Lassen and Truckee (Oct 18th)

I packed up and left early. I had slept well. Perhaps a bit too warm, but better too warm than too cold. The nine miles of dirt were a great way to get started on the day. Between dodging a few trucks, I practiced standing until I reached pavement.

I was surprisingly close to Lassen National Park! As I headed towards it, the morning air was cool, but the road was interesting and twisty. I spied a doe loitering on the side of the road, blending in quite well with the dappled shadows. Yikes! Slow down…

I passed the checkpoint, digging out my annual pass card, and consulted a map once inside. It’s a shame I couldn’t spend a bit more time, with names like Boiling Springs Lake, it seemed that there were a number of geothermal hotspots to explore here. My friends were expecting me north of Bishop though, so I pressed on.

Some nice views of Mt. Lassen. Most of the trees were coniferous, but there were just enough leaves changing color to spice things up.

The road didn’t stop being fun and twisty once inside the park! The trees shrunk, and the views over the valley below were amazing.

Curves and switchbacks, the road continued to climb up into the mountains, eventually hitting over 8,000 feet. I had no problems with the bike due to altitude. I think it got up to 9k further on, but this is where I took the photo.

Around a few more bends, some of the trees gave way to pastel dirt and rocks.

Helen Lake was beautiful. Clear, deep blue water. If it had been warmer, I’d be tempted to go for a swim, but I’m sure that the water is ice cold!

Not far away, I stopped at the parking area for Bumpass Hell. I had read that this little three-mile round trip hike was quite worth it, as there was a popular geothermal area at the end. As I cable locked all of my riding gear to the bike, a couple piled out of their rented RV and we chatted a bit about the natural beauty of the place. The guy got a grin and indicated his wife, “We’ve got a passion for Lassen!” I managed to avoid a groan.

The informational signs around this area had a lot of really great quotes. I love reading about the history of places I visit. It gives them a bit more depth.

“We took up the line of march with Mr. K. V. Bumpass as a guide, an old and experienced mountaineer, whose services we had secured to conduct us to these infernal regions. On turning the ridge, all the wonders of hell were suddenly before us.”

“Our guide [Mr. K. V. Bumpass], after cautioning us to be careful where we stepped, that the surface was treacherous, suddenly concluded with Virgil that the “descent to hell was easy” for stepping upon a slight inequality in the ground he broke through the crust and plunged his leg into the boiling mud beneath, which clinging to his limb burned him severely. If our guide had been a profane man I think he would have cursed a little; as it was, I think his silence was owing to his inability to do the subject justice…” – Editor, Red Bluff Independent, 1865

Unfortunately, Mr. Bumpass lost his leg to that 240-degree mudpot. It shed some new light on all of the “Stay on the trail!” warnings. Apparently, some people fail to learn from the mistakes of others, and a handful of people are severely burned each year as a result.

The hike was quite pleasant, it was good to stretch my legs and get out of my riding boots for a while. I was able to get a nice view of the lake and the road together. Sometimes it can be difficult to capture the essence of a place without a bird’s eye view.

The hiking trail was rocky, and my ankle was having some difficulty at certain angles, due to having twisted it a few days prior at the cave.

I quickly learned how best to place my foot to avoid twisting it further, but the ache would be a constant companion for the rest of my hike. Undaunted, I pressed on, enjoying the crisp mountain air and the amazing vistas the high vantage point afforded me. I wish I were a better photographer, sadly I don’t think I really do this area justice.

Eventually the trail began descending. The rocky trail gave way to cracked dirt, and eventually I did see “all the wonders of hell” through a gap in the trees. Neat!

It was another half a mile or so to get down into the volcanic area. Occasionally I’d get a whiff of the rotten egg stench of sulphur when the wind was right. I climbed a little hill and sat on a rock, taking a long drink of water and enjoying the bubbling, steaming activity around me. The panorama is worth a closer look.

Volcanic areas always seem otherworldly to me. Crystal blue, bright yellow, you don’t often see these shocking colors in a normal landscape. It would be interesting to go back in time, to a period where volcanic activity was more common…

(For scale, notice the boardwalk in that second pic. These pools were pretty big!)

This is the “Big Boiler”, and the sign informed me that it is the hottest fumarole within a non-active volcano in the world. It can get up to 322F! It’s also getting larger over time, as the volcanic gasses eat away at the surrounding clay.

Even knowing that most of these pools will kill you, I still had an urge to take a dip in some of them. This one didn’t look too deadly…

I thought about the people who built the boardwalk, especially in the context of Bumpass’ leg and the brittle ground. Must be a risky job! Maybe they had some special safety gear?

The hike back to the bike was, happily, mostly downhill. I enjoyed the way that the trees tenaciously clung to life on the side of the mountain.

Some of them seemed to be held up by not much more than rocks!

Eventually I neared the parking area. It was fun to play “spot the bike”. I’d spent way longer than I intended to, exploring this area, but I’m glad that I took the time and didn’t rush it. I would not have enjoyed myself nearly as much if I were in a hurry to see everything before it got dark on the previous day.

I returned to the bike and geared up. I visited another nearby volcanic feature called the Sulfur Works, but even with the superior name, after Bumpass it failed to impress me. On the side of the highway there was a (relatively) small mudpot which engulfed me in a wet cloud of stinky steam. Glad I stopped to take a look, but the first one was much better!

I enjoyed the highway coming out of the park and aimed myself toward Truckee. I didn’t stop to take too many photos, because I needed to eat up the miles. I discovered that I’d gotten a bit of a sunburn at Lassen, apparently I forget how quickly I burn at altitude. Whoops!

It was getting late, and I hit Truckee around dusk. I parked the bike and wandered around a bit.

I grew up in Truckee – well, we moved there when I was 8 and left when I was 10, but many of my childhood memories were from this place. It was interesting to see how it had changed.

It seemed like a lot of the knick knack shops I remembered from my youth had given way to trendy upscale restaurants and fancier, more expensive, kitchy shops. The town was trying to rebrand itself as a tourist destination for the middle and upper class, to shake off its small-town nature. I’m not sure how I felt about that.

For example, there were a lot of people dressed in period clothing wandering around the town. I discovered that this was for an adults-only walking tour of “haunted Truckee” but I didn’t really want to spend $30 for the experience, content to just observe from afar. I later asked my parents if there had ever been something like that when we had lived there, and they were as dumbfounded as I was. Times change, I guess, especially in this economy, and at $30 a ticket, 20 people a group and multiple groups, somebody was raking in the cash.

I ate dinner in town, and found internet, where I discovered that there was a free campsite listed a few miles back the way I came. Score! I headed off into the night. Down a dirt road, I discovered that the ranger station was closed for the season, so they had closed the road, which led to the campsite too. I had to go the long way around to get to the free camping. Typical.

I took a wrong turn and ended up going up a different dirt road, which was both steep and very rocky. More than once I saw a large obstacle and hit the throttle… knowing I would crash if I went too slow. It felt very crazy and out of control. I wanted to turn around but the road just kept going uphill, so I stopped in the road to consider my options.

I tried to gas it, but the rear wheel just flung rocks around. Well, I guess that’s the end of uphill then. I gingerly got off and s-l-o-w-l-y backed the bike downhill. It slid downhill at times, even with the front brakes applied. There was a lot of cursing.

Somehow I managed to get the bike turned around and pointed downhill without dropping it. I crept downhill slowly, and was grateful for the fact that it was easier to pick my line as I could see a bit further. I was a bit shaken but proud that it didn’t end badly.

I found the correct turn off. This road was tough in spots due to riding at night (why do I always end up doing this crap at night?!) and some rocks/potholes but I made it to the camp. I laughed at the “passenger vehicles not recommended” symbol on the brief little quarter-mile down to the campsites. No, really? What have I been riding on?

I picked the first campsite I ran across, having had my fill of nighttime road battles.

The night was cold. I was at over seven thousand feet in elevation, and Truckee had recently reported temperatures in the low 30s. The tarp kept slipping off, and I woke up frequently. I ended up adding another layer of socks and doubling up on jackets, managing to find unconsciousness at last.


  1. Dante said,

    December 3, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Wish I was half as tough, mentally, as you are.

    • Feyala said,

      December 3, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      My secret is that I am insanely stubborn. This frequently overrides my common sense (and fear), but I don’t really consider it bravery!

  2. Amethyst said,

    October 14, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    i love it. i did the same hike..FOR A SHCOOL FEILD TRIP! this feels like im reading your personal life.

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