Lassen Volcanic National Park (Day 1)

Finally end of the quarter craziness at work is over and I can start catching up with the blog and Week 35. What happened with week 34, you ask? Well, nothing much. Sadly, for various reasons running-wise that week is nothing to speak of.

Not so with this week. Two weeks ago I crossed off Pinnacles from my to-see list and now, thanks to Monday being off (Labor Day), I was planning to do the same with another place that was high on that list: Lassen Volcanic National Park.

I did three runs on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but I made them relatively easy, gathering strength for the weekend. And then I started developing a cold. On Thursday no running but I went to the gym. On Friday my cold was worse and my hamstrings were really sore (from deadlifts, I guess). All in all I was wondering: should I go?

However, holidays are rare in the U.S. and vacations are precious so I decided I cannot miss this chance jumped in my car and left around 4pm hoping to beat the worst traffic, which of course didn't work. Leaving the Bay took forever.

I stopped for dinner at Orland (pretty tasty) and only reached the hotel shortly after midnight. I was super tired from the trip but even more excited about awaiting adventure so I still did a little planning before going to bed. Unfortunately I booked the hotel late and there are few lodging options around the park so I was 1 hour drive away from the park.

On Saturday I woke up, quickly ate breakfast and was on my way. First stop: Brokeoff mountain. At first I confused the name with that of Brokeback mountain and was wondering whether there's any relation to the movie. I half hiked, half ran to the top, passing some meadows with totally unreal colors (Ed. Helle: even without Google+ magic! ;)).

On the way back I had a toilet problem and almost wish I had read the chapter that I remember is in the Relentless Forward Progress, aptly named "Defecating in the Woods". Overall I was rather slow on the way back but still finished in 2:15 which is over twice faster than what the guide suggests so I was thinking that perhaps my crazily overloaded plan had a chance? You see, the problem was that, as usual, I wanted to see all that there was to be seen ;). With over 150 miles of hiking trails seeing it all was of course out of the question. But still, the park is divided into 4 sections and on 3 days I was hoping to explore, say, 3 of them?

The trail to Brokeoff Mountain started few hundred meters away from the Southwest Visitor's center where I made the next stop. One parfait, sports drink and hot chocolate later I started the hike to Mill Creek Falls. I reached the fall and at this point was planning to turn around and explore Bumpass Hell hiking south from the highway after a short ride (see the map) but once there I decided to stay on the trail.

I passed beautiful Crumbaugh Lake and then Cold Boiling Lake, where gas bubbles are continuously rising to the surface, making for an interesting sight. But what was really impressive was the Bumpass Hell (btw. it's bum-pass not bump-ass :P), a very impressive place where one is surrounded by steam heated waters and ever present smell of sulfur, indeed making for a very hellish experience (in a positive sense, of course ;). That's where the following 3 photos are from.

I'm glad I chose this route because until Bumpass Hell the trail was deserted making for a very pleasant hike and it was only from there till the highway that the place got full of tourists. Once reaching the highway I was facing a dilemma of what to do. I was not too far away from Lassen Peak, which was another place I wanted to see that day, but I decided that it was probably smarter to get back to the car and drive there.

Now, how to get back to the car was another question. I probably should have hitchhiked, which I'm sure would not be too difficult as the road was pretty busy, but smelly from the run I felt too self conscious to do that and decided to... of course, run. The views were spectacular so it wasn't too bad, but on the other hand the road was fairly busy so it wasn't great either. Eventually I reached the car completing my second run of the day (23km).

Timing was tight but I got back just as planned and decided that I still have time to squeeze in Lassen Peak, before it got too dark. I drove there which was a bit demotivating as it took me a fraction of the time it took me to run in the opposite direction.

Based on the name I had high hopes for this hike but frankly it turned out to be probably the least pleasant of all the things I did that day. The trail was steep but fairly boring. I was thinking that it must be like driving on the highway: you don't do this for the fun of it (unless it's Highway 1 in California :)) but just to get from point A to B. And I was assuming that in that case point B was the peak, where I was expecting breathtaking views.

But it was tougher to get there than I expected. Less than 4 kilometers but, one: very steep; two: I was pretty tired at that point; and three: closer to the top the wind was really strong making climbing more difficult and also, I simply got very cold. Few people that I met were in full winter gear and, seeing me in my t-shirt and shorts, probably labelled me as a crazy runner ;).

Eventually I made it to the top... and frankly I was disappointed. Perhaps I had too high expectations. I got there shortly before the sunset so perhaps if I stayed until then it would have been better. But I was seriously freezing so did not linger too long and shortly after reaching the peak started my descent, trying to move fast to fight the cold. I reached my car completing my third run of the day.

I drove to a small town of Chester where I was planning to have dinner. I stopped in a side street to check out Yelp and see what my options are. The street was dark. Cue horror music... and then I hear an abrupt knock on my car window and see a guy gesticulating wildly. Then three things happen: I roll down the window, I wonder if I'll see my first gun ever and I see that the guy is holding a baby. I really am not sure about the order of those three events though. Then the guy asks me whether I'll drive them to the hospital. I say sure, he jumps in the car and explains that the baby stopped breathing, while I speed through the streets following his directions. It feels totally surreal. Gladly the hospital is nearby and by the time we reach it the baby again shows some signs of life. Still, quite a story at the end of the day, huh? It's in moments like those that we realize that what think of problems don't really deserve to be called so... Samantha, wherever you are, I hope you are breathing fine.

Dinner was disappointing. So much so that I decided to pop in to McDonald's for dessert. I hate McDonald's but one thing I have to admit: their Sundaes are pretty damn good.

Then back to the hotel and time to sleep although by the time I hit the bed it's well after midnight. Getting up tomorrow is going to be tough. Well, at least my cold seems to be under control, although to balance it up blisters are giving me a hard time. Probably I'll try to take it easy tomorrow.

The park is amazingly photogenic and I took a bunch of pretty decent photos and choosing just few for this post was a hard task; don't be shy and click any of the pics in the post for larger versions and more photos :). More coming soon.


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