I have always refused to get anywhere in an area of 50 miles or closer to a volcano. And so we climbed one that day.
Feeling fresh after a night in the soft bed, we happily shove everything back to our car, have some oatmeal for breakfast, thank the great personnel at the hostel and get on our way again.
Most of our way leads through Nevada again – and through Reno! But no, we don’t stop there to lose all of our money and follow the road to the beautiful middle of nowhere in Lassen.
“Continue straight for 121.5 miles,” says the GPS on my phone and so Ella puts some music she brought on the radio and starts to tell me her university stories. And as we are driving through the winding road and valleys and hills and remote areas without any sign of settlement that take longer and longer to cross before we see few houses here and few there, I start feeling wild again, eager to be out there as soon as possible.
We stop in the very last town or any kind of settlement, Susanville (making jokes about Susan the fish that won’t probably mean anything to you), before heading to the mentioned middle of nowhere. Buying our lunch at Taco Bell (because it’s cheap) and some coffee in Starbucks, we say goodbye to these perks of our civilization.
The last 6-mile stretch of our way that follows a beautiful 50-miles long smooth road is a hell. With my old car that doesn’t really deal with all the oscillation caused by driving on rocks very well, we feel like it could fall apart any second. I can’t really see where I am driving as my vision is shaky and Ella just holds onto the handle on the door and it seems like she is about to get off the car together with the door and wave me and the rest of the car goodbye.
But finally, we make it to Butte Lake campground and meet the most talkative ranger ever. But he is such a nice person that I don’t really mind spending about half an hour just chatting with him even though chatting is really not my cup of tea.
Choosing a campsite and building our tent, we can’t but wonder how quiet it is. There’s only one RV in our sight distance and another tent and a car in other two campsites far away from us. Besides us, one family, one group of friends, one man, and the ranger, there is nobody else here and we can’t get enough of the beautiful foresty smell and quiet. It seems like we could even taste the air.
Filling our bottles with water, we get ready for our hike and find the beginning of the trail.
After only a few steps, we are amazed. On our left, there is a glass field (called “Fantastic Lava Beds”); a three- or four-story-house like high piles of black glass. We can’t believe it’s really glass so we come to it and knock on it, knock the pieces against each other and… it really even sounds like glass!
Just a bit of easy science here, well, not even science; the glass is black because of all the ashes trapped in it, very easily said. I hope I’m not telling you some nonsense and that you find it interesting.
Anyway, trapped between the glass field on our left and the foot of Prospect Peak on our right, we follow the path that is harder and harder to walk on as it becomes basically just smooth black volcano ash. And, man, it is really hard to walk when you have nothing solid to push the tip of your foot against when doing a step! You need about twenty steps to cover the distance you would need only five steps on normally.
We start to catch glimpses of the volcano we are about to get on, Cinder Cone. Now, it is not so inactive volcano as it last erupted in 1666, which is not so long ago from the geological point of view. This year was established by the U. S. Geological Survey during their studies with National Park Service, trying to understand how hazardous the area potentially is. Before this, it was believed that the volcano was formed between 1700 and 1851. So you can see, this volcano is really not the oldest or most stable one. It was a perfect place to overcome my slight fear.
Once you get the full sight of Cinder Cone, you start to wonder if it is even physically possible to make it to the top. The sides of the volcano are so steep that you doubt your ability to anyhow keep yourself on it and not to slide down. But, luckily there’s a path created in the masses of loose rock making the ascent a bit easier.
We take our last breaths before the attempt to reach the top, during which we can’t really breath and the whole breathing business turns into a desperate fight for some air to get in our lungs. We are definitely not in the best form, but not giving up!
The pumice (airy, light, porous rocks created during an eruption) gets loose under our feet and it takes about twenty steps to walk/climb four meters. We take our first bigger break for drinking and washing all the dust from our mouths somewhere in the middle and adore the beautiful views of the Lassen Peak together with the forest land between us and this majestic mountain.
After conquering the elevation of 846 feet in a distance of what seems like… 846 feet but is, in fact, something about half a mile, we make it to the top! Pouring tons of dust and small rocks out of our shoes, we try to catch our breaths just to lose them again – the view is unbelievable!
We can’t really communicate it because the wind is so strong that it takes our words away from our mouths so our voices can’t reach each other even though we are sitting next to each other, but the expressions on our faces speak for themselves.
On the horizon there is Lassen Peak, just casually watching over the forest land that is now surrounding us all around. We can’t see anything else but deep woods and mountains behind them, and in the middle of it all, there is just the two of us on the top of the volcano, hearing nothing but the strong wind. The sky is deep blue with white clouds coming and going, not rushing anywhere. The sun is slowly getting ready to set and soon the sky will turn into its evening rainbow version of self.
After a short break and trying to comprehend the beauty that overwhelms our senses, we make our way into the volcano.
Standing in the middle, surrounded by the steep slopes and feeling the heat on my skin, I can’t but think how easy it would be for Mother Nature to get rid of us without any sign of our existence right now. If the volcano erupts, we are probably just going to evaporate.
I feel the adrenalin flowing through my veins and notice that my hands are a bit shaky. I don’t feel fear or panic like I expected, but respect. And that’s right. We shouldn’t be afraid of Mother Nature, we shouldn’t be afraid to get out there and explore or do something crazy. But we should always feel and act with respect.
Getting up and out from the crater was more difficult than climbing on the outside of the cone. But we make it and walk to the western side of the crater – and another breathtaking view appears in front of us.
On the left, we can see Butte Lake, on the right, Snag Lake mirrors the blue sky. Split by the Fantastic Lava Beds which we cannot understand how it can be so massive, I wonder, maybe it used to be only one lake before the last eruption? Looks like it.
Between the glass field and our volcano, there are colourful dunes of dust and sand and whatever else materials. From grey to black, ochre from yellow to red and brown, they look like from a different world.
I must remind myself once again to breathe.
We spend a couple of hours up there, where it seems like on the top of the world. Just sitting and staring into the vast world at first, and taking some pictures at last when our minds shake off the very beautiful shock they came into.
When it’s time to give our farewell to this powerful place, we start to stroll slowly around the crater to come full circle and get on the way we came here.
It’s much faster to get down, just swing in your knees, make small jumps, and the rolling pumice will catch you as you continue in your controlled fall. May sound dangerous or scary but it’s, in fact, the easiest and least tiring way to get down.
After only a few minutes of descent, we are back at the foot of the volcano and pour unending amounts of ash and dust and small pieces of pumice out from our shoes (even now, after a couple of weeks and several attempts to get rid of it, I still have the ash in my shoes). Washing our mouths once again, we can finally speak and actually hear each other but there’s almost nothing to say as we are still struck by the beauty of this wonder.
The previous Our-Little-Road-Trip article is HERE.
The following one is HERE.
And have a wonderful day! 🙂
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