Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mount Lassen Peak and Bumpass Hell

Wake up. Wake up! There be mountains to climb!

After breakfast, and waiting around for the space armada (rest of the meetup) to get ready, we drove 10 min to the base of the Mount Lassen peak trail.

Yea, that's the mountain behind us that we climbed. We were still so vibrant, and full of energy, eager to start our climb. Also, the top you're seeing is below the real peak. So it's taller than that.

0.1 miles and a few feet altitude gained, 2.5 miles and 2000 feet to go.

Debris field from eruption.

After hiking for a while (climbing more than hiking), were had even more beautiful views, and the trees started to thin out. We were also noticing how tiring it was. I blame this on the thin air, because then I don't have to blame it on being out of shape.

Also children doing the hike obviously had an easier time because, being shorter, they have more air at their lower altitude.

"What?! We've only gone 1 mile? This is obviously a mistake." Except it wasn't. I swear, these distances got exponentially harder, and thus slower.

We got above the tree line, and the going got slower. The last of those signs, full of lies, listed the remaining distance as 0.5 miles.

We started to pause for a few minutes at every switch back as it was harder to catch our breath and we started to feel a little light headed. We were slightly concerned that if either of us was to black out briefly we'd fall off the edge of the trail, which was a steep drop of rocks and no trees or bushes to get snagged in. 

Seemingly twelve miles of switchbacks later, we got to the top of the volcano. 

And it was worth it.

Nothing like a picnicking on the top of the world. Notice the peak of Mount Shasta (a composite volcano with active thermal vents) in the notch behind us.

If you look closely you can see a person standing to the left of the notch. 

The peak of Mount Lassen was interesting. It was more like 3 different peaks with a depression in the middle. Like an old volcano (wait, really?!).

Insert Colleen's Geological Nerd Ramblings

And now Colleen can finally geek out about Mount Lassen facts and geology that most of you will probably gloss over. 
I mentioned previously that Mt. Shasta and what was Mt. Tehama are composite volcanoes. Mt Lassen is a different breed of volcano - a plug dome.

When most people think of volcanoes they think of ones that build up slowly from a series of eruptions. Mount Lassen however quite literally rose full grown from the earth. Road Side Geology of California states "It's a plug dome, a bulging protuberance of extremely viscous magma that pushed up through the surface as though it were an enormous puffball mushroom growing after a spring rain."

These types of volcanoes rise in a matter of years and solidify. What makes Mount Lassen unique is it's eruption that occurred after it stopped growing. The eruption began in 1914 and continued sporadically until 1917. As a result, Mount Lassen has a crater at it's summit though most plug dome volcanoes do not. Mount Lassen is also the world's largest volcanic dome.

Mount Lassen is the southern most volcano of the Cascade mountain range. The Cascades, which house another famous plug dome volcano Mount St. Helen's, are formed because a small pacific plate subducts under the North American Plate in this location. Further south in California the larger Pacific Plate slides past the North American Plate, hence why the volcanoes stop in Northern California. (Steve is in white on the left of the peak)

Also dacite!

10,500 ft Makes for Thin Air and Chapped Lips

After exploring the peak for a bit, we headed back down. Next time, we'll start the hike earlier to have more exploring on the peak. Also we'll prepare for the altitude as we started to get more light headed and headaches the longer we spent at altitude.
Luckily, hiking back down was faster. The shambly loose rock that was just a mean feature on the way up was a fun cushioning surface to walk down.

And air that eats like a meal!

Sweet victory!

Bumpass Hell

Apparently hiking 2.6 miles to the top of a volcanic mountain was not enough for one day. No we decided in our infinite wisdom that hiking 3 miles to some thermal vents didn't sound too challenging. We still had enough water, and daylight left. In hindsight we don't regret the hike. At the time though, our legs were screaming.

Bumpass Hell (which rhymes with compass, what did you think?) is named for a rancher (Bumpass) who in the late 1800's fell through the crust of this area and burned his feet. When asked where he was, he responded "In Hell."

Bumpass Hell (which we purposely would mispronounce) is a hyrdothermal zone where ground water is heated by contact with hot volcanic rock or superheated steam.

The area has a combination of mudpots, fumaroles, hot springs, and boiling pools. The people on the right are actually on a path, there is a longer hiking trail that goes to Boiling Lake. 

The area is mostly clay from the decaying volcano. And it stinks.

When Bumpass returned to the area with a reporter, he broke through the crust again and ended up loosing his leg to a steam vent.

So stay on the path!

Ground squirrel. 
We learned that chipmunks have stripes that go all the way to their head. The west coast is weird sometimes, with their chipmunk-like squirrels.

Looks clear enough to swim in! If you don't mind swimming in acid water.

Our explorations complete we made our way back to our campsite with our group, campfired it up, and stayed up way too late considering we had a three hour drive to lava tube caves the next day.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Drive to Mount Lassen National Park

Colleen and I signed up for a camping trip with a geology group we found on It was a four day trip to:
  • hike to the top of a non-erupting volcano
  • crawl through some caves resulting from old lava flows
  • check out a waterfall
After stopping north of Oakland to pick up a person we were carpooling with, we headed north. As we were getting close, we saw the debris from the last eruption in 1914. The giant rocks all through this field deposited from the eruption went on for miles.

In the distance, we saw a mountain with snow on the top. Colleen said "I think that's Mount Lassen, it's the only mountain tall enough on the map."
I told her that's impossible, because if so, I'm in WAY over my head. We were going to be hiking to the top of it, and I definitely didn't have summitting gear.
She was right. And we'd be climbing it the next day.

Ancient Volcano Mt. Tehama

After pulling into Mount Lassen National Park, we were assaulted with the vague stench of fumaroles (rotten eggs). Rounding a corner, the source came into view, and we pulled over. We were standing in the middle of an ancient composite volcano, that had erupted in the late Pleistocene era, collapsed in on itself, then worn away by glaciers.

This map shows the caldera of the ancient volcano. 

Brokeoff Mountain on the left is one of the erosional remnant mountains left from Mt Tehama, a composite volcano that is projected to have been higher than the current peak of Mount Lassen.

This map shows area of the older volcano Mt. Tehama and the new (in geological timeliness) in relation to Mt Lassen to the right.

And we were standing in the middle of it - a fact that Colleen was geeking out about.

Sulphur Works

Sulphur Works is at the center of the old caldera. Here hot springs and fumaroles bubble and vent to the surface. It's dangerous to walk off the path as the crust can be thin and you could fall into boiling acidic water.

And it's stinky. 
Bubbling mud pot, surrounded by various steaming vents. 

It was slightly concerning that it might spit on us as we were so close to it.

When walking by, the gases were hot, sticky, and rotten egg smelling which indicates the presence of hydrogen sulphide. 

Also pretty bright coloured clays from reaction with sulphurous and sulphuric acid contained in the hot water. 

Our Impending Doom

Chugging our way uphill in our Ford Focus with it's lawn mower engine, we ascended to 8000ft, often with steep drop offs and no guard rails around the turns.
(California apparently does not believe in guard rails as strictly as Ontario)

We glimpsed our impending doom at every turn and helpful yellow signs often reminded us of the instability of the cliffs beside us (and hopefully not below us).

Finally, with no other option left, Steve was forced to admit that the mountain Colleen had pointed out from the highway 2 hours before was indeed Mount Lassen.

We arrived at our group campsite, met some amazing people, and sat around the fire. Eager, yet daunted at the feat we would be attempting the next day.

We'd be summiting Mount Lassen from 8000 ft to 10,500 ft in 2.5 miles in the morning. 
What the hell had we signed up for?