This past week and went out to search for snow. There isn’t much in California right now. So where to go? The snowiest place in California, of course: Lassen National Park. I only had a day, so that meant getting up at 3:30, driving up to Lassen, snowshoeing all day and then driving back.
My goal was to summit Lassen (10,462) if at all possible by way of snowshoe. The 20 mile round trip from the south entrance of park is advertised as a three day trip, so my plan was certainly ambitious but not impossible. I was able to drive to Lassen and get ready to hit the trail by 8 a.m. A bit late for my liking but what are ya gonna do?
My plan was to follow the snow covered road all the way just past Helen Lake and then head to the summit from there. This map on everytrail.com has the general route laid out. There is a short cut known as the Diamond Peak cut-off, which is highly recommended during elevated risks of avalanche danger (it’s outlined in the everytrail.com map linked above). This helpful map outlines avalanche potential across the park. The Shasta avalanche advisory website is a good gauge of the current conditions at Lassen as well.
Since the avy danger was low, I decided to take the road all way to enjoy the beautiful, snowy scenery as much as possible. I had been up here many times before in winter and usually there are 15-20 of snow at the south entrance by this time of year (end of January). This year, there were only three feet the day of my expedition. Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous day with beautiful blue skies.
I was making quick progress and found myself at Helen Lake after just two hours. From there, it’s only about a half mile to the summer time parking lot that marks the beginning of the summit trail. In the winter time, this is just an unusually flat area without trees to the left of the road. Of course, I went right passed it and got some extra miles in that way.
Upon realizing my mistake, I returned and headed up the surprisingly steep slope. This was too much for one of my snowshoes, which outright broke. Damn! I glissaded down to the parking lot and considered my options. I could turn around here and post-hole/snowshoe (one leg each) all the way back down.
Or I could do that later. I decided on seeing how I could get post-holing with just my hiking boots. I slogged up and up and up as the conditions turned increasingly icy. I was planning on snowshoes (with their spikes at the bottom) to give me stability, but just wearing a pair of ole hiking boots, I was slip sliding when I wasn’t knee deep in snow. Eventually the side of the mountain was just a sheet of ice and not manageable without crampons. So, about 500 vertical feet (ca. .5 miles) from the summit, I decided to call it a day. It wasn’t an easy choice, but was necessary to protect my safety. This was the first time I have ever turned around short of a mountain summit.
So, I glissaded down to the summit trail parking lot and then went on the long 9 mile slog back to my car post-holing with one leg and snowshoeing with the other. The whole time I was planning my next trip back…