The magma in Lassen is still there; visibly in the form of rocks and boulders scattered around the park. But molten magma still exists below the surface.
The magma is the same that fueled the eruption of Lassen, just over 100 years ago. In places, the magma hyper-warms the ground water and rises to the surface through hydrothermal features, reaching temperatures of 200°F. In this sense, parts of Lassen resembles our first National Park: Yellowstone.
The most well-known hydrothermal feature in Lassen and also the most popular is Bumpass Hell. This is a must do hike for a Lassen visit which explains its popularity.
I headed out early on a Tuesday morning and I had the trail almost to myself. There was one couple that was just ahead of me. If I would have left later in the morning or in the afternoon I probably would have not have been able to find a parking spot in the trailhead parking lot. Even in October!
The hike is a moderate 3 mile, out and back hike with great views of the south of peaks such as Brokeoff Mountain.
Once you crest a rise, you seem to be in a different universe. Bumpass Hell is a visceral experience. Sight: the steam rising into the morning sunlight and the intense earthy colors surrounding you. Smell: the rotten egg stench of sulfur, and sound: the bubbly cauldron burbble of intense heat erupting to the surface. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore!
Another location that is a release valve of Lassen’s subterranean heat is in a under-visited area of this under-visited National Park, located in the Warner Valley.
To get there you must drive east to the rural metropolis of Chester (compared to the blip of Mineral [population 292]). From Chester (population 2,116) you head north back into the National Park on a road that, at first, is nicely paved and then gets a bit rutty before becoming completely unpaved for the final three miles.
I was finally at the Warner Valley trailhead at the campground, which was now closed for the season.
The most exciting thing about this trailhead is that it joins up with a part of the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT is 2,650 miles long, reaching from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. This hike passes through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. A through hiker would take about five months to complete the trail. It’s midpoint lines close to the metropolis of Chester. The midpoint is also the meeting place of the Cascade and the Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges.
So now I can say that I hiked the PCT, well a very small part of it anyway, from the trailhead to another one of Lassen’s exciting hydrothermal features: Boiling Springs Lake. This is an apt name for this clay colored lake that, in places, resembles a witches cauldron.
As I approached the lake, steam rose up into the morning sun and as I got closer, but not too close, I started to hear the bubbling of the mud and smell the tell tale smell of sulfur.
I hike halfway around the lake to a rise on the far side of the lake. From my position I had Boiling Springs Lake in the foreground and Lassen Peak in the background. And I did what any sketcher do, I sketched!