The remarkable hydrothermal features in Lassen Volcanic National Park include roaring fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), thumping mud pots, boiling pools, and steaming ground. Water from rain and snow that falls on the highlands of the park feed the hydrothermal system. Once deep underground, the water is heated by a body of hot or molten rock beneath Lassen Peak. Rising hot water boils to form boiling pools and mud pots. Super-heated steam reaches the surface through fractures in the earth to form fumaroles such as those found at Bumpass Hell and Sulphur Works. These features are related to active volcanism and are indications of the ongoing potential for further eruptions from the Lassen "volcanic center."
In September of 2015, I hiked with two friends from school up to the summit of Mt. Lassen. We passed by several fellow travelers on our ascent. Reaching the top took just under three hours.
As I was the only one in my crew with legitimate hiking gear and experience, I carried the bulk of our supplies, including the tent. The final approach brought significant increases in wind gusts and a drop in temperature. The barren summit itself looked like the surface of Mars. We first unloaded and walked to the marker that designated the highest point on the ancient volcano - the last eruption being in the early 1900s.
We surveyed the area for our would-be campsite. Our final trek to the topmost part left us with little time to set up camp. Our decision for our final resting place -pun intended- was situated between two rocks on the flattest stony ground we could find. We had heard gusts could reach 70 mph at night. My solution to this was to leave the two side chambers on my tent collapsed and place on them and around the edge of the tent to hold it down.
We crawled inside and ate beef jerky and cold beans straight from the can. It was one of those meals that was eminently satisfying, regardless. The night rolled over us just as a very large (and day away from a lunar eclipse) moon dominated the clear air above us. As we didn't want our tent to have a sail in the high winds, we didn't use the tarp. To preserve the tent in these conditions, I placed myself on the inner edge of the tent where the winds were pushing hardest to keep it all in place.
We were awakened by stiff winds that had persisted through the night. My tent showed a few signs of minor straining from the rocks and wind. I loaded my pack as swiftly as I could manage. In tearing down the tent, we nearly lost it down the side of the mountain as one gust nearly took it away once the stakes were out. Our descent was swift and steady. Hungry stomachs drove us on, as did a sense of accomplishment. After all, we had just camped on a volcano.
Winter and Spring are harsh at Lassen Volcanic. When we originally planned our year-long trip to all of the national parks, we did our best to avoid the massive snow packs that limit accessibility to the parks. Sometimes, though, this was unavoidable.
We found out that when the park is covered in snow, it is possible to park overnight at the visitor center and camp in the snow just adjacent to the lot. Since the park is not the quickest to drive to, we decided this was a good option.
We ended up just setting up our small air mattress in the back of our car, but several others were camping on the snow nearby. Use of the visitor center is possible during your stay, including 24-hour access to the vestibule with great indoor restrooms.
During our time in Lassen Volcanic, we learned about the park at the visitor center, hiked as far as we could in the snow along the road, and enjoyed a ranger-led snowshoe tour.
You can read much more about our five days in the park on our blog: Switchback Kids (Lassen Volcanic)