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A short walk in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
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                                                                 -Apurva Brahmbhatt
 

Saturyday Oct. 6th, 2001.
I wake up at 6:00AM in the morning and turn off the alarm the moment it rings.
We had slept little late as usual and the only reason for waking up early
was the anticipation of a long drive.
By 7:00 we were on the road, and sun had not risen over 237 east yet.
Early risers dont feel that bad a traffic on a regular weekend in Bay area
(or at least that's what I thought before I woke up!) but 880 had to slow us
down. By the time we went past vallejo, one and a half hours were gone and
I started feeling sleepy again..
Normally this does not happen even if I had not slept much,
but this was hitting hard..
after we went past some towns, saw the food exit and drove into a parking
lot of Denny's..I just turned my seat as backward as I could and tried to go
to sleep. So did Deepali.
After 20 minutes or so, I felt little better and off we go.

Another 45 minutes or so, and sleep is hitting me again!
This time, I convinced myself that I will actually go to sleep and REALLY
relax before starting again.
One more food exit. Denny's again! Once more, we end up sleeping for half
an hour..I could barely doze off, but Deepali happily went to sleep like
a curled cat.

We had some scrambled eggs and coffee..that seemed to help and we took off
once again. This time the sleep seemed to fade away and we continued on route
5 till junction with local road 36.
One more Denny's there..But we didnt have much to do with it, and we continued
eastward..

The landscape turned from fields to bare land with yellow dried out grass
all over the place..Some mountains became visible in horizon, but with
some clouds and little fog, the visibility remained low. some rocks started
becoming visible and in no time, we were in land of granite looking rocks
scattered among dried grass..It seemed as if an explosion had scattered them
pretty uniformly all over the place.
The Mountain range became visible..I could tell the lassen peak, as it seemed
pretty tall at 10,500 ft from where we were (at around 1000 ft altitude).
We were going to go up another 5000 ft in next one and a half hour.
The gain was slow and steady without much curvy roads and we ended up at
the entrance of Lassen volcanic national park at around 1:30..

The campsites were close to the entrance parking lot but on a down going
surface of a pine covered valley. We decided to take #7, which was completely
unvisible from other occupied campsites and the camping area ended with that.
The land was rocky and with some difficulty I managed to drive down the
nails with a hammer. Our tent was a single support set of rods attached at
two ends. It held ok, despite some wind.
(At this point I did not realize how much wind it could be in another
4000 ft altitude gain..But we were going to be answered pretty soon!)
I did realize that even little  bodily exertion was apparent due to thin air.

We ate some bananas and after throwing the camping stuff in the bear-proof
containers, we decided to approach the lassen peak.
pretty soon, we saw the sulfer fumes coming out near a small bridge,
and the landscape had turned reddish brown soil with a few pines.
In less than an hour (must be around 3:00) we went past the emarald lake,
which, as the name suggests, was dark green, and immediately another
lake which was dark blue like the crater lake. (This one also must be deep,
I guess)..

And in few minutes we were at the trail entrance. I decided to wear my
windbreaker pants, and I had already told deepali to wear woolen thermal
wears. I did not carry the gloves as it did not seem to be THAT cold.
I was also not wearing thermals inside my green plastic jacket, which is
supposed to hold temperatures upto 30s..The temperature at 8500 ft.
was at  37 F without windchill and wind was blowing only a little bit at this
height.

We started climbing the first phase, and we realized that at 8500 ft,
(and that after a lazy morning at sea-level!) was not going to be a simple
mission peak hike. We continued at slower rate over the switch backs, but
did not stop. It seemed as if we had found a slow but natural rhythm at this
altitude, which I thought was really good for Deepali, since she normally
gets out of breath on constant altitude gain. There were no trees on the
entire mountain except a few together on the lower base corners and
we were left at the mercy of thick bushes grown upto around 6-8 ft at the
switchback corners, as the wind intensity increased.
Hike was well laid out and was not that demanding depsite you feel heaviness
in your legs and constant wind pressure. Occasionally the wind turned
to our backs as we continued in zigzag fashion, and that seemed helpful in
going up.
After an hour or so, we had met a few people coming down, and we could see
our jeep standing in the parking lot, next to the blue lake, and few other
vehicles. I realized that no one followed us up, and there was a warning of
local wind and chance of snow at 5000-6000 ft in the area.
I saw at lower altitudes on the mountain in the west, and a large patch of
snow was visible, which may be had not melted during the entire summer.
I realized later while browsing interenet pages on California mountains,
that Lassen probably receives highest amount of snow, considering its position
north of high sierras.

The lower clouds were moving really fast, and the movement was clearly north-
eastwardly. But I was worried about the higher clouds in the west, and I could
already see thin curtain of snow/shower in some distance. Considering the
obvious cloud movements, I was assured that the snowstorms may not hit us,
and we continued further. Deepali seemed to be doing fine, and I was really
glad to wear my wind-breakers after initial sweaty feeling.
A lady came down from the trail and told us that it was getting really really
windy up there, and that we were not that far. I could see some white
structure in some distance on top, but could not tell what it was.

The actual jungle of the national park was mostly laid out in the
east and north, and the texture seemed really nice and thick with coniferous
trees.I wondered how many bears would be roaming there, or already hibernating.
We seemed really high from the forest and it seemed like a great feeling
going up in thin air in extreme wind, with such panorama laid out in front.
Now the wind was pushing us to break into a run on a higher going trail,
and completely numbing my arms upto my elbows.

We felt the sand particles hitting us really hard and with the jacket, the
noise was apparent. I felt that I should have carried my gloves, and swore to
buy a proper jacket. I asked Deepali, but she seemed to be doing alright,
although her face had turned red with cold.
We had been climing for about one and a half hour, and should have made
to the top in another 30 minutes or so..The idea of being at 10,000 ft. seemed
pretty exciting, but the wind was kind of freezing that feeling out.

The clouds in west seemed much closer, the sun had been covered completely.
I realised that the so-called sand particles were snow flakes and I had to
keep moving my fingers to keep my hands going from complete numb. I swore
at the Tailor of my jacket, who did not provide even a thin coating inside
the jacket pockets and thurst my arms in the pants. I felt that upper cloud
movement was in opposite direction and they were approaching the lassen peak.
The curtain of snow/shower seemed to grow thicker above the mountain in the
west. I asked Deepali, if she wanted to continue further, and although
I could see she was in as much pain as I was, she was trusting my decision
to go eitherways..It would have taken another half an hour to be on top
and at least an hour to come down. If we get caught in a snow storm, and
visibility remains low, it might make our coming down really slow.
I decided to go back at this point.

Idea of travelling of a married man by Irwin Shaw came to my mind.
(He used to say that a man travelling with his wife, has no stories to tell..
:-). I dont think I really wanted
me and my wife to get engulfed in the snow-storming clouds, looking like
two shadows in snow, slanted at 60 degrees, and slowly moving opposite the
wind towards the darkened top, which was a kid's joy in the early morning.

We saw another couple following us down by a few minutes after us, and wondered
if anyone was still left on the mountain. The clouds hit us on our way back,
and the visibility was only a few meters. Although the trail was not hard to
find in the next few meters, it seemed to end in the thick mist
directly blowing at our faces and kept us wondering if it somehow abruptly
ended at a cliff..
It took us around 45 minutes to an hour to come down.
The snow flakes became somewhat harder and nearest mountains
invisible, when were close to the bottom, although I could see my jeep down
in the valley which seemed undistrubed by the clouds and winds.
I could already imagine myself in the jeep, turning on the heater at
80 degrees and feel a sudden silence on the body,
that you realize after coming from blowing winds into a covered place.

A middle aged man with his wife (who looked like a native american or may
be a hispanic) and two kids was walking towards the first switch back.
He asked if we made it to the top. We said we did not. He said he had been
up there when he was nine years old. This was his second time, but he would
not go much further than the first switchback.
We sat inside out jeep and to our surprise, the entire  mountain was
completely covered in thick clouds..The couple behind us, came down
in minutes and with three cars lying the in parking lot, we realized that
we were pretty much the last people left on the mountain.
 

As soon as I turned on the heater, the sheer change in temperature gave a
bad headache above the eyebrows. I asked Deepali and she was feeling the same.
By the time we came back to the campsite it was close to seven and getting
dark.
The evening went past quickly next to the fire of coals and redwood bark
(which brings out enough smoke for the smell to be left in your jacket.),
and watching the tea-water boil to almost nothing by the time we get
a chance to sip it, due to fast evaporation at high altitudes.
Deepali would suddenly start breathing hard at night due to some altitude
sickness, but besides that the night went past without any problems.

It started raining early morning, and our tent decided to let the water
take its course! I woke up with cold drops on my forehead and saw quite a few
more waiting to drop from the tent top in the dim light of my torch.
We decided to pack up and leave early. In the first morning light,
I took a last look at the Lassen peak in the rearview mirror of my jeep..
We shall definitely meet again!