Jackie had been wanting an opportunity to use crampons for some time now. I
picked Lassen Peak as a good beginner's option, hoping that the South Face
would still be holding enough snow to allow us to take that route to the summit
instead of the trail. We had already been in the area for two day, climbing
other peaks in the national park and adjacent national forest. I figured doing
the snow hike on the last day would allow us to get our boots and clothes
wet without having to worry about them drying the next day, as well as ensuring
we were adequately acclimatized. We were staying at the Hat Creek Lodge in Old
Station on SR44 north of the park and were up early to drive to Lassen Peak
before the snow had a chance to soften much.
This was an LoJ freebie on our drive through the park. Hot Rock is a
large volcanic boulder
lying roadside, carried to its location 5mi from Lassen's
crater by the 1915 eruption and a subsequent avalanche. We were sad that it was
no longer hot, but it makes for a short class 3 scramble.
When we got to the large parking lot at 8,500ft on the south side of
Lassen Peak, we were dismayed to find there was very little snow on the South
Slopes, certainly not enough to climb more than a few hundred feet before
hitting rock and gravel. We would take the trail to the summit, then
play with the crampons and axe when we got back. There were a few other cars
in the lot when we arrived, a few parties having gone to the summit to watch
the sunrise. There were a pair of gentlemen starting up the trail just ahead of
us, but we would pass them about 15min after starting out. Most of the
trail was clear of snow, but there were a few sections of snow where the trail
switchbacks up the southeast side. These were still hard and icy since we had
started pretty early, around 7a. One long stretch in particular went
across a steep slope that would have been impossible to arrest should we slip.
This had Jackie understandably spooked, but with very careful attention
we made it across. It would be nearly as treacherous on our return. As dad, my
strategy was to follow right behind her with my hand hovering over her daypack.
At the first sign of slippage I would have pushed us both down onto the slope
to maximize our friction with the snow, hopefully clutching the irregular bumps
in the snow with my other hand and keep us from initiating an uncontrolled
slide. I was rather glad I didn't have to test that out in practice. The rest
of the hike was far less unnerving and we enjoyed the views stretching
out over almost half the state and parts of Nevada as well.
There were three other guys at the crater rim, bundled up when we arrived,
having gotten up early for the sunrise. We continued north along the
rim to the highpoint in that direction, scrambling up through the rocks
to bring us to the highest point. We laughed as we saw the other three
in the background
taking off their shirts in turn to pose for photos against the snowy backdrop.
One of us commented that it was "a very bro thing to do." There was no
register at the top, just the battered benchmark and the concrete
foundation of where the small summit station used to be (it was nice to see that
they removed that
sometime in the last 17yrs since my first
visit). It had taken us about an hour and a quarter to make our way up the
2mi trail. The descent
would go faster than usual since Jackie likes to speed
up the process with a bit of jogging - not across the snow sections, of course.
When we got back to the parking lot we took a break to rest and scrounge for
some of the remaining snacks from our cooler and food cache. Immediately across
the highway to the south from the parking lot rises the modest Mt. Helen, with
ample snow on its northwest and east sides for us to use for crampon practice.
It was after 9:30a by this time and the parking lot was filling up with the
usual crowds heading up to Lassen. The snows had softened now on the east and
southeast slopes, but the northwest side of Mt. Helen proved to still be
quite firm and just right for a short crampon climb. We carried our gear across
the road where we donned the crampons and dad held class. We practiced the
basics of the french technique (or duck walking) as we zigzagged our way
up the slope over the firm snow. The snow was not continuous
so we had to take the crampons off several times which was itself good practice
in learning to
take them on and off in various positions without dropping our gear down the
slope. The last part of the climb was along the summit ridge,
a class 2-3
rock scramble carrying our gear, also good practice. We stayed only a few
minutes at the summit (though nice,
the views hardly compare to Lassen's) before
heading off the east side. This involved a class 3 downclimb about 25ft
to the snow, then some steep traversing and weaving
through rocks on soft
snow. At the top of a sufficiently steep section with a good runout, she got
some quick instruction on glissading before taking her first run down.
enjoyed it so much that she climbed back up the slope to take a second run.
Afterwards we marched back across the snow to the road and back to the parking
lot. It was a great success.
After driving out through the south entrance of the park (and a brief stop to
visit the Sulphur Works), we headed west on SR36 towards Red Bluff and home.
I had one more stop, a drive-up P1K with a lookout tower. It's a longish drive
out of the town of Mineral, more than 15mi each way, most of it on unpaved
forest roads. Luckily, most of the roads were in excellent condition, though the
last few miles were probably not suitable for low-clearance vehicles.
is large and flattish with not particularly great views. There is an
observation cab about 60-70ft up a tower, an unmanned
living quarters next door, and an array of telecom antennae
scattered about the place. The first six
stairs of the observation tower were removed, but that didn't stop Jackie and
I from visiting the cab on top. The wooden steps were very old an no longer
maintained, several of them missing as one goes up. It seemed prudent to step
on the edges of each step, avoiding the center where it seems the wood could
break on any random step. It was a bit eerie in the cab with similarly
suspect wooden floorboards. We spent maybe ten minutes exploring the summit
before getting back in the Jeep to head for home. This one wasn't expected to
be all that great and it didn't disappoint in that respect. Jackie was quite
accomodating to put up with such quirks of mine. Even before we had gotten back
to the highway she had made herself comfortable by reclining the seatback and
settling into a long nap. It had been a good trip...