The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 97: Lassen National Park, part 2

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 two of Lassen National Park.

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

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

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Last time, Jean Higham, our usually silent co-writer and editor, set out on a four-day backpacking trip in the wilderness of Lassen Volcanic National Park. Steve Zachary is the park's education specialist. You can often find him working in the Loomis Museum at the north entrance of the park.

STEVE ZACHARY: I do spend a lot of time in the backcountry... Generally I hike over a hundred and fifty miles a summer in the park. And... So I know the park well. I've been a permanent employee here for seventeen years, and I've hiked throughout the park and many places off trail, and I'm a very avid naturalist, and so I'm very interested in all aspects of the natural history... So there's a lot of interesting things in the backcountry that people that are able just to travel on the park road, they miss.

STEVE: So if a person's going to go into the backcountry, what are they going to be able to see that the people that don't get off the road miss?

STEVE ZACHARY: Well they're going to see a lot of beautiful lakes, and forested environments that provide a lot of, I know for me and others, tranquility, peace, quiet. You know, there's those components of solitude. Because the road corridor is where most visitors in the park stay. So, when you go into the backcountry, say out to what we call the Twin Lakes loop out of Summit Lake, and on these beautiful lakes, one after another, with other volcanic features and views of some of the other aspects of the park. Some volcanic features that you don't get if you're just along the road... You take a trail, for example, out of summit that climbs up the lava flow from Hat Mountain, and then you're on the top of that looking back at Lassen Peak and the other volcanos that are closer to the road. And then you drop down into, say, Echo Lake and Twin Lakes, which are glacier carved lakes that sit in between volcanic features.

STEVE: When I lead people into the Lassen Wilderness for their first time, some of the features I make sure they don't miss are the Cinder Cone and the Fantastic Lava beds.

STEVE ZACHARY: ...and you can climb the Cinder Cone and look out on the Fantastic Lava Beds, which are associated with the eruptions of Cinder Cone, oh, three hundred fifty years ago. ...and since it's not that old, the features and everything out there look fresh... And so you see this oxidized basaltic lava flow where ash and material came down, cinder came down out of the cinder cone, all around the cinder cone itself, and this lava flow of course went down and dammed up the creek that formed Snag lake, and also flowed into part of Butte Lake. And so it's a fascinating area to see, ...and then you can then take the back side of the Cinder Cone trail and walk into those fascinating Fantastic Lava Beds right there.

STEVE: And then on the other end of the park, is the intriguingly named --

STEVE ZACHARY: Boiling Springs Lake. That's in the Warner Valley area, and the Warner Valley area is over on the southeast part of the park. And Boiling Springs Lake is a large acid hot lake that is really beautiful to see. can take a trail that winds all around it, and we do, of course recommend that people stay on the trail, because that area is changing. But it's a fascinating feature in among this beautiful forest, in the backcountry of that part of the park.

STEVE: The thing is, despite all of this violent geologic activity that created this park, its wilderness is one of gentle terrain, lush forests, and pristine lakes. It's an ideal wilderness to visit if you have children, or want a less strenuous adventure. Even the wildlife seems more gentle here than in the big national parks in the Sierra Nevada.

STEVE ZACHARY: Bears here in the park are usually wild, and if you happen see one and you're in a group of two or three people, usually the first person sees it and that's it... You might say in the backcountry, in some cases, deer can be a bigger problem where they mosey into people's camps and, you know, try to get into their food, which is a little unusual compared to other parks that have tremendous bear problems.

STEVE: The most popular trailhead into the Lassen Wilderness is the Summit Lake Ranger Station, but there are also more than half a dozen other, less popular trailheads. Those'll give you a chance for even more solitude and some unique experiences. Jean Higham wound up having the wilderness to herself for three nights.

JEAN HIGHAM: I started from the park road at Hat Lake near Emigrant Pass. And I hiked south past Paradise Meadow to Terrace Lake. And Terrace Lake is a gorgeous lake with a sandy white bottom... From there I went on to Shadow and Cliff Lakes, and these three lakes, Terrace, Shadow, and Cliff are at about eight thousand feet, and so in July this trail is usually snow-bound. But this year there were only a few small patches of snow.

JEAN HIGHAM: The first night I camped above Cliff Lake, and Cliff Lake is this real pretty little peaceful lake with and island and a cluster of trees on it and there's a cliff that just rises right out of the lake and that's actually Reading Peak. So the next day I continued to the Summit Lake ranger station, and from there I hiked south to Corral Meadow. And Corral Meadow is a nice little wooded meadow. It's very small, and it's right on Kings Creek. The heavily used campsites there are just a little too close to the creek and to the trail for my tastes, so I climbed up over the ridge to the west and camped on the other side of that for a little bit of privacy.

JEAN HIGHAM: In the morning I backtracked and I hiked west a couple miles to the bottom of Kings Creek Falls, and the trail there climbs very steeply for a half mile or so. And Kings Creek Falls is gorgeous. The whole way you've just got gorgeous views of cascading water. That trail ends up at the park road again near upper meadow, so I had to walk on the park road about half a mile or so, and I picked up the trail again from Kings Creek Picnic Area. And I walked that to Cold Boiling Lake, and Cold Boiling Lake is an ordinary looking little alpine tarn. But when I got close I could see bubbles popping on the surface. So there's evidence that Lassen truly is a volcano.

JEAN HIGHAM: Crumbaugh Lake, it's supposed to be a nice, warm lake to swim in, but it is very shallow and muddy. I sank ankle deep into the mud there. Then after that I waded through fields of lupins and other wild flowers, it was gorgeous, and on to Conard Meadows. The next morning I hiked southwest to an overlook at the top of Mill Creek Falls. This is a place where East Sulphur Creek and Bumpass Creek flow together over a seventy-five foot cliff. It's very precarious place, but I found a nice place to sit down and have my morning coffee, and from there I backtracked to King Creek Picnic Area.

STEVE: So if you want to visit the Lassen wilderness, like most wilderness areas in national parks, you'll need to contact the rangers and get a wilderness permit. You can do that at the park, but you're usually better off if you make arrangements in advance. Steve Zachary says that the important thing to keep in mind is that a national park isn't just a playground. When people come to the park...

STEVE ZACHARY: ...they're a visitor, and it's a community of life that is rich in the life forms that live there and we need to preserve and protect these places for present and future generations. And when we travel out there we need to realize the value of them and how fortunate we are to have a place like the wilderness of Lassen or other wilderness areas in national parks protected... that, you know, hold keys to the future that we sometimes take for granted.

STEVE: We'd like to hear your comments or questions 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 pictures of the park backcountry, including pictures from Jean's hike, as well as a combined high fidelity stereo version of both parts of this edition, on our web site.

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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 by clicking on our support link to 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 seven. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- Water.

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