Table Mountain P500
Chaos Crags Middle P500
Chaos Crags North P300
Red Lake Mountain P500
Peak 7,260ft P300

Jul 28, 2023
Table Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile


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.

Table Mountain

The summit lies just within the park boundary, though I saw no signs along my route indicating this. I started from where I'd parked for the night, about half a mile WNW of the summit. Mosquitoes dogged me in the early morning hour as I traveled cross-country through forest with minimal elevation gain to reach the summit in less than 20min. Plentiful downfall made the going slower that it otherwise would have been. The summit is surrounded by trees, offering only a partial view to Chaos Crags and Lassen Peak to the southeast. No views in other directions.

Chaos Crags

Chaos Crags are the most rugged features in all of the park. They rise dramatically above Manzanita Lake and are aptly named - they were formed from the last major eruption 1,100yrs ago, essentially steeply-sided piles of broken volcanic rock, much of it weathered into sand over the eons. There is little beta to be found online. The Summitpost page is essentially worthless, save for the few summit logs from folks that have climbed it. The main page has much terrible approach beta (don't use the Manzanita Creek Trail) and questions whether they are even climbable. The PB page has slightly more information. I had seen the crags the previous day from atop Peak 7,220ft to the northeast and they certainly looked daunting.

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.

Red Lake Mountain

This summit is found a few miles WNW of Table Mtn in the adjacent national forest. With nearly 750ft of prominence and a road leading nearly to the top, I was surprised to find no ascents listed on PB. I had done no research on this ahead of time, so I was kinda winging it when I headed off SR89 in search of the road system shown on my GPSr. This would turn out to be a rather tricky affair, not the least of which was the driving approach. I explored the roads on the south side of the peak, looking for the one shown on the topo map climbing to a saddle between Red Lake Mtn and nearby Red Mtn. There has been recent logging in the area to make the roads confusing, and the start of this road climbing up Red Lake Mtn was obscured. My view of the peak showed it was covered in thick manzanita, most of it over head level - perhaps this is why it had no ascents listed. I had to drive back out to the highway to get cell reception to see the satellite view that showed the road I was after still existing, then went back in to find it. The road is quite overgrown, but still driveable and I managed to reach the saddle on the southeast side of Red Lake Mtn. The satellite view had also given me a few possibilities to get through the manzanita. I first tried to make my way up the indistinct SE Ridge to reach the clearings that characterize the upper 2/3 of the ridge. It seemed I would need to push through 200-300ft of the manzanita to reach easier ground, but this proved futile - I didn't get even 10ft into the stuff. I next tried hiking up the road that continues higher on the east side, then pushing into a forested area on the east side of the summit. This worked better, but I was again in heavy manzanita with 400ft still remaining. I turned back, ready to give up. Back at the Jeep again, I studied the satellite view further and came upon a third option from the NE side, using an old road track off the useable road, then clearings heading west and southwest along a gentle ridgeline. This route would work. I drove the Jeep up the rough road (4WD recommended) to the start of the old road track. The old road was undrivable but good for foot traffic, then some rough thigh-high manzanita to reach the large clearing above. At the west end of this clearing, I had to connect a number of smaller clearings through the brush, some of it tough, but none even at chest level. It appears a route used to go up this way. It took only 20min to reach the summit once I'd found the correct route. I found a USGS benchmark from 1933 and a tattered register notebook in a rusted can with no lid. I suspect this was left by Bighorn Bill, but the only page with writing was badly shredded and unreadable. There are only a few trees at the summit leaving views open - Lassen Peak to the southeast and Crater Peak to the north, with lots of Lassen National Forest in most directions. I left a new register here before returning the same way.

Peak 7,260ft

I spent the next hour driving back to the highway, then various forest roads in the area west of Lassen NP. I had intended to climb Loomis Peak, a summit with almost 800ft of prominence on the western side of the park. The roads got me only within 2mi of the summit with nearly 1,600ft of gain remaining. The thought of this much travel through forest with plentiful downfall this late in the afternoon was discouraging. I could camp here for the night and do the hike in the morning. I noticed that Peak 7,260ft to the northwest was a much easier effort, less than half a mile from where the road goes over a broad saddle between them. I spent about 45min making my way through forest (with the expected downfall) to the summit and back. The effort to Loomis would have been at least four times longer, so I think I made a good call. Peak 7,260ft's summit is fairly forgettable. It has two closely-spaced points vying for highpoint, one at the edge of the forest in manzanita, the other atop a boulder in the forest further north. They were within a foot or two of each other. It was after 4p by the time I returned and really didn't know what I'd do for the next four hours before the sun went down. I decided to head home instead of camp, leaving Loomis for another visit. It was a long drive, some five hours in total, but it was nice sleeping in the comfort of my bed at home again...

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More of Bob's Trip Reports

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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