Trip of a lifetime! This place is like 3 parks in one. Extremely varied landscapes in one national park. For reference, here's a link to the park map:
Day 1) I arrived about 4pm. There was alot of smoke in Chester, CA from a fire near Lake Almanor. Fortunately, a few miles up the road, the smoke had cleared. But, there was another fire in the park, near Summit Lake, that I feared might mess my trip up. The ranger told me I could go on as planned because I was sticking to the east side of the park. By the time I got my permits and my camp set up in Warner Valley campground, I basically ran down the trail to Hell's Kitchen. This is a geothermal area with steam vents and boiling mud pots. Very unique and Yellowstone-like. I'm glad I got to hit this area before the sun went down.
Day 2) After being unable to find the Kelly Camp Trailhead (the softer, easier way into the high country), I opted for the 2.5 mile 1600 ft elevation gain of Juniper Lake trail. Woof! That was a chuff! Got my first ever trail blister on the back of my heel that would plague me the entire trip. But, made it the 8 miles to Jakey Lake, a pristine, small alpine lake found in many parts of the Sierras. A great spot to set up camp and sleep.
The view of Mount Lassen from where I first thought I must have crested this cursed trail. The joke was on me
Does a bear.........? Yep, right in the middle of the trail
Thank goodness! Finally, it's Juniper Lake. 6 miles to go.....
Smoke from the park fire
Jakey Lake. The view from my campsite.
And, a bit later in the evening, the smoke again.
Day 3) Long day. I woke up feeling great. Energized and full of gratitude! I stopped between two peaks (Red Cinder and Red Cinder cone) I had planned on bagging one of them. But, they just looked far too daunting. I hiked up Red Cinder until it just got too difficult. The sandy, gravel was just discouraging.
I had planned on staying at Widow Lake. But, by the time I arrived, it was only 12:30. I hung out for an hour and a half, swimming, eating, laying about and packing and re-packing my gear. As I was leaving, the smoke started looking pretty intense.
I was going to go on to Snag Lake. But, when I reached the junction for Snag and Butte, I saw smoke to the north and south. I decided it would be better to go up to Butte Lake campground to see if there were anymore trail closures before I walk into some sorta trap.
Butte lake is half surrounded by piles of black obsidian left by volcanic activity back in 1914. Here begins an other-worldly landscape unique to Lassen.
After finding that I was in no danger from the fires, I hurried away from the RVs and BBQs of the campground. At this point, my legs are tired from ten miles of hiking and smoke is covering the sun. I need to find a decent place to camp. But, now, it appears as though I'm on mars..........
After a 12 mile day, I found a dry wash and just went to ground, cowboy style, exhausted from the loose, gravelly trail.
Day 4) Woke up on the barren moonscape and within a couple miles, I run up on serene Snag Lake. Another lake bordered on one side by piles of obsidian. I chilled, let my bag dry out and watched fish, literally jumping outta the water.
Time to go...........
I got "in the zone" and hiked a long time until I hit this beautiful meadow. Time for lunch!
Kept on a hikin til I got to the junction of the PCT and the top of Kelly camp trail. I headed down Kelly camp and the next thing I knew I was on top of this steep gorge with King's Creek 200 ft below. Really spectacular scenery that just didn't translate to photos...........
Another 12 mile day and my blister and I were ready to hit the hay. Found a nice spot near cliff's edge so I could listen to the creek and it could listen to my snoring
Day 5) Only 3 miles left to go. It was cold and the water was slow to boil. But, finally got my *** up and moving. Here's one of the river crossings...
As I was hiking and reflecting on the lack of wildlife other than deer and squirrels, I ran across these on the trail...
I thought the two different sizes were kinda strange. I didn't think that bear had larger back paws than front....still don't know. I kept hiking, sinking closer to Warner valley. I was still above the river and on a steep ridge when I looked down and saw some deer chewing on leaves and drinking. Suddenly, they got spooked and ran across the river, BAM!!!! A freakin mountain lion takes one down. No BS! This was straight out of Nat Geo. And, it all happened in less than a second. The mountain lion stood over the deer, on the edge of the creek with the deer's throat in it's mouth. I just can't believe what I'm seeing. I NEVER thought I'd see a mt. lion outside of the zoo. Not only do I see one, but I see him take down prey. This is insane. He starts to move off with the deer, but then stops for another 2 minutes. I guess he wanted to make sure it wasn't moving. Finally, he sluffs off into the brush with it. I'm just stunned. I took ipod footage of it. But, you can't see anything because it's too far away. o, you just see the rier and hear me mumbling on about how I can't believe this is happening. So, that's where the whole, "trip of a lifetime" thing comes from. If I had stopped to tkae a pee or tie my shoe, I never would have seen that. The timing was just too perfect.
Backpacking alone affords us the quiet to see things we might not have. But, having seen that, I'm friggin scared. There was no time to use a firearm if you had one. And, that cat was HUGE! You would not stand a chance against it.
Outstanding trip in a truly unique National Park. And, for those in the Sacramento area, this is only a half hour longer to get to than the sierra spots along I-80 that you can still hear trains and see headlights. I'll be back.