Some buddies and I headed over to Lassen Volcanic National Park last Friday, and we just got back. None of us had ever been there, and to be honest we barely did any research. We fell back to Lassen because we decided against doing Mount Ritter again (due to weather), and we were curious about the place. It is a relatively remote park in the Cascade region near Redding, California. We just knew that we wanted to climb Lassen Peak – a volcano, of course.
We arrived late Friday night and camped out until morning, right next to the visitor’s center parking lot. After we woke up and packed up, we headed over to the visitor’s center to get some inspiration for what to do while we weren’t climbing Lassen Peak. We saw the large map in the middle of the room, with Crescent Crater (another volcano) right next to Lassen Peak. It looked so cool, that we immediately decided “we need to camp in that crater tonight!” The idea that we could camp inside a volcano was absolutely irresistible.
So we set off to climb inside that crater. We didn’t bring our tents because meh, who needs ’em. It was really warm and there was snow everywhere so we weren’t concerned about mosquitoes. There may or may not be an actual path to get into the crater, but we need paths like we need tents.
We found a pretty strange and sketchy way into the crater. When we weren’t slipping around in slushy snow, we were slipping around in endless skree fields. Volcanic rock is quite fragile, so I would often grab a giant hold to climb up, only to find a large flake coming off in my hand. But we finally made it up and over, and picked out a nice flat spot inside the crater to camp for the night.
While setting up camp, we heard a loud crashing, rumbling sound that went on for about 30 seconds. Our first thought was: avalanche. But we investigated and saw that it was actually a large rock slide occurring on the inside-edge of the crater. Luckily we were camping in a spot that was protected from rock falls.
It was surprisingly comfortable in the crater without tents, and we all slept straight through the night. I felt a little bit of nausea from minor altitude sickness, but I drank a ton of water and it passed. I felt fine for the rest of the trip.
Nobody brought a stove, so we only packed the blandest of foods for the whole weekend. Bagels, potato chips, Clif Bars, almonds. That was pretty much all we ate. On the plus side, since we never had to sit around boiling water for dinner or breakfast, we saved a lot of time and were able to move very quickly. On the minus side, we never got to eat a hot meal the whole time. We ate some bagels as we packed up and headed straight for Lassen Peak the next morning. We decided to climb the Northwest face.
Climbing Lassen was actually much easier and more straightforward than climbing Crescent Crater. You pretty much just walk straight up it, and if you stumble and fall and somehow cannot manage to self-arrest, absolute worst case you just end up glissading all the way down into nothing but snow at the bottom (no rocks to break your fall). In terms of mountaineering, Lassen (in the winter/spring) is easy-to-moderate. It would probably be good way to teach a beginner the basics of mountaineering: self-arrest, glissading, using crampons, using ice axes, et cetera.
On the way up, some guy said, “You’ll know you’ve reached the summit when you see the giant phallus.”
“There’s a giant dick at the top.”
And so there was. A giant thing which could only have been built with the purpose of resembling a human penis.
“Oh! It is a giant dick!” exclaimed my buddy, right before he noticed a cross-country skier right below him, edging towards a tiny ledge with a sheer vertical drop below him.
“Oh, hey there. Are you going up or down?”
“I’m trying to reach this ledge here so I can ski down it.”
“Have you ever done that before?”
“I did it once a few years ago. The ledge was much bigger then.”
“Well, do you need help?”
But he somehow managed to climb up to the tiny ledge, put his skis on, and then gracefully ski down the mountain without stumbling or falling. The guy had guts.
After we finished with Lassen Peak, we glissaded all the way down (10,000 feet, wheeeeeee), and followed the ridge/river out.
I took a nap on a rock while drying my socks and shoes, and I got bad sunburns on my feet. That was the only injury I got.
Overall, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a lot of fun, and I would highly recommend it. It isn’t very heavily trafficked, which I would say adds to the positive experience. We can’t wait to go back and check out the other stuff they have there. Maybe in the summer, when the snow has melted away.