LASSEN PEAK (10,457') 6X May 20, 2012

Seeing the celestial event coming up this Sunday, I made some weak plans to view this at an optimal location. This annular solar eclipse I had anticipated since I was a kid. Glad that I was about to see it, I didn’t wish to miss this once in a lifetime event. Lassen Peak falls almost directly in the center of the lunar shadow path, and I read from the park website that the road was now open to the peak parking lot. Rangers would be in attendance at the Bumpass Hell parking lot, if conditions were poor for a solo climb.

First though, I had e-mailed the park for information about climbing another, easier peak. I didn’t think that I was up to Lassen Peak again. I had thoughts of a view at Pyramid Lake, Nevada, also. The forecast was good, and the road was freshly plowed. I like national parks, and have my pass.

Up early on this fine day, I left home to take Interstate 5 north. Taking U.S. 99 north to CA 70, I got some gas at 4.169 in Marysville, CA. Getting breakfast on the road, I took CA 32 north toward the park. I made a short stop at Deer Creek Falls, taking some pictures and video. Then another cascade along Deer Creek presented itself. Joining CA 89 north, I took the road up to the Southwest Entrance to stop for photos and video of Bluff Falls. Making a quick stop for a photo of the entrance sign, I also stopped at the Brokeoff Mountain trailhead.

The ranger at the entrance kiosk gave me a tag for my pass to display on my windshield mirror mount, and the usual information. I parked at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee visitor center parking lot, which replaces the old ski area. Inside, I took pictures of the displays, and had a soda drink. What did you know, but two old peak buddies appeared. They also wished to view the eclipse, and chatted for a moment. We then went into the auditorium for the park movie, and then I saw it was getting to be time for the climb.

Speaking with a ranger at the information counter, he said that it was permissible to climb Lassen Peak. They are working on the trail to the top, and later this season, the trail will be open only on certain days. I asked about conditions, and he didn’t tell me much. Being an older tourist now, I detected that he wished to discourage me from an “extremely hazardous” hike. Saying that he couldn’t stop me, I thanked him for what I could discern, and left. I’d look for myself, and decide then to give it a try.

Driving up the snowlined park road, I didn’t stop for pictures of the fumaroles or steam vents. At the Bumpass Hell parking, the rangers told me that only two spots were left. I decided to try for the peak. Coming to the peak trail parking lot, I readied my gear. It’d be a snowy adventure.

Starting my climb at about 1:30 p.m., I took the snow trail up, and headed up on steep snow. I had my ice ax and snow boots, and made good time surmounting the first hill. Nice views already! Some backcountry skiers had also started up, and I found tracks in the snow to follow. I know where about the trail goes, and figured as I got higher, I could follow the rock trail. The ranger told me that off trail and off snow travel was not permitted, due to the erosion. “Not one foot,” he said. I did as told, sticking to the snow. There was some dirt, but I got around it by some snow work. Then, it was a clear shot to the top. Quite a few hikers were doing the peak, many with little or no snow gear. Some were in sneakers. I plodded up, taking a few photos to rest, and to enjoy the views to the south. The snow was pretty soft, and it was real work to step on up. I was of the mind to go only partway, but I was doing so well, I might as well summit. I found some bare sections of trail, and rested on a nice rock. I had lots of time, so took more photos. I kept on going, with plenty of more pictures. I made another rest, then plodded on up.

At my third rest, I had some company, and talked for a long bit. I then had to go up, as I wished to catch the eclipse at its max on the exact top. It was a snow trudge, with steep sections to traverse. Some people had snowshoes and crampons. I connected with more sections of trail, but didn’t see the new restroom that they have up here.

Soon, I was approaching the trail end. Some skiers had built a snow pit for sitting, and the eclipse had started. I had about 20 minutes left to go to the true top, so I had to hurry. One of the others showed me the sun through his viewing glasses, and it was so true. Snow hiking to the summit crags, I clambered up the snow trail and past some rocks. A small bit of class 2. Ten minutes before the totality, I reached the top rocks.

It was chilly with the wind. Despite having a warm jacket and parka in my pack, I had to concentrate on my photography. Other climbers were doing photography, and they all had warm clothes and had been there for some time. I had to drink some water, then pulled out my telephoto lens with filters, and started shooting. I really hoped that I had figured this right. You can ruin your camera if you didn’t think too well! My back was to the top rock, so I’d say this was from the top. The highest point is the top of a small rock pinnacle, too hard for me to balance atop while taking pictures.

Relieved that I was getting to do this, a plane had flown about the summit as I had hiked up. The ring of fire appeared at about 6:28 p.m., and I made sure to get all phases. By what it looks like, you can do as well with cardboard cutouts. The clear sun is still too bright to expose the shot for the view all about. It became darker, but I saw no shadow racing across at 1,000 mph. After the max, I changed lenses, and took pictures of the view to the north. Not much to see.

Drinking more water, I knew that I had to start down. I was getting cold, and it would be dark in a couple hours. I cannot go as fast as when I was younger, and the snow was freezing. The skiers had already left, and I began my slow descent. I told some hikers that I might easily slide down on my rear, as I saw others do, but it gets my jeans wet, and there is some hazard to my camera gear. Declining then to save several minutes, I slowly plunge stepped down, taking more photos and resting.

Taking my time, all or most of the other hikers had gone down. One guy was behind me, and I knew that I had the time. With my legs aching, it began to turn into an ordeal, but then I got lower, and I was warm again. This isn’t much of a climb in summer, with the road and trail and all. Traversing toward the parking lot, I just had to get back in one piece.

Soon, I was at the final hill, and plunged down the soft snow, with the cars in sight. A boarder and a skier returned as I did, me getting to my car at 8:12 p.m. Just in time for some dusk light to still see by. A ranger pulled by to tell us about the road closing, and I gave him a trail report. I told him about others who didn’t obey the rules as I had, and although minor, I am informed that there is a big fine for cutting the trail. It’s all rubble, but users do leave a shortcut trail.

Managing to change my boots and socks, and refresh myself with the remainder of my two liters of water, I wanted to get back home. Headlights on, I drove down the mountain road, and my adventure was over. Exiting the park at 8:53 p.m., I knew my route home was fast driving. On CA 36, I got some drink and food in Red Bluff, then sped down Interstate 5 south. Home just past midnight, I had hiked roughly 4 miles with 2,000 feet of gain. Driving then about 325 miles round trip, I captured 450 images and movie clips (63.9 MB, 1:58, 720p HD). I spent 42 dollars, mostly for gas.

There had been a few mosquitoes at one of the falls, and I had forgotten my sunscreen. A nice hiker gave me some, so I didn’t get burned too much. I basically wore a T shirt, then put on a light Hoody as I climbed up. The boots I used for the snow cost me $19, a fair fit with heavy build. The wind blew my brim hat about under my hoody, and I was lucky that it didn’t blow away. My pack must have weighed 20 pounds, and it carried nicely with my emergency equipment. The high temperatures were in the high eighties in town, and I remember colder times on such peaks, this time of year. Ecstatic that I had done it, I’ll be planning more peak adventures, although nothing like I used to do.