|Photos / Slideshow
|Maps: 1 2
I was camped just outside the northwest corner of Lassen Volcanic National Park, near the summit of Table Mountain. The lower west summit is outside the park and conveniently has a cell tower atop it, making the campsite quite civilized. I was up in the morning to tag Table Mtn before heading into the park for the day's main event, a visit to Chaos Crags.
After returning to the Jeep, I drove back down to the highway and into the north park entrance. I then drove the short distance to the Chaos Crags TH found west of Manzanita Lake and the Ranger Station. This popular trail travels through forest on the northwest side of Chaos Crags to reach the lake at Chaos Crater in just under 2mi. I planned to use this trail and a track from Marko Bajzer on PB in order to reach all three of the major summits. It wasn't yet 7:30a when I started out, temperatures still cool as I followed the easy trail through forest, much of it burned in 2014, then again in 2018. After about 45min, I left the trail near its end, before it tops out to begin its drop to Crags Lake. This lower area on the west side of Chaos Crags burned back in 2009, though not completely, leaving many trees and regrowing a low cover of manzanita. I made an ascending traverse near treeline on the west side of crags, aiming for the saddle between the south crag and the other two, roughly following Marko's track. Above treeline at 7,000ft, this becomes an increasingly steep and unpleasant ascent through talus sand and rock, very little of it stable. It wasn't overly dangerous, but one needed to be careful to watch for loose rock. I ended up going higher on the SW Ridge of the middle crag than I should have, overshooting the entry point to reach the saddle I was after. When I finally got a view to the south crag, my intended first stop, I was dismayed to see it was still 2/3mi away and the terrain looked simply awful. I'd been at it now for almost 2.5hrs and the tedium of the terrain was getting to me. After some deliberation, I decided to forgo the southern crag and focus my depleted energies on middle and north summits.
I now turned directly upslope following the tangle of loose rock and talus to gain another 500ft. The middle summit, the highest of the three with 600ft of prominence, is found at the east end of the jumble, necessitating an uneven scramble across the summit area, to reach the highpoint at 10a. The going is all class 2, but some of the toughest class 2 imaginable. Lassen Peak rises dramatically above the south crag in that direction, with the north crag only 1/3mi to the NNE. It looked daunting, but more managable than the south crag at this point. I had forgotten to pack a few registers with me, disappointing since I would find no registers on either of the two summits I visited. After a short rest, I headed off the middle crag, to the east and then north, trying to find the saddle between the two. It's hard to determine if it is to the northwest or southeast, and the topo is no help, either. It turns out to be to the southeast, but it mattered little, since the elevation difference is minimal and the terrain everywhere is much the same - a chaotic jumble of rock. I was aiming for a section of reasonable terrain to the west of the north crag, the only bit of decent footing I found in the last mile I'd traveled. This had me approaching the north crag from the west, and via some class 3 scrambling near the top (possibly avoidable by going around to the south). I managed to reach the summit about 45min after leaving the middle crag. More rocky mess stretches out in most directions. There is another contender about 200-300ft to the east, but I judged it to be lower more because I wanted it to be, than based on any sort of actual survey technique. I noted that the other summit was lower than the horizon to the east, and later I could not find higher summits in that direction, so I'll go with the PB and LoJ location which matches the topo map.
Getting off the crags turned out to be far easier than I'd imagined. I returned to the reasonable terrain to the west, finding some old, rusting science experiments that have been left near the highest spot. I then followed the ridgeline west and southwest down towards the lowpoint with the middle crag where it then drops steeply down to Crags Lake. I had intended to traverse over to the north crag's NW Ridge and follow that down, but the straight shot looked like a decent boot ski and worth a try. The only trouble would be if I ran into sections of hardpack that could lead to a dangerous fall, so I was very careful to pick a line that looked to have the most scree and sand. This 1,000-foot descent worked wonderfully, getting me down to the lake in about 20min. The lower half was easier with great boot skiing, getting me to the edge of the lake and the terminus of the trail without any of the difficult rock I'd found on the ascent route.
I had the lake to myself and briefly considered taking a swim, but it was a bit too cold for my taste and I left it unmolested. I spent the last 45min plying the trail back to the trailhead, passing by half a dozen parties heading in the opposite direction. With the easier return, I was now having regrets that I didn't visit the southern crag, but I might visit it from an entirely different direction on a future visit. I would head off for a couple of other summits to take up the rest of the afternoon.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Chaos Crags Middle
This page last updated: Sun Jul 30 10:04:38 2023
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