of observing and interacting with this little guy (or is he the one observing us?), surely our ground squirrel friend has figured out by now that we are not going to feed him. The ground squirrel must have taken a liking to us anyway because he follows us down the trail a bit and poses for more pictures.
Saying goodbye to our squirrel friend, we continue descending the mountain. Of course I stop to take more photos along the way and fall behind Robert.
On our drive back to the Manzanita campground, I hop out of the car long enough to snap a photo of Lassen Peak from Dersch Meadows. Hat Creek runs through the meadows, its name origin so simple: a surveyor lost his hat in the creek. Such a tranquil spot.
I definitely included more people (well, Robert) in pictures than usual on this hike. Below is another favorite shot from the day. Seeing the film camera slung over my shoulder reminds me that our film photos shot at Lassen haven’t yet been developed. They are in process now and fingers crossed I will have some good negative scans to show you in the next few days.
Tips for Hiking Lassen Peak
Lassen Peak should be on every hiker’s bucket list, as long as one’s fitness level allows for it. Although this is not a technical or particularly long trail, it is very steep and parts of the trail surface may be covered with loose dust and rock, or snow. Wear good hiking shoes and sunscreen (this is an exposed hike with very little shade) and bring lots of water and snacks. Trekking poles are particularly helpful, especially if one is hiking when there is snow covering the ground. Wear layers because although you will warm up while hiking up the mountain, it is windy and never really gets hot on the mountain.
To see more of our adventures at Lassen Volcanic National Park, check out our other Lassen posts:
- Sneak Peak
- Day 1: Bumpass Hell, Manzanita Lake, Loomis Museum & Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center
- Video shot from the rim of Lassen’s caldera.
Wondering where else we’ve wandered? Check out our parks list.