Saturday, December 15, 2007

Lassen Peak In California

Lassen Peak is located over 200 miles north of the San Francisco Bay region, up where California starts turning into Baja Oregon. I had always wanted to visit it since I was a kid and came across a book with a photo of it taken during its 1915 eruption. The sight of the huge mushroom cloud of ash from its summit----looking very much like an atom bomb cloud----made a big impression on me. And in 1999 I finally visited, and climbed, Lassen.

Lassen Peak is not that high (only 10,457 feet) nor is it a technically challenging climb. What makes it interesting is that it is the southernmost Cascade volcano and was active from 1914 to 1920, with 1915 being the peak year. The highlight then was a violent, Mount St. Helens-style blast, complete with a searing pyroclastic flow toward the north. Fortunately, the area was unpopulated and there was no loss of life. Lassen Peak is now part of Lassen Volcanic National Park, a region of steam vents, lava flows, boiling mud pits, and cinder cones. It's a miniature version of Yellowstone.

Even though I climbed Lassen in the last week of July, there was still a lot of snow in the high country of the park, as this photo of Helen Lake shows:

Lassen Peak itself had a few snow patches, as you can see in the photo below taken from the road to the summit trailhead. Like all Cascade volcanoes, it has a bluish-gray color (unlike the black color of Hawaiian volcanoes). That's because the magma source for them is the subduction of part of the Pacific plate under the North American plate; Lassen Peak is literally made from melted and recycled sections of the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The lava is light and crumbly, more like sand than rock:

The climb itself was uneventful, with the trail to the summit being a little less than three miles. There were a few snowy patches that made me wish I had brought my ice ax and crampons----especially on the descent-----but slow, careful steps (and a blessedly light day pack) let me make it without any real problems. The summit high point is some congealed lava extruded from the main vent; here I am atop that lava:

I took the photo below looking down from the summit rocks; note one of my boots in the lower part of the photo:

Here's a summit view looking toward the west. The nice person at the left took the summit photo of me, and I took one for her. The summit area was a popular place to be that morning, as I counted 15 people during the 20 minutes I was at the top.

Here's a view toward the north; you can see Mount Shasta about 50 miles away. I later drove up to the town of Mount Shasta for a "recon" of the mountain (sadly, I never attempted to climb it). The town of Mount Shasta is full of weirdass New Age types (much like Sedona, AZ) and I'll have to post about my visit there in the future:

Even if you're not interested in climbing the mountain, the park has a lot of interesting stuff to see, like the steam vents below. It's obvious a lot of activity is still going on underground, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if there is a future volcanic eruption in the area: