This year was very bad for winter sports – drought in our state. All those storms from the Pacific that drench the coasts and dump snow in the mountains weren’t coming this year. It wouldn’t be much of the snow camping with snow. I even post a trip to Glacier Point. Same thing we did last year. But due to a sudden snow storm I had to postpone it. Eventually, by mid March there was enough snow to do something interesting. Actually, March is a nice time – there is still enough cold, but the days are much longer. So this year’s trip to the winter wonderland would be going to Lassen Volcanic NP under the leadership of Mr Igor. A different route from last time – now coming from the visitor’s center towards Mt Lassen.
Friday, March 21
The meeting time was at 1PM. However, with all the car rental and gear managing we barely got going at 5PM. Right at the best traffic time! Good thing I wasn’t driving. The bad thing is that I can’t read in a car – it would be nice to use the time for some reading. We stopped at the recommend Mexican place in Chico, CA called Tres Hombres. A bit large and noisy for my taste. I prefer more of a whole-in-a-wall type of places since they usually have best authentic food. After that it was a lot of winding road driving. Eventually we made it to the parking lot of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at about 1AM. Nothing special there. The parking lot was plowed, the visitor center was open (good access to warm restrooms). All we had to do was to walk a bit off to the snow and setup camp. One problem came up – in all that rush leaving we forgot one sleeping bug. Had to improvise for one night – -meaning, Igor was sleeping with just a lot of dawn on him. The rest of us shared 4 people in 3 person tent. It was very cosy and warm there.
Saturday, March 22
Due to the late evening the start was late too. I woke up early, as usual. The other groups on the parking lot were already getting ready to do what they planned. There were many who just came to play in the snow – it is pretty much free. There were some who were going to do some backcountry skiing (had nice skis with skins and fancy boots that can be clipped in differently for different activity). I hate to say it, but not everyone was prepared from the get go. I was packed, so was Yuhua. But some of the green people had to be coached in packing.
So the process of packing and preparing lasted for a couple of hours. In the mean time we finished the leftovers of last night’s Mexican food. Eventually we started at about noon. I didn’t have a clue where we were going exactly. There was talk about going to Mt Lassen, but how I wasn’t sure. In the end we just followed the unplowed road. There was a point in the road, right after the first bubbling mud pool, to cut a significant chunk of the mileage by simply crossing through forest. One good thing about winter it that you can pretty much go anywhere – on snowshoes or backcountry skis just plow through, the snow shoes act as rudimentary crampons (that doesn’t mean that going uphill with a pack is physically easy). So we went up some hill, crossed the forest and met up with the same old road. Then we had lunch and moved on. Karen went back and the rest of us moved forward. Yuhua and I proceeded on snowshoes and the other two newbies, under Igor’s leadership, were struggling on skis. The distance wasn’t that large – maybe 3 miles or so. No wonder were reached the proposed camping area within a couple of hours. We found a quiet corner at the other side of the frozen lake Helen. It was secluded enough from the wind, but also open to see great undisturbed snowy expanses and enjoy the sunset.
I dug the kitchen, almost set the tent, changed, walked around, but the rest of the group was still not in the view. Got me a little worried since the sun was going down and so were the temperatures. But they made it eventually. We had good dinner with lots of hot food. The weather was great – no wind at all. It was getting chilly and my fingers were getting numb, but it could be much worse with windchill. After the dinner Yuhua, Igor, and I went for a small walk to get the metabolism going so that it can process all that oil and generate some heat. There was a parking lot a bit behind the hill for the Bumpass Hell trail with a great view of the night sky and some glowing city in the distance.
Sunday, March 23
Beautiful morning. Even though everything was frozen solid. I got up again like an idiot in the early morning while the rest were sleeping. My tent mates seemed to have had a rather cold night because they were squeezing me in the middle all the time. I was fine. This time I brought two pads to keep warm.
Igor was still sleeping in his grave. There is nothing wrong with sleeping in a snow grave, as long as you have the right equipment. I walked around a bit feeling the crusty frozen snow. It really felt like real winter. But when the sun came above the mountains it started warming up. We had a couple of neighbours camping around the same lake Helen. Some groups came later. However, we were far away from each other. The original plan was to perhaps climb Mt Lassen. For that the group had to be up and ready by about 8AM. Instead the groups slowly got ready by about 10AM. There was no time to climb any peaks any more. We probably needed crampons also, half the time. The mountain didn’t have that much snow to only use crampons. So we broke the camp and went off … to the aforementioned parking lot.
There was some morning yoga there and after that we attempted to day hike to Bumpass Hell area. It was a bit more difficult than I though. I was under the impression that it was just behind some small mountain. Well, maybe a bit more behind. But it turned out not being so simple. Igor went on skis on a more flat terrain. I decided to just ram it through. But it was a bit too steep for people not experienced with winter sports. As a results, after some painful adjustments we had to turn back. Sad, it would be interesting to see Bumpass Hell in winter.
After the regrouping at the same parking lot and short lunch we headed back. The route was simple – just follow the road down. I just wish I had skis instead of snow shoes. But still, I was able to cut one part of the route by sliding on my butt down the hill. We met Karen coming up the road enjoying herself. She really had good time without all that weight of a backpack. It was a bit of a slow slog for me. I’ve picked up the whole 3p tent we were using. The snow became slushy on the sunny side and frozen on the shady side. I just had to keep walking under all this weight, trying to enjoy the process.
Igor, Yuhua, and I made it to the car early. There was enough time to change, stretch, eat, talk with other groups (there was a group of three Indians – two man and a woman – from the Valley who summited Mt Lassen. Rather unusual case. Perhaps I should have talked to them a bit more.) Then the rest of the group returned and we headed out. Had dinner in Chico in the same Mexican place and arrived to Palo Alto at about 1AM.
Trail map: Lassen Volcanic NP Snow Camping