Tales from the West: Hiking my first Volcano, Mount Lassen

By: Justin Devendorf

I have been fortunate to have been able to visit California several times over the past few years. I always fly into Sacramento and stay with close friends, including my friend Ben. I’ve also been blessed to have been able to experience some of the natural beauty that California has to offer, from seeing a Redwood forest outside of Palo Alto to watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean while in San Francisco and seeing the bluest water in my life hiking Maggie’s Peaks overlooking Lake Tahoe.

But on August 18, 2017, Ben and I climbed Mount Lassen, a 10,000+ foot volcano in Northeastern California. It was an experience I will never forgot, and as I write this post remains the highest mountain I’ve climbed so far.

First, here’s why I chose Mount Lassen. Besides being a volcano, something I had never seen with my own eyes in person, let alone climbed, it has a very interesting history. In the early 1900’s and lasting for several years, Mount Lassen erupted, making it the only other volcano besides Mount St. Helens to erupt in the Contiguous United States during the 20th Century. That history fascinated me. Additionally, Lassen Volcano National Park is the only place in the world where all four types of volcanos (lava dome, shield, composite and cinder dome) are found, as I found out when I entered the Park.

Next, let me just give props where props are do and that would be to Ben for driving all the way to Mount Lassen in his Cube. I say this because Mount Lassen is not around the corner from Sacramento, it is just over 3 hours away. As we drove up the Interstate to Mount Lassen, we caught up and listened to music. The Northern California countryside is absolutely beautiful and there’s a surprising amount of farms in the parts of the state that we drove through to get to the mountain. After hours of driving we stopped at a super market near the closest town to Lassen Volcanic National Park to pick up our food, which mostly consisted of sandwich meat (but not for Ben because he’s a vegetarian) and other sources of protein like almonds, peanuts and some delicious fruit. Not to mention candy. That town is Chester, California. It’s about 20-30 more miles away from Lassen. We stayed in a hotel and got a great night’s sleep and took full advantage of the free continental breakfast the next morning, consisting of hearty bacon, bagels and sub-par eggs if I’m being honest.

Ben and I hiking Mount Lassen (Photo credit: Justin Devendorf)

The next morning we made the trip to Mount Lassen. As we approached the mountain, we noticed several elevation markers that indicated how high we were. For example, when we were still about 15 miles away from the entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park, I noticed a sign that noted we were currently at an elevation of 5,500 feet. I remarked to Ben that at that moment in his car we were higher in elevation than the tallest point in New York State, Mt. Marcy, which stands at 5,344 feet, and we were only increasing in elevation from there.

By the time we reached Lassen Volcanic National Park and made it to the trailhead of Mount Lassen, we were at around 8,500 feet in elevation and we had a breathtaking view on our way to the trailhead. The first thing I noticed was how much snow there was in the middle of August at just the trailhead. I remember seeing snow packed up at least 10-15 feet high on the edge of the parking lot stretching dozens of feet in length. Ben and I checked our gear, which consisted of my trusted Camelbak that I’ve used on every hike up so far in my life, and began our hike up Mount Lassen.

Mount Lassen as viewed several miles away from along a road in Lassen Volcanic National Park. (Photo credit: Justin Devendorf)

My Camelbak consisted of my usual snacks, apples, almonds being my favorite, but with me being in California (and Ben being a vegetarian) I believe Ben was kind enough to make me a veggie wrap for lunch, in addition to the veggie wrap he made for himself. What a nice guy, huh?

I didn’t bring my trekking poles for the hike, mostly because I didn’t want to bring them on the plane to California, but I really don’t think they’re needed, however, it is a short but very steep hike. At just over 2.5 miles each way, the elevation gain is around 2,000 feet. That being said, I counted at least five to seven children under the age of thirteen hiking with their families, so I think it’s reasonable to believe that the mountain can be climbed with little skill required.

Three cider dome volcanos that surround Mount Lassen (Photo credit: Justin Devendorf)
A rock formation spotted along the trail towards the summit of Mount Lassen (Photo credit: Justin Devendorf)

The ascent up Mount Lassen was a mix of snow covered valleys where Ben and I made snow angels to rocky switchbacks that constantly changed direction as we continued our climb up this volcano. I remember thinking to myself how different it was from hiking in the Adirondacks, or anywhere in the Northeast. The ground was very sandy, and volcanic rocks of all sizes could be found anywhere. I took a few (or ten) of the smaller ones and a medium sized one and put them in my Camelbak to take home with me (Remember this for later). Anyways, the climb became tougher as we continued, but the views only improved. We got an amazing view over Lake Helen and miles of the mountains of the Cascade Range.

Overlooking Lake Helen and other volcanos in Lassen Volcanic National Park (Photo Credit: Justin Devendorf)

We reached the summit within about two hours or so of starting our hike. I remarked several times to Ben that as we made our way up Mount Lassen and even at one point on the summit, I could still somewhat see the parking lot for the trailhead, a feat that rarely happens when hiking back East. The summit of Mount Lassen was covered in thick, packed snow. We stopped at the summit that was mostly flat and less rocky than the “true” summit of Mount Lassen, a few hundred feet away and another few hundred feet in elevation gain, to eat lunch before we set out to reach the true summit.

Admiring the snow covered summit of Mount Lassen (Photo credit: Justin Devendorf)

After we finished our lunch and took in the view, which included seeing Mount Shasta, the tallest mountain in Northern California at over 14,000 feet in elevation, faintly over the horizon some sixty-eighty miles away, we reached the true summit of Mount Lassen. We didn’t stay long, but did take a few pictures. It was amazing, I had never been higher on my own two feet (besides being on an airplane) in my entire life. It was a satisfying feeling accomplishing this personal record. We made our way back down the mountain towards our car and then back to Sacramento where I would leave the next day to go back to Albany, but it was not without one final story worth telling.

Admiring the view from the summit of Mount Lassen (Photo credit: Justin Devendorf)

So, remember those volcanic rocks I brought back with me from Mount Lassen? Well, as I’m in Sacramento International Airport going through security, my bag gets flagged for a more thorough search. I knew that there was nothing illegal in my bag, so I figured it was probably something harmless that set off the detectors. Turns out, volcanic rocks set off TSA detectors, and after going through my entire bag and emptying out some of its contents, the TSA agents and I realized it was the rocks to blame. The TSA agent politely put all of the contents of my bag in their proper place and I went on to catch my flight, reminiscing on my journey to Mount Lassen as I headed back East.

A TSA agent searching my bag (Photo credit: Justin Devendorf)

Trip Recap

Lessons Learned:

While one does not need to travel across the country to hike, trying something new, such as hiking a volcano, is worth the experience. Take as many pictures as you can, the natural beauty of the Western United States is spectacular you won’t want to forgot a moment!

Book Recommendation:

Favorite Gear Used:

Gear They Wished They Brought:

  • I brought everything I needed.

Favorite Meal or Snack:

  • Veggie wrap

Maps, Routes and GPS Information

Route Statistics: 2.32 mi, 2,156′ elevation

Caltopo Map: https://caltopo.com/m/ET29

1 thought on “Tales from the West: Hiking my first Volcano, Mount Lassen”

  1. Pingback: Tales from the West II: The Breathtaking Views of Lake Tahoe - Outside Chronicles

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