Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Backpacking Lassen, Summit Lake to Cinder Cone via Twin Lakes

I've had backpacking on the mind for a couple years now, I purchased a pack two years ago and have been upgrading gear to backpacking weight steadily since then. Backpacking trips are tough to motivate people for though and it took 4 years but I finally wore Beylah down until she consented to go backpacking with me in the Mt. Lassen backcountry over the Labor Day weekend. The weather was perfect, I thought I had picked out a very easy trail, and there was plenty for us to do and see.

Day 1 - Summit Lake to Upper Twin Lake
Mt. Lassen from Summit Lake

We rolled out of bed at about 8:00am and after a bagel run and a trip to the supermarket to pick up some last minute supplies we hit the road at about 9:30am, just a bit behind schedule. It took about 5 hours to reach the entrance where we paid a $10 entry fee. A very nice ranger took our money and told us it was about another 16 miles to the Summit Lake trailhead. At this point I misinterpreted her directions and didn't pick up a wilderness pass at the headquarters, which would cost us at least an hour as we had to drive across the entire park to the Loomis Museum entrance and pick up a little yellow piece of paper to self-register.

At almost 5:00 we finally hit the trail which sets out to Summit Lake and the campgrounds then quickly launches up over about a 400ft ridge and then down to Echo Lake. The trees were fairly thin and Lassen Peak was visible for the first two miles until we made a quick descent to Echo Lake.

Stumps and debris along the shore of Echo Lake.

There is no camping allowed by Echo Lake because it's only 2 miles from the trailhead and quite busy anyway. Several false trails lead away from Echo Lake making it also the most confusing part of the trail (more about that later). The temperature was also dropping as clouds started rolling and we still had a few miles to the Twin Lakes.

At this point the trail more or less follows a small ravine to the Twin Lakes passing two smaller unnamed ponds. We both remarked the landmarks along this hike were pretty much constant. Then after a rapid descent into a small basin where we found Upper Twin Lake right before sunset. We scouted both lakes quickly before settling on a site right on the south shore of Upper Twin Lake. Probably in violation of the 100ft rule from the waters edge, but it was late and we were tired.

Upper Twin Lake from our camp on the south shore

We split two packages of Ramen, Liptons Spanish Rice, and a cup of tea for dinner then fell asleep no later than 9:00 and just after dinner.

Day 2 - Upper Twin Lake to Cinder Cone and back
The Moon above Upper Twin Lake at sunrise.

I woke up just before Sunrise and stumbled out of the tent to make myself some Coffee and warm up. Beylah was less than thrilled about the chilly air (probably just above 30) and elected to stay in bed while I prepped breakfast. I took a short walk up the lakes edge and back while I boiled water for coffee. I tried to lure Beylah out of her sleeping bag with hot coffee and tea to no avail; "please, just give me five more minutes!". Right as I walked away though I heard a twig break behind me, "oohh, look whos up I teased" only to find the tent flap still closed and nobody nearby. Instead about 9 feet away was a beautiful deer grazing on the grass by the lake right next to the tent.

The deer pausing from its graze near the bank of Upper Twin Lake.

We would be visited by a Red Tail Fox right after the deer left who was sniffing around our empty packs as we feasted on a delicious backpacking meal ofBananas and Granola in milk. This meal was probably the favorite of the trip as both of us mmmhm'ed at each bite.

Me savoring the breakfast and the view across Upper Twin Lake.

We set off at about 9:00am when we ran into another group from Davis camping about half way down the lake, they had kids and were still making breakfast as we walked through their camp. They also graciousley agreed to part with a couple bandages and some neosporin for our first aid kit. They told us that the Cinder Cone would be well worth the hike and wished us luck as we set off.

Logs on Lower Twin Lake in the morning light.

It took us under a minute to reach the lower lake which was almost like glass in the early morning. Lower Twin was probably the nicer of the two lakes but is circled with trails and leaves very few spots for camping. We did however pass a few campsites as we passed along the north side of the lake. This route also let us walk about 500 feet of the Pacific Crest Trail which runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian Border. After the lake we climbed up a small hill to Rainbow Lake which would have been a very nice place to set up camp the night before if we had not had the mishap with the wilderness permits. Around here we also noticed the first signs of a recent fire which had swept through the area.

The grassy bank of Rainbow Lake.

We stopped for about 20 minutes here to pump water for the hike to the Cinder Cone and apply sun screen. After shifting some things around in our packs we headed up the trail. Very quickly signs of the fire were everywhere and it smelled like ash. The trail, already very sandy was now especially difficult to trudge through with a fine layer of ash over everything. We would in fact see a small flare up on the way back from the Cinder Cone later in the day. The fire also left us especially exposed to the heat of the day. Eventually though the burnt trees gave way to just dead trees along the edge of the Painted Dunes. At this point we could now also see the Cinder Cone which looked far smaller in the photographs I had seen.

Fire Devestated Forest near the Painted Dunes.

Me approaching the Cinder Cone along the trail from Rainbow Lake.

By the time we reached the dunes it was tough walking, each step was becoming a labor with heavy packs and shifting basaltic sands. Unable to deal with the weight of the packs and the sand we shed our packs near the base of a rocky outcropping.
The Cinder Cone and Fantastic Lava Beds

The trail was hardly easy even without packs. We followed a sign pointing to the summit of the 700ft cone which a couple of day hikers had told us should take about 30 minutes of steep climbing. Absolutley nothing could have prepared us though from the scramble up though which was 45 minutes of taking two steps up and sliding one back and constantly trying to hold on and trudge up. We clearly took the more difficult way up on top of things. That said we were treated to wonderful views the whole way up.

Lassen Peak from the Painted Dunes near Cinder Cone

Looking up to the top of the Cinder Cone from the trail.

Beylah climbing up the last few feet to the top of the Cinder Cone.

The Summit was worth the effort as numerous people had promised us. There were commanding views of the entire area east of Lassen Peak, Snag Lake, Butte Lake, the Painted Dunes, the Fantastic Lava Beds, as well as Lassen Peak itself were all around us. The crater in the center of the Cinder Cone was also fascinating to peer in to. We walked once around the top of the Cinder Cone patting ourselves on the back for our achivement then began down.

The Painted Dunes from the Summit of Cinder Cone

Without question the way down from the cinder cone was the highlight of the trip. We took the less senic, less steep, sandy way down, the way most people had chosen to go up. Somehow there was a large break between groups going up. Near the top I tried to encourage those heading up as others had done for me as I neared the summit. Then when I saw the large break, I started running down the trail weaving back and forth to slow myself down using the bottom of my boot like the edge of a ski to dig in to the basaltic sand. In this manner I made it to the bottom in no more than 2 minutes of pure fun. beylah did the same, and we both agreed that we had made the right decision even if we didnt know it when we took the more difficult trail up.
Finally we left the Cinder Cone area and hiked back across the painted dunes to our packs with our spirits sky high. Unfortunatley our spirits sank under the weight of our packs and in the withering mid-day heat. Walking back across our tracks was no exciting adventure either. We couldnt even stop to have lunch in the forest because the ground was all ash and the logs all charcoal which covered us in black every time we tried to sit down. We finally reached Rainbow Lake exhausted and snappy. I was depleated from hiking the 9 miles out and back with heavy packs on. We took a break to have some tuna packets which helped things, but really we just needed to make camp.
I tried briefly to encourage us to take a loop back and head up to the cluster lakes but Beylah was up for no new adventures at this time. We returned to Upper Twin Lake at 4:00pm realizing we probably could have just left our packs at the lake. Oh well...

We found a fantastic campsite this time though, right on a small outcropping that made a platform for a kitchen right above the lake, with a nice log to sit on and watch the sunset. I took a dip in the water to wash off the dust and dirt from the day.

Upper Twin Lake from inside our tent.

Two male skinny dippers were also out in the lake about 400ft from where I was. They seemed embarassed about my arrival (though from the looks of it, they didn't have much to be embarassed about) and left just as I arrived. After I took a dunk in the water and washed off I dryed myself off with the previous days t-shirt and changed outside the tent right as two asian women walked in to our camp. Beylah laughed at me while she hung up my wet clothes and I scambled to throw on some long-johns before the ladies got too close. It was too late though, they had seen everything. To make matters worse they stopped and talked to me for a little bit, which I'm sure was just an effort to be friendly (they didn't mention the indecent exposure, but I had heard them giggle!) but I wanted nothing to do with them. Of course we would run into them the next morning, then twice more on the trail...In my haste to exit the water I had also cut my toes and leg on some sharp Igneous rocks at the bottom of the lake. Literally they had added insult to injury...

Water Boils for two backpacking meals near our camp on Upper Twin Lake

For dinner we had three backpacking meals, Pasta Primavera, Mashed Potatoes, and Green Beans. The potatoes were quite bland, but the green beans and pasta were welcome treats. A family of deer walked through our camp as we ate. After dinner we had a two cups of tea and then retired at 8:30.
Just before I fell asleep I awoke to a twig snapping outside the tent and loud sniffing, my heart rate accelerated and I shot out of my sleeping bag. I clapped my hands twice and yelled "GO AWAY!". Whatever it was didn't move or make another sound as I put on my headlamp and went to go check. With no boots on I leaned out of the tent and swung the light around and caught two beady eyes reflecting light back at me. "ohnoitsaBEARanditsgoingtoeatus!" I thought for a split second until my eyes had adjusted to see the full form of the creature, which was another deer literally right outside our tent. I probably could have reached out and touched the deer if I so desired, but I didn't. I did however try to take a photo, which scared it away. I went back to sleep.

Day 3 - Upper Twin Lake to Summit Lake to Home
Fog rising off Upper Twin Lake

That night was freezing, and with the deer scare Beylah and I slept very poorly. I woke up just after sunrise to find fog rising off the lake as the sun crept up. Beylah and I both got up pretty quickly and made oatmeal for breakfast throwing in the last of our dried cranberries for good measure. While beylah washed her face and put her contacts in I took a quick walk over to the lower lake to take some photos.

Morning Light on Fog at Lower Twin Lake

We broke camp before anyone else on the lake and departed for home at 9am. The lake was calmer than it had been the entire trip and you could see through the green-blue water to see the woody debris on its sandy bottom.

Our camp and Bags just before packing up to leave.

Last view of Upper Twin Lake before the trail home.

The weather was pleasant on the way back and despite more uphill than we remembered it was quite nice. We got lost again at Echo lake but both decided the lake was beautiful enough to make our detour worth it. 2 miles later we returned to Summit Lake, exhausted from the trip. We found three friends who had left the same time as us and reached the top of the Cinder Cone the same time as us, down by the lake. We briedly acknowledged the conicidence and then trekked off to the cars. We could hear kids playing down by the RV's parked in the campground and dogs barking. We could see cars crossing the main road on the other side of Summit Lake. Eventually we found our own little car sitting in the parking lot just where we left it. 6 hours later we were back in the Bay Area!

Check No. 1 and No. 5 off the list, we made it!
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1 comment:

  1. You are just SUCH a fantastic photographer. It sounds like your trip was a blast! :) Sean and I are going next week and I can't wait to get out of here!

    I have a kayak if you want to borrow it to cross off number 6.

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