100 Years of Lassen and a hike to Crags Lake

Today, August 9th, marks the 100 year anniversary for Lassen National Park, which is, by far, my favourite national park.

I’ve climbed Cindercone, swam in Manzanita Lake, backpacked to King’s Creek Falls, and had a picnic lunch in Paradise Meadows.

Last weekend, when Kiva and I explored Subway Caves and then swam across Summit Lake, on the map I noticed a trail to a lake and I realized I never had seen before. Judging by the map, somewhere by the base of Chaos Crags was a small mountain lake called Crags Lake. The Trail began near the visitor center and even though I must have driven by it many times, I’ve never noticed the trailhead.

I had the day off work, and decided to explore. I filled up my little CRV named Sheila, checked the tires and oil, and headed up to Lassen. I learned that since it is the anniversary, there was free admission! Apparently, there was a large celebration the past weekend, but the park seemed  no busier than usual on this day.  I wished the Centennial had been better advertised and the park could have been busier as both Michelle Obama and I believe that outdoor exercise is good for a youth’s well-being, both physical and psychological. Still, free admission was nice.
After stopping by the Loomis Visitor Center for information (Benjamin Loomis, as you’ll recall, was the famous photographer who helped bring the Park into the national spotlight and the Visitor Center also serves a museum of his artifacts), I headed to the trailhead.

Lassen Eruption, 1915. Photo taken by BF Loomis. Image courtesy of: California Historical Society

The trailhead is an innocuous wide spot on the road to the Manzanita Lake campground. I left my car and took a small backpack with lunch, water, a notebook, and a swimsuit just in case. On the ride up, I realized that I made one of the most rookie photographer mistakes ever: I forgot my memory card at home. I was downloading photos from my astrophotography excursion (not much luck, but it’s a learning experience right?) the previous night, and in my haste, left the memory card in my laptop.

The hike is roughly 2 miles long, has a roughly 900 feet elevation gain, and I would rate it as easy-moderate. In most of the hike I was sheltered by the tall pines around me, although it was evident that in the past a fire had killed a lot of the brush. Today, low manzanita covered the ground near the trail, and I passed many fallen or burnt tree trunks. The whole hike up, I only passed one family, and this was right before arriving at the lake.

I guess the first thing I should mention is that by this time of year, the ‘lake’ was really more of a pond. I was underwhelmed at first, if we are being honest. I suppose I assumed that the lake was spring fed, but research after the fact revealed that it is fed by melting snow.

The lake was surrounded by rocks, and offered an incredible view of Chaos Crags. Crags lake was in a small crater, and as I hiked down to the water, it felt chaotic. The lake felt like a fight against time. The water was clear and I debated whether or not I should touch it – I felt like my presence would only help the water line recede. In the end, I put my feet in, and the water felt cool. I noticed an abundance of frogs, in every stage of their life cycle, and as I walked along the edges gray frogs that have adapted to look exactly like stones hopped into the water, and groups of tadpoles swam away from the shore. The lake couldn’t have been more than 20 feet wide and 10 feet across, and the other noticeable noise of nature was the low, buzzing cacophony of the bugs that surrounded the lake. Of course, there were flies and katydids and water striders, but I was surprised to see a number of bees flying low near the edge of the water.  One other thing struck me. On the eastern shore, about 30 feet from the shoreline, stood a tree that baffled me. I’m going to go a little nerdy here, so bear with me.

The whole hike up, I had been surrounded by lumbering connifer trees – from white fir to Jeffrey pine to ponderosa pine. Basically, nearly all the trees on the hike up had needles and dropped pinecones (that were well-received by from what I guessed was a thriving population of chipmunks and squirrels). Near the lake, however, was a deciduous tree! Sporting white bark and having heart shaped green leaves, I investigated and wasn’t sure on the species. That being said, I’m no arborist. After doing some research, I believe it’s some kind of hardy mountain cottonwood. I admired it for it’s ability to survive in these conditions as well as keep it’s individuality and not conform to the predominantly pine surroundings. I gave it a friendly pat, and went to enjoy my lunch.

Adventure accessories

Although there were a number of bugs and frogs (almost… plague-like…), my lunch was a very peaceful one. I love being able to focus on the sound of the rising and falling of the wind, and the fact that I was in a small crater made me feel small and sheltered. The rocky, jagged, and desolate Chaos Crags towered above me, with a lifeless slope leading to the top. I felt bad for disturbing the frogs, as I’m not sure how much longer the lake will be in existence this summer. Although at first I admit I was disappointed in the lake, I was grateful for the quiet. I thought how funny it was that I put expectations on  nature, when in the end I am just a guest there. I admired the lake and its inhabitants, and their tenacity for life. The surface of the water rippled gently with the wind, and I could hear the leaves from the tree I decided was a cottonwood as they gently collided in that papery swoosh that leaves make in the wind.

On the hike back, I imagined what the area would look like in the spring. I could see plants where flowers once grew, and some tried to grow now, in colors such as red and purple that stood as a stark contrast to the gray, light green, and tan color scheme.

I arrived back at my car, drank the cold water from my hydroflask, and decided to call it a day. It was just a short hike for me, and I did stop by the Loomis Center to buy a patch for my backpack (note: I later learned that I will never have a career in sewing), and I headed down the hill to home.

Lassen is, and will always be, my favourite national park. Although I wanted more people to appreciate it, and I have no doubt a good many did this past weekend, I am glad we celebrated in the way I am accustomed – low-key, at a lake, with some beer.

Happy birthday, Lassen. 100 years later, and you’re still looking good. I keep finding new places to go, and can’t wait to explore more. As I took my lunch break, I noticed a few more lakes that I could backpack in to.

Until next time. Never stop exploring.



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