Last Friday I drove the four and a half hours over Hwy 299 to meet with friends old and new to hike up Mt. Lassen, the southernmost of the Cascade volcanoes. We’d been planning this trip for a while, having cancelled it back in 2010 due to thundershowers that dropped several inches of rain on the area on the day we had planned to go.
I met my friend Emily at her dad’s house in Igo, west of Redding. Four of us, Emily, a friend of hers, her dad Paul, and me, carpooled from there, driving around the mountain clockwise from the northwest to the trailhead on the southwest side. Recent wildfires in the Park were still smoldering in spots, but the breezes kept the air clear. After a quick pre-sunset snack across from the parking lot, we set off.
The trail up Lassen is being rebuilt. We passed stashes of equipment and motorized wheelbarrow-contraptions they use for hauling stones and other material. Where the trail has been finished, it is as wide as a sidewalk and covered in fine volcanic gravel. Stone stairs provide stable footing at the steeper spots. It’s not a “climb” so much as a steep walk. You can do it in sneakers or flip-flops if you’re sure-footed.
Due to the danger of falling rock during trail construction, the entire mountain is closed except for a couple days per month when they open it for full moon hikers. This is apparently a popular thing. Last Friday night’s “blue moon”, saw at least several dozen people, maybe more, make the trek.
While the air was clear on the mountain, a dense smoke layer hung low to the North and West, turning the sun the most stunning red I’ve ever seen in a lifetime of stunning sunsets. Looking around to the East, waiting for moonrise, Mt. Lassen’s shadow was visible on the clouds and smoke from other wildfires. I joked that if you looked closely, you could see our shadows waving.
Between twilight and moonrise, there was never a period of dark, so no headlamps were necessary, though we carried them. Few other hikers used them either.
The trail crests at a small outcrop on a snow-covered saddle a couple hundred vertical feet before the rocky summit. The easy way to the summit is around the ridge to the left, but there are trails winding every which way. I ended up leading us off the right of the ridge where we got into a short bit of otherwise uneventful scrambling before the summit. Having big wall and extreme alpine climbing in my past, I sometimes forget that what is insignificant to me feels dangerous and scary to those without that experience.
On the summit is an odd, very phallic weather station (I assume), about 15′ high. When others went to touch it, I warned that “You never know where that thing’s been.”
We didn’t linger, opting to retreat from the exposed, rocky peak to the outcrop at the saddle where other hiking parties were hanging out, jabbering and sharing wine.
I have friends who are wilderness snobs, who avoid places where they’ll encounter other people. I’ve come to like and appreciate shared adventures with strangers like this. For all the traffic on the trail, most everyone was friendly, with many a “hello” and “hi” as we passed one another.
I had been on Lassen for the first time this spring to ski down it. That day, there were only three of us on the entire mountain. I went up alone, but met two other skiers on top. They went down before me while I enjoyed the view from the top, leaving the whole mountain for me when I started my descent. (That trip is the subject of an unfinished post.) Such a change to see the wide snow bowls now wide scree bowls, the only remaining snow being a few large patches near the very top.
The descent was fast and uneventful, easy on the wide trail with a bright full moon. Even as we neared the bottom, we passed other hikers just beginning their ascent. Paul somehow managed to stay awake to drive us home. I was exhausted from too little sleep the previous night and dozed on and off during the ride, while Emily and her friend slept in the back seat.
This was the first adventure in a while that I didn’t do alone. It was nice to have friends to chat with on the trail, share food with on top and recount stories with the next day. It’s not that I want to do everything alone, per se, just that I often have a hard time finding people to go with. And, while I don’t especially mind adventuring alone, a trip like this, surrounded by warm people, reminds me I need to find and cultivate more adventure partners.