The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 96: Lassen National Park. part 1

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

It took a spectacular volcanic eruption to create one of the most gentle and beautiful wilderness areas in California. This week on The WildeBeat; part one of Lassen National Park.

[Intro Music & SFX; 0:07.6 and under]

News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number ninety six, made possible by your support and membership donations.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

[Intro Music: 0:04.5 ends]

[SFX: Hat Creek]

STEVE: I'm standing near the Hat Creek trailhead in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Jean Higham, our usually silent co-writer and co-editor, is about to start a four day solo backpacking trip in the park's wilderness.

JEAN HIGHAM: I'm starting out at Hat Creek, and hiking down to Shadow Lake, then I'll hike up to Cliff Lake and camp above Cliff Lake, and that'll be tonight's stay, and tomorrow night I'm going to be at Corral Meadow, and from there, I'll hike down past Connard Lake to, maybe Connard Meadow. And then Sunday I'll come out at the King's Creek Picnic Area.

STEVE: Have a safe trip.

JEAN HIGHAM: Thank you. I'll see you on Sunday.

STEVE: Lassen Volcanic National Park is in northern Califnornia. Lassen Peak itself is considered the southern most peak of the Cascade mountain range, which extends from here in northern California, through the states of Oregon and Washington. Just south of Lassen Park, at a peak called Butt Mountain, is the northern end of the Sierra Nevada range. Lassen is moderately sized for a wilderness park, at just over a hundred thousand acres.

[SFX: Fade out Hat Creek]

STEVE: Steve Zachary is the park's education specialist.

STEVE ZACHARY: When people think about Lassen Volcanic National Park and coming to the park to visit as a tourist or a visitor, we think of volcanos. And you know, every mountain in the park is volcano or part of a volcano. So when you start on the ...south end, you're literally starting to drive into a volcano, what was once old Mount Tehama. Or as the USGS volcanologists call it, Brokeoff Volcano... and you know, Lassen National Park has the largest collection of hydrothermal features west of Yelowstone National Park.

STEVE: Most visitors who come to the park are lured by a few roadside volcanic features.

STEVE ZACHARY: ...just within a few miles from the entrance station, you come to the sulphur works. That's a smaller hydrothermal area for visitors to see, because it's right along the road.

STEVE: Next they drive up the road to see another hydrothermal feature, which takes a short hike to get to.

STEVE ZACHARY: The name Bumpass Hell, referring to the hydrothermal area, was a gentleman by the name of Kendall Bumpass, and he had taken some reporters -- you know, this was back in the eighteen hundreds into the Bumpass Hell area to share with them the beauty of what he had found. And he actually -- and we don't know all the facts, and how true this is, but he had fallen into one of these fumeroles or boiling pools because remember there was no boardwalk then, and you wandered around on this thin, crusted area, and he severely burned his leg and it took him, back then, three days to get back down to the Sacramento Valley and the Red Bluff area, and he lost his leg, part of his leg. And so some of the reporters said then that must have been Mr. Bumpass's hell. And so that kind of how that came about to be called that. And Bumpass Hell is our largest hydrothermal area. ...the interesting thing about that trail is as you walk along the edge of Bumpass Mountain, ...and then you go down into the Bumpass Hell basin, which is a large basin of fumeroles, boiling springs, mud pots, and it's a very active area. And it has, actually, the hottest fumerole steam vent in the world, in over three hundred and twenty degrees DFahrenheit so many volcanologists consider it the hottest steam vent outside of an erupting volcano vent. So it's a very fascinating area, and it's a three mile round-trip walk. People of all ages get out to that Bumpass Hell area, just because it is a very exciting, neat place to see. And when you pull into the Lassen Peak parking lot, boy you're right there at the base of it, you're staring right up at it, you can see that's where the trailhead that, you know, thousands of people climb that trail up to the crater rim every year. And so it's really kind of a dynamic view...

STEVE: It's a clear, wide trail, and a lot of people think it looks pretty easy to climb. But some people who climb it aren't prepared for the high mountain conditions.

STEVE ZACHARY: Well one, you want to check with the weather. Like, just even last week, you know, we've had thunderstorms. And, of course, do not want to climb Lassen Peak, because it's so exposed, when there's the possibilities of thunderstorms. And you want to be prepared by bringing water, dressing -- bringing some warmer clothes, sunscreen, and of course, it is very important that people stay on the trail, not to get off the trail. ...It's a different temperature, it's colder. ...It can be windy up there and not windy down in the parking lot... but it's a rocky trail and you need to have water and the things that you're need to hike that peak in four hours, or a half a day, or whatever time it takes you to get there and back.

STEVE: A lot of years there's snow on that trail most of the summer, right?

STEVE ZACHARY: This year, two thousand and seven, there's not much snow on it at all when we think of mid-July. Last year, two thousand six, the park road wasn't even open until July twelfth or sixteenth, somewhere around there, and there was a tremendous amount of snow on the Lassen Peak trail most of the summer. ...But generally that trail has a lot of snow on it, and you need to be prepared for either slushy or icy trail conditions that then also, the need for sunscreen, because you have all that reflective snow, and it can be colder. And so there's things like that that people really need to think about before they attempt to climb Lassen Peak.

STEVE: While most people come to the park to play, some come here to work.

STEVE ZACHARY: We have a lot of different researchers that work in the park, and they cover not only natural history components, ...but we also have cultural history components that researchers are working on. fact we have NASA currently working in the park, working on looking at the extremophiles, which are micro organisms in hydro-thermal areas. We have the astrobiologists with NASA that are studying snow movement on volcanic landscapes that are tied to the Mission to Mars project. We have, of course, U.S. Geologic Survey volcanologists and geologists studying the park.

STEVE: The typical tourist zips through the park from roadside attraction to roadside attraction, and the hearty ones might take a half a day to climb the peak. But what are they missing by not visiting the wilderness? Jean Higham is on her own solo trip to find out. Since she is going solo, I check-in with her every night using ham radio. Our final check-in was on day three of her hike.

STEVE: KD6UME, this is KC6ZKT.


STEVE: How did it go?

JEAN HIGHAM: Uh, just as expected.

STEVE: So what did you see today? You were in totally new territory today.

JEAN HIGHAM: Wow! Wow! Cool stuff. I'll save the battery here and tell you later, but this end of the park is beautiful.

STEVE: Just name a couple of highlights for your audience here.

JEAN HIGHAM: Kings Creek Falls. Wow!

STEVE: Alright, so everything's going well for you? You're um everything's working, no problems?

JEAN HIGHAM: I'm standing beside a little stream in Conard Meadow; it's totally lupin lined, and I'm about to get a little bit of extra water for tomorrow.

STEVE: OK. Great. Well you have a good night, and I'll plan to be at your exit trailhead at noon tomorrow.

JEAN HIGHAM: OK. Goodnight everybody. KC6ZKT, this is KD6UME clear and QRT.

STEVE: KD6UME, this is KC6ZKT. I'm clear and QRT.

STEVE: I suppose you're thinking, this is supposed to be a show about wilderness, right? So why are we talking about attractions in the front country? What if I told you that the sights in the backcountry are even more amazing? And what does Jean Higham find in her exploration of the Lassen Wilderness? To find out, check-in for part two, next week.

STEVE: We'd like to hear your comments about this show, and about any experiences you've had in Lassen Volcanic National Park. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You'll find links to maps and other details about visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park, on our web site.

[Closing Music: 0:10 and under]

Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. You can help assure future editions of this free service; please click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number ninety six. Thank you for listening.

[Closing Music: ends.]

Next time -- Lassen National Park, part two.

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