Posted by Suzie Godlewski ● Dec 15, 2018 3:07:04 AM

Hiking in Lassen National Park

Most people haven’t heard of Lassen. Fewer know its in California, and even fewer know its a volcano that spewed its guts just 100 years ago and that the whole thing was captured on film. Overlooked by Shasta--the towering 14,000 foot, snow-capped volcano and the only visual ohh-ahh moment past Sacramento on Hwy Five--Lassen is a less known and less-seen glance fifty miles east.

Hike: Lassen Peak in Lassen National Forest

Length: 2.4 miles (1 Way)

Elevation gain: About 2,000 feet

Level: Moderate

Estimated hike time: 2-5 hours

Pack list (per person): 3 energy gels, 1 Payday, 2 liters of water, warm clothes (hat, gloves, and jacket--it gets windy and cold at the top!)

Short description: Somewhat packed sandy trail with low-grade switchbacks and nice views.

Lassen sits at just over 10,400 feet. If you’re from the Western US you likely just breezed over that number--10,000 feet is a shoulder shrug compared to most of the Rockies or even the Sierra Nevadas. But to most everyone else, ten thousand feet is A-okay. To put this in perspective, the tallest mountain in the East’s Appalachian Mountains is below 7,000 feet and barely boasts a tree line, as does the White Mountains’ famous Mt. Washington--New England’s highest peak

The hike up Lassen Volcano requires a few things: an early morning start, caffeine, electrolytes, winter clothing, and continuous conversation to help take your mind off the constant up. The drive up to the trailhead takes a beautiful, winding drive up through the forest. Recently burned from a natural forest fire, you can see firsthand how California’s natural deforestation process can be helpful when human structures aren’t a part of the scenario. As you circle through the park, the mountain becomes less daunting as the distance between you and the trailhead closes, though its bleak, pink, sandy sides that make up its appearance still makes you wonder how a trail exists that can conquer these slippery edges.

Arriving at 9am on a 40 degree day just days before Thanksgiving, we were possibly the first visitors into the park and definitely the first hikers on this trail. Because the long drive in cuts off some height, the path starts you off at 8,500 elevation, leaving less than 2,000 feet for you to cover in the short 2.2 mile trek. The barren trail cuts straight at the mountain, then dramatically cuts back and disappears up the side and into a barely dense forest. This is a warning signal that this will be your life for the next few hours: little foliage and lots of ups.

A bit of advice is to do an early morning start for two simple reasons: first, the trail sits on the eastern side of the mountain, meaning you’ll have the sun as a companion for the length of your trip. You’ll especially be thankful for the warmth as the trail gets colder and windier the more you ascend.

Secondly, the path is not always solid and it can stays narrow. Less people means a safer trek.

The first ten minutes of the hike was the hardest for me. I felt the elevation immediately and it left me feeling weak and dizzy. As someone who prides herself on her physical worth, I found this strangely frustrating. Luckily, we packed Gu Energy gels--I select the one with the highest caffeine (40mgs), and after a quick five, my brain and body are good as new.

I can’t stress this enough: bring gels. Elevation is a tricky thing and providing essential electrolytes, salt, and amino acids either physically or mentally tricked my brain into thinking everything was back to normal. The rest of the hike I was operating at normal capacity and found its switchbacks to be a bit cumbersome but not challenging.

We moved at a slow but steady pace and reached the summit in about 90 minutes. The plaques along the way provided a good excuse to take a minute to rest and made the tempo of the hike easy to follow. Those pink volcanic sides never got old, nor did the sweeping views of of the many lakes and sister volcanoes spread throughout the park.

The summit was beautiful, though not without an icy wind. Gloves and hats and jackets were welcome at the top. And the way down--still sparsely populated and sunny--made for a quick and joyous exit. 

Topics: USA, Excursions