Climbing to the Top of the Mountain

by on May 30, 2010

Lassen in August

Allow me to introduce you to Lassen. It is the southern most peak in the Cascade range and is still an active volcano, even though it has lain dormant for nearly 100 years. The last time it ‘blew it’s top’ was May 1914. That event started a 7 year cycle of sporadic volcanic activity. The most dramatic incident occurred in 1915 when the peak blew an enormous mushroom cloud 7 miles in to the air. In 1916 the National Park was formed preserving the area for future generations.

There is still plenty of evidence of geothermal activity with bubbling mud pots, fumaroles and boiling water. Some scientists have noted an increase in temperature in these areas and hope to continue to gather information in the hopes of understanding and predicting volcanic behavior.

Years ago a group of happy campers, including myself, Demetri, Larry, hubby Tom and a few other hardy souls decided to take a night time hike to the top of the mountain. We scouted the area the day before and I spoke with a gentleman that was obviously in very good shape. He told us that it had taken him and hour and 20 minutes to hike to the top of the mountain. I never had any intention of doing it that fast but I wanted to challenge myself to get close to it. I have never had a body that I considered was particularly ‘in shape’ but I certainly know how to push it up the side of a mountain.

So we sat around the campfire that night and discussed exactly what we would need to take with us for this monumental undertaking and around 2 PM the next day we took off for the park. We were staying at out favorite campground outside the park and knew it would take us a few hours to get to the base of the mountain. Sure enough, we got there right around 4 pm and gathered out hats, jackets, snacks and flashlights in preparation for the hike back down the mountain at dusk.

I put myself in the lead and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. About every 500 paces I would stop for a quick breather and admire how far up the mountain we had trudged. There was still snow on the trail in shaded areas as this was in July which is spring in the mountains most years.

Beautiful Stream

As you may have guessed, it was uphill all the way. The views were spectacular! It was fun seeing the shadow on the landscape below as the sun made it’s stately descent toward the horizon.

The end was in sight, my pace quickened and we crested the top of the mountain 1 hour and 30 minutes later. It was awesome. We were standing on top of a natural plug, like the cork in a wine bottle and although none of us was worried about it blowing at that time it was thrilling to think we were living a little dangerously.

So we wandered all around on the top and after 20 minutes I suggested that we head back down the mountain. You would have thought I was a little bit deranged if you had seen the reaction of my companions. They were all pretty shocked that I was ready to leave when we had just gotten there and how long would it be before we made it back up to the top of the mountain again and besides they all wanted to stay up there long enough to see the milky way in all it’s glory. I was wondering where the heck I had been when they discussed this idea because I sure didn’t remember agreeing to that!

About an hour later I had coaxed them to start heading down the hill. The sun had set and it was starting to get a little dark in the valleys below. There was a tremendous thundershower over the dessert in Nevada and we stopped to watch the natural fireworks display. Incredible! I loved watching the lightening start in the top of the clouds as a flash of pink or purple or some other magnificent hue and then escape the confines of the clouds to appear stark white against a cerulean background.

I stayed entertained for about a half hour and then had to start coaxing people down the mountain again with the promise of s’mores or some other tasty treat back at the campsite. About this time it is a little after 9 and although there is not full-on milky way activity yet it is definitely starting to get dark and the flash lights are needed to get down the mountain. About 9:30 or so the boys have to stop again to admire the milky way which is much more prominent in the night sky now. It is truly beautiful. I think we saw a shooting star or two, magical! Except I now had a single-mindedness of purpose. Get down the mountain! The boys were driving me crazy so I decided to head down the mountain on my own. This seemed like a great idea at the time. Thank goodness I did remember my keys but about 20 minutes later I was entertaining vision of a vicious bear attack and questioning my own sanity. I few minutes later I exited the trees and raced to the car. Once I had achieved the relative safety of the car I started worrying  about the boys making it down the side of the mountain in one piece. What seemed like hours later I saw the flicker of their flashlights through the trees and finally, after all the gear was stowed we were on our way down to the much deserved comfort of our sleeping bags replete with the knowledge that we would have quite the stories to tell for years to come around the convivial campfire!

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