Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Road trip part 3: Lassen Volcanic National Park

October 12, 2012

Day 4: Humboldt Redwood State Park to Lassen Volcanic National Park

The next morning we traveled eastward toward Lassen Volcanic National Park. We had calculated the 200 miles would take us about three hours, Google said it would take four, and in the end it was closer to six. What we had hoped would be a highway was actually a one-lane road through Trinity National Forest (the national parks are run by the Department of the Interior, while national forests are managed by the Department of Agriculture). At the beginning of the road, there's a sign advising drivers that it isn't plowed in the winter, and it's not hard to understand why: No one lives on this road. It's basically a connector between the coast and inland California. The driving is slow with sharp turns and lots of braking. Driving for an hour only got us about 20 miles closer to our destination.

route 36 northern california
Route 36, on the way to Lassen Volcanic National Park. The fire danger around here was "extreme."
We stopped partway at a ranger station for a lunch of bread, fresh garlic and lemon, before heading on to the town of Red Bluff. Tired of our pasta-based diet, Ben was set on grilling meat over a fire. After a few unsuccessful stops at gas station foodmarts, we found a butcher with sweet-and-sour chicken thighs, tracked down some firewood and continued on to the park.

trees lassen volcanic national park

We had hoped to climb the volcano but we arrived too late and instead descended into Bumpass' Hell. The basin is named for Kendall Bumpass, who might have discovered it in 1864 (we don't remember exactly) and was showing it to some guests when he accidentally stepped into a boiling spring and severely burned his leg. He lost the leg and reportedly remarked, "The descent to Hell is easy."

Today the area has the hottest and most vigorous hydrothermal features in the park. The wide basin is filled with steam vents, bubbling mud pots and pools of boiling water, all evidence that the nearby volcanoes remain active. The stench of sulfur permeates the air. The temperature of the steam jetting from Big Boiler, the largest fumarole (steam vent) in the park, has been measured as high as 322°F, making it one of the hottest hydrothermal fumaroles in the world. (Information in the paragraph taken from National Park Service websites and brochures.)

bumpass hell lassen volcanic national park
fumarole bumpass hell lassen volcanic national park

The camping area was mostly deserted (not surprisingly, in the middle of the week in September). We staked out a spot and set about making a delicious dinner.

grilling chicken firepit camping blue moon pumpkin beer camping
stars night lassen volcanic national park
We could see so many stars.

Day 5: Lassen Volcanic National Park to Chico, Calif.

The next morning we had about five hours to enjoy some hiking in the park before driving south to Chico and a tour at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Lassen Peak was closed for trail work so we decided to climb Brokeoff Mountain, a 2600-foot climb and 7 miles roundtrip. Almost 10,000 feet tall today, Brokeoff Mountain was once part of Mount Tehama. At its peak, Mount Tehama measured between 11 and 15 miles wide and more than 11,000 feet tall. Over time the volcano eroded and eventually collapsed, leaving a two-mile-wide caldera. Brokeoff Mountain is one of the last remaining remnants of the ancient volcano.

lakes lassen volcanic national park
View on the way up

After the fog and chilliness on the coast, we weren't prepared for the temperatures at Lassen. We started climbing around 8 a.m. and quickly stripped down to a T-shirt and shorts. Later in the day the climb would have been unbearably hot.

On the left is the view of Brokeoff Mountain from halfway up. That's me on the right, close to the summit.

brokeoff mountain assen volcanic national park

About three hours after we started climbing, we reached the top (the route wound all the way around the back of the mountain, making the summit appear deceptively close for the last hour, yet we never seemed to reach it). We were treated to views of Lassen Peak (which last erupted in 1915, spewing a cloud of ash 30,000 feet into the air), as well as Mount Shasta off in the distance.

mount shasta lassen volcanic national park
Mount Shasta, the second highest peak in the Cascades, off in the distance
lassen peak plug dome lassen volcanic
Lassen Peak formed 27,000 years ago on the northern flank of Mount Tehama. It is one of the world's largest plug dome volcanoes.

- Steph

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