Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Volcano Alley Adventures - Northern California & Southern Oregon

My plan for the week after the Ultra Beast was to stay in the area to visit some National Parks.  I was going to hit up Lassen Volcanic NP, which seemed like a mini Yosemite, in that it had geothermal features, and Lava Beds NM, which sounded super unique, because you could go caving in lava tubes on your own (without guided tours, like Mammoth Caves has).  I packed a helmet specifically for this, and I already had gloves and flashlights from the race.  Lassen’s main parkway was closed temporarily, because of probably the same snow system that hit Tahoe.  So I headed straight to Lava Beds.   

I started with the Mushpot cave, which was an introductory one that was lighted, with signs to teach out about lava tubes.  Then, I jumped in to the hardest level of caves – Labyrinth, Thunderbrook, and Lava Brook, which are all actually connected, through some tight passageways.  There are different kinds of ground surfaces – “ropey” which is smooth but ridged, “cauliflower” which is super sharp and jutting in clumps everywhere, and some third kind which is like “cauliflower” but is broken and in separate rocks, rather than tall lumps still connected to the ground.   Cauliflower was a pain, especially when you only had maybe 2.5 feet of space and had to crawl on such an unforgiving surface.  I’ll never look at cauliflower the same way again.  It’s hard to remember that these are not man-made caves, and that nature naturally made some passages way shorter than others, so you have to judge whether or not you want to go through some narrow parts, not knowing what was beyond that.  I was careful.  For once, it’s a good thing to be short and small.  

(Low ceiling + Cauliflower)
I did car-camping.  Before the sun set, I went a mile down the Three Sisters Trail, where I saw deer and a jack rabbit.   


The next day, I explored more caves.  Skull Cave, which has a floor at the very bottom of it that’s permanently made of ice (so it was much colder than the caves that I had visited the previous day, which were actually quite warm).  Then, I did another mile-long Symbol Bridge trail to get to Symbol Bridge cave, where there were well-preserved pictographs.  It was so cool to just sit and stare at the cave wall, just as the Native Americans who first drew the petroglyphs did so many years ago.  You get to try to interpret what the symbols might’ve meant.  A cave with light coming in?  Paths?  Person?  There was a second one, too, but the petroglyphs there weren’t as well-preserved.  

After that, I did some caves along the cave loop drive.  Sunshine, Chocolate, Golden Dome.  When I was in Golden Dome, I think more self-preservation instincts kicked in, or maybe I was getting more tired of caving.  There were certainly more opportunities to get lost, I think, so I was more conservative on this day.  Car camped again.
Lassen was still closed, so I headed up to Crater Lake NP in Oregon.  It was taking me farther from Reno, but it seemed like the obvious choice.  The weather forecast seemed to suggest that it would be cloudy, but when I got there, it was snowing hard.  I waited in the parking lot until the Visitor Center opened.  I learned about the lake through the video.  There was a volcano that erupted, in recent enough history so that Native Americans’ stories remember when it happened.  Snowfalls since then filled up and melted the crater so that a lake formed.  The snow was projected to stay all day, but there was a slim chance that there would be a break in the snow, allowing a view of the lake.  

A ranger talk (my dad loves ranger-led talks/hikes) was to take place at the Lodge shortly, so I drove up there.  He talked about the history of the lake again, and I hung out in the lodge as the snow continued to pile up on the furniture.  I walked around the lodge a bit.  It was going to be sad to have come all the way up to Oregon and Crater Lake NP and not see the lake.  There was no sign of the snow letting up, though, and I didn’t want to risk having to drive in really bad weather in the expensive 2017 rental car, so I started heading back.   

On the way down, the snow let up some, so I stopped at Godfrey Glen Trail, a 1-mi easy trail.  At least I’d be able to say that I did something at the park (aside from seeing the lodge and the ranger talk).  It was snowing, and the trail was sloshy in many places, but it was pretty going through the forest in the snow, and the trail took us on the borders of what I’ll call a canyon, where “pinnacles” where stuff from the ground had spewed up had formed.  That was cool.  The view of the canyon was pretty good, which gave me hope that perhaps things were clearing up.  I decided to turn back and go into the park again.   

As I went into higher elevations, though, I realized that the snow and visibility was probably very elevation- and terrain-dependent.  At one point on the East Rim Drive (the West Rim was already partially closed for the season for renovation or something, and the East Rim would only be open for a couple more weeks), it was getting closer to whiteout conditions.  My hope was to see “Phantom Ship”, a rocky island (other than the much larger Wizard Island) that juts out from the lake and looks like… a Phantom ship like the ghost ship from Pirates of the Caribbean.  There didn’t seem to be any unplowed parking at a trail that led to views of the phantom ship, but farther up the road, there was a drive-up viewpoint, so that was my last chance.  Visibility didn’t look that good.  At some points, you could see maybe a couple hundred meters at the trees ahead.  But I had seen nada at the lodge – just whiteness.  And at the lake, you’d be looking far, and looking down.   

I got to the parking area, and to my surprise, you could see the Phantom Ship, and a side of Crater Lake!  Hurray!  I got to see the lake!  I took some pictures, and a little bit before I was going to leave, a young couple from Texas drove up.  We took pictures for each other, and suddenly, the fog cleared up significantly for about a minute or two, and we could see the far end of the crater, and the Phantom Ship became super clear.  It was magical.  It didn’t last for long, and soon, the ship was swimming through cloud again – still visible, but not crystal clear anymore.  

On my drive back, I saw two cars stopped on the other side of the road…. They had had a head-on crash.  Everyone was ok, the cars weren’t too bad off, and police arrived shortly thereafter, but I knew I was lucky to have stayed safe on my trip thus far.  After two nights of car camping, I splurged on a hotel to get a shower.  There was a nice hotwire deal, and I got to stay at the Running Y Ranch Resort.  It’s known for its Arnold Palmer golf course, and it seems to have a lot of bird-watching aficionados or something, based on the décor and the names of their various facilities.  It was nice.  As I showered in their paraben- and sulfate-free Mossy Oak scented decadent shampoo, I felt like I never wanted to be dirty again, haha.  My left shoulder was feeling the stress of having been slept on on a hard surface for two nights in a row, too, so it was good to have a normal bed.  I ate and enjoyed TV.  The next morning, it looked like Lassen Volcano NP’s drive had opened back up, so my plan was to go there for a day and a half.  Since I had paid to stay at the resort and paid an 8% resort fee, I decided to at least check out their fitness center.  If it was anything like their lodge and their furnishings, it would be something to see.  I figured that I’d go there and fill up my water containers and stretch.  The facilities weren’t as special as I was expecting.  They have a good selection of equipment, stuffed in a large-ish room.  I was going to just head back, but I saw spinner bikes with monitors and steerable handles where you could imagine that you were on various virtual courses, racing against others.  Had to try that.  I think I actually did try it, about 6 years ago, at a  1-week gym trial.  But it was fun to try it again.  I got in 13.5 miles in 66 minutes.  It did mean that I was going to get another shower before leaving, which was good.  

On my way to Lassen, I came across a surprise – the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  It turns out that it was a historic site of Japanese Internment camps.  They restored an old barracks, and they still have one of the sites blocked off.  It’s a part of US history that you don’t hear much about.  Not a proud moment in our nation’s history, but it’s a humbling one that we learn from.  And after visiting Japan earlier this year and experiencing the culture and grace of its people, reading about what happened was even more striking and sad.    
Made it to Lassen.  Got my fourth National Park passport stamp of the trip.  They had a hiking challenge, that encouraged you to see a variety of aspects of the park.  I started with Devastated Area interpretive trail, which was a mile-long groomed trail that had signs at various points explaining how the volcano completely wiped out almost all of the trees on one side of the volcano.  When I think of volcanoes on the main land in the USA (non-Hawaii), I think of extinct or dormant ones, so it’s amazing to imagine that as recently as 1915, this thing was actively exploding.  Next, I hiked to Paradise Meadows, 2.8 miles total.  When I thought “Meadows”, I thought it would be a flat hike, but you actually went up 700ft (a lot for me).  I wasn’t even sure what a Meadow was… I thought it might be a break in the trees, but I’ve only knowingly seen tiny ones.  The one here was big, and had streams flowing through it.  It was warm hiking up there, but the water from snowmelt was cold.

You had to get 3, 5, or 7 hikes in to complete the challenge.  The sun was going to set soon, but I decided to go for Bumpass Hell, which was the largest and most dynamic geological area in the park.  I ran whatever parts of the trail I could, to keep good time.  I came across some groups returning from their visit.  These trails at this park are short – 1.4 miles one way, 1.5 miles one way, but they feel much longer when you’re on it.  Maybe because of the climbing, or something.  Anyway, you make a turn, and suddenly, you see a big valley that’s smouldering with mudpots and steam. 

The guy who discovered it, someone by the last name of Bumpass, actually lost his leg after he fell through thin ground and into boiling mud.  Scary.  The trail went down into the valley, where there were boardwalks to show you different features.  No geysers, but they have mudpots and steam vents.  Strong smell of sulfur.  You knew you were getting closer on the trail when you started smelling sulfur.  I started back, again, running when I could.  As I reached the parking lot, there were great views of the sunset.  It was really pretty.  

Car camped again.  I discovered that the driver’s seat could go down quite a ways, so I could sleep with legs stretched out, for once.  No pressure on my left shoulder, too.  It was a  bit harder on your lower back, but still better than the first two nights in the back seat.  

(Mt. Shasta - a California 14er)

The next morning, my mission was to go up Lassen Volcano.  It would be about 2K feet of climbing, and 5 miles in total.  It was the highest peak in the park.  It was cool going up.  There was snow on some parts of the trail.  Most of the time, the sides still had dirt, so you still had good footing, although it was more difficult going downhill later on.  At the top, the trail got really steep, but you got great views of Mount Shasta, a distant 14er that can be climbed (with ice axes and crampons).  I found the benchmark and admired the views from the summit at about 10.5 thousand feet, before starting back down.  Many more people were coming up as I went down.  Going down, the name of the game was making it down before the bathroom situation became critical.  Barely made it.  Did the hike in about 4 hours.

After that, I did King’s Creek trail.  It went through some scenic parts.  I like the trees out here, and the creek, and the views and the rocks.  This waterfall has nothing on ones I’ve seen in North Carolina, though.   Still a good hike.  After this, I went to the southern Visitor Center, where I got my trail challenge bandana, and started going back to Reno.  In Reno, I killed time by doing some shopping.  It’s been a good trip.  Saw another chunk of the country.  If my dad didn’t already have other plans, he would’ve liked it, too.

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