Sunday, September 20, 2015

Little Belknap Crater

"Take me to Mordor!" So said daughter Anjuli as we were discussing hiking destinations. Apparently, she had been browsing hikes on the Internet and had found some pictures of "Mordor" and wanted me to take her hiking in the stark black rock moonscape. To explain what she meant, she showed me the photos she had come across and I just had to laugh: The pictures were mine, taken on a prior trip to Little Belknap Crater!

Little Belknap Crater just got a little taller
McKenzie Pass is situated between the massive volcanoes of the Three Sisters and much older Mount Washington. All the magma burbling miles below our feet has spawned an underground industry of all kinds of cinder cones, pun intended. It is somewhat ironic that it is not the giant volcanoes of the Three Sisters but instead the seemingly insignificant little cones that have produced the massive rivers of hardened lava in the McKenzie Pass area. The lava flows are basically nature's asphalt blacktop and just like the Walmart parking lot, not much grows through the pavement. Just miles and miles of black jagged rock that explains Anjuli's Mordor reference. That, and she's my daughter, too.

My people
Little Belknap Crater is just a little red pimple in the lava fields, dwarfed by nearby (big) Belknap Crater. The hike to the crater on the Pacific Crest Trail is fairly easy and eminently spectacular, the short 5 mile round trip is perfect for children: so grandchildren Daweson, Issiah, and Coral Rae came along with Anjuli, with me being the biggest kid of all!

Suitably awestruck by Black Crater
Leaving McKenzie Pass behind, the Pacific Crest Trail headed up through two tree islands, created when hot lava surrounded a couple of high points, forever isolating the forest on the high points. Once we left the forest, we were treated to an awesome view consisting of the PCT winding up through miles of rock towards Belknap Crater, colored the same tan hue as the cat vomit on the living room carpet that I pretend not to see so Dollie will have to clean it up. In unison, the kids uttered an awestruck "wow!" and I silently patted myself on the back in self-aggrandizing satisfaction.

Heading towards Belknap Crater
It was somewhat of an uphill slog so it wasn't like the kids scampered carefree up the trail, progress was slow and steady through the incredibly rough lava field. We got to see lava in many forms such as the boot-eating jagged rock created when foamy lava hardened before it could melt down like bubble bath foam in a drained bathtub. Thick rolls and braids, resembling the belly folds of a sumo wrestler, were where currents of thick viscous magma once flowed. Lava tubes were a common sight and the kids were tempted to go exploring the tubes like the little geomonkeys they are.

Little Belknap Crater
After a couple of miles of this and right below Belknap Crater, a trail sign marked the intersection with the Little Belknap Trail, the white wood of the sign visually at odds with all the black rock. Seen from McKenzie Pass, Little Belknap Crater had been barely distinguishable in the lava flows but up close, it didn't look so little any more and it was mostly red colored too. The kids clambered nimbly up the slippery slope, stopping to explore a couple of large lava tubes. They were thrilled to enter one and appear about 30 yards downstream, their heads popping up out of the rock like unsuspecting moles in a Whack-a-Mole game.

View of Little Belknap Crater's lava flow
Little Belknap, as previously mentioned, is a small and insignificant pimple surrounded by large and majestic volcanoes and cinder cones. However, the views are anything but small and insignificant, situated as it was in the middle of all the geologic action. Snow capped North and Middle Sister, the two massive volcanoes dominating the view to the south. To the north was pointy Mount Washington, the peak being the inspiration for Anjuli's earlier Mordor reference. Beyond Mount Washington was the tip of Three Fingered Jack with snowy Mount Jefferson just beyond Jack and his three fingers. And all around were rivers of black rock, permanently frozen in time. Just an awesome panorama and kids, both young and old, enjoyed the view.

North and Middle Sister, on the way back
After a lazy lunch, we headed back the way we came, down through the miles of black and jagged rock. The only difference was that we were gawking at the two Sisters the whole way down, instead of gawking up at Belknap Crater like we did on the incoming leg. I'm glad to report a good time was had by all and no orcs were harmed on our hike to Mordor.

Mordor (actually, it's Mount Washington)
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Always have time for a selfie!

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