Backpacking in Lassen NP, Day 2 (August 22)

Posted on September 9, 2016 by Chris Lumens in bushwhacking, hiking, Lassen, radio, sota.

On day two of our backpacking trip through Lassen NP, Lon and I got up early to do an activation of a peak near our campsite. We then met back up with Sarah at the campsite, packed up, and hiked past several more lakes and through a big burned area, then down through a long valley before hitting Snag Lake. This desolate looking lake is on the east side of the park. We hiked along its shore for a mile or two before reaching our campsite just at its end. Along the way, we also changed our plans for the trip.

This GPS track of our trip is useful for figuring out where exactly I’m talking about:

Also as a reminder, all posts related to this trip can be read on the Lassen tag page.

Lon and I got up pretty early, but the sun was already up. For me, it was a nice change to not wake up right when it got light. We had a quick snack and found that no animals had messed with our bear cans. We also compared notes from the night before and figured out the deer had been licking up urine. Then we headed out to do a SOTA activation of Crater Butte.

When I was planning this trip, I planned on this being a first activation of that peak. However about a month before, W6PZA got into the park and claimed the first activation of both Crater Butte and Fairfield Peak, a summit I was hoping to first activate on our way back across the park. Oh well. I didn’t mind settling for just activating it, plus it would be nice to get some extra credit climbing in.

Anyway, the trip up Crater Butte would be almost entirely off trail but it looked pretty clear (if steep - it’s an old volcano). The ranger had recommended going around the northeast side where the grade was easier, but we decided to basically just go straight up the thing. We started by backtracking along the trail to just past the lake where we were going to get as much easy elevation out of the way as possible. Then we just cut across through the open woods to the base of the cone. The ground was sandy and full of holes from burrowing animals, so the going was tougher than expected.

The cone itself was very steep and the mountain appeared to get larger as we got closer to it. It also got a lot sandier (more cindery?) so my pace was pretty slow. Eventually, though, we made it to the top. It being a cinder cone, there were really two tops along the rim of the summit. I think we were on the taller of the two. There were partially obstructed views towards Lassen and out towards Cinder Cone. We couldn’t identify much more. I didn’t take pictures, but I think Lon did.

My activation took about an hour, in which time I got four contacts, the farthest of which were up in the town of Mt. Shasta. We were on the summit right at commute time which seemed to help. No one had any information on the fire activity from the day before. After making my fourth contact and then calling a while longer with no response, we headed down. It was much faster going down because we could basically ski down through the cinders. We took a pretty direct line off the cone and then bypassed the trail by aiming closer to the lake.

We’d been gone at least two hours so Sarah had been up and busy while we were gone. She had packed all our camping stuff into its bags and filtered water. However until we ate, I couldn’t put the bear can in my pack so I couldn’t really load everything up. We had another delightful meal out of a bag, packed it all up, and headed out.

The trail immediately started a brief climb in open woods up the side of a hill, then dropped back down to Lower Twin Lake with switchbacks. We were all pretty astounded by the switchbacks on such an easy slope. They don’t really have those in New England. We skirted around the eastern shore of the lake to a trail junction where we’d leave the PCT for good. Despite this area seeing so much overnight use, we only saw two people heading south. Maybe we were here too late.

Leaving Lower Twin Lake, we started climbing up through a pretty extensive burned out area.

This whole area from Crater Butte all the way along our route to the lava beds burned in 2004. Some parts of it look much better than others, but the whole way was pretty exposed and hot. Anyway, we came to the top of a bowl that held Rainbow Lake and then descended down into that bowl. Since we’d be camping here tomorrow night, we scouted for campsites. There was a nice one right at the southern tip of the lake and another couple along the northern shore under the shadow of Fairfield Peak.

We took a nice long break to fill up water bottles and eat before leaving the lake. From looking at the map, I could tell there wouldn’t be any water until we were all the way down at Snag Lake so I wanted to make sure we were all full. It was turning out to be a pretty hot day down in the burned area.

From here, we started a long and unexpectedly steep climb up away from the lake under the full sun. Sarah and I were both pretty slow through here. Lon was faster, but I think he was just motivated to get into the shade.

Finally, the climbing stopped and the descending started. This turned out to be a much more substantial descent than I thought it would be - we lost about 700’ on our way down to Snag Lake. The trail switchbacked through a drainage (though there was no water) where we saw our first bear signs of the trip.

The trees in this area that hadn’t burned were very large. We kept descending but still couldn’t see the lake. After probably 45 minutes, the trail flattened out but stayed in the fire damage and basically out of sight of the lake. Personally, I really liked this section. I liked the remote feeling and the open woods and everything. For me, this was where the trip really started to get interesting. I know Sarah wasn’t a big fan of the long descent though.

When we finally got to the trail junction, we could see the lake but it was still a long ways off. We could also see that it was time for lunch and that there was a storm off on the other side of the lake, though we never got anything more than a few rain drops. It was a very localized storm - there was nothing happening on the north side of the lake.

While we were enjoying a lunch out of a bag, we all took our boots off to let our feet air out. Sarah’s feet had been bugging her on the way up and over from Rainbow Lake, which I was a little concerned about. When she took her boots off, she discovered a monster blister on the heel of one foot and a swollen and blistered toe on the other foot. It was obvious she wasn’t having any fun, and was probably hurting a lot, and would really benefit from not having to walk all the way back across the park over two days.

So I stared at the map for a few minutes and came up with a new plan:

Everyone liked that plan and I think knowing she only had about five miles left to hike cheered Sarah up. We started out nice and slow, with the trail rolling as it approached the lake shore. It eventually got right up on the beach, putting us between the burned slope and the water. I should have taken more pictures through here. After we rounded a couple turns, we started talking about campsites.

There weren’t a lot of options because the fire that had come through years ago left most of the shore without trees. Camping fully exposed to the wind and sun didn’t sound very appealing. We stopped at one stand of trees thinking it might be our last chance, but it was only about halfway around the lake and I wanted to camp right at the end to make the next day easier. Lon and I scouted further ahead and I could tell there’d likely be a good campsite at the end of the lake. We set out for that. Ahead, you could see that the lake just dead ended into a wall of lava.

When we finally got there, we discovered there was a pretty large beach at the very end of the lake, in the only stand of deciduous trees in sight, just before the trail turned away from the lake and started its climb along the lava beds. It looked like a very popular campsite, judging by the wind break someone had built out of old logs. And speaking of the lava, the campsite was literally right underneath it. It was pretty weird.

It was early afternoon when we got here, so we had a lot of time to sit around and enjoy the location. Setting up camp took no time at all. We stashed our bear cans in some logs off by the trail, set up our tents behind the wind break (it did get pretty windy), hung up a clothes line, and that was it. We had plenty of time to swim in the lake, experiment with the easiest way to filter water (using Lon’s camelbak bladder and gravity won), eat, and clean up.

One weird thing about this campsite was the constant droning of insects. There were yellow jackets buzzing pretty much everywhere along the ground (though they were never aggressive, just there) and then later dragonflies overhead. It got a little annoying by the evening.

After dinner, a bunch of deer started coming down the trail past the lava beds. We got two or three groups with several deer in each group. They spent a long time walking right through the camp and licking up both urine and sand. We didn’t figure out what the sand was about. Despite taking a ton of pictures, the light was poor and this is the only picture that really came out.

We probably watched the deer for at least an hour. Then they walked away into the hills behind the campsite and it got dark. Then we sat around watching the bats (they were attracted to the bugs that were attracted to us) and then finally the stars. We saw a couple planets, a few constellations we recognized, and a satellite. Then it was time for bed.