Thursday, August 16, 2018

Cluster Lakes Loop

I just love Lassen Volcanic National Park. It has lakes, mountains, a volcano, grassy meadows, and miles and miles of beautiful hiking trails. What's not to like? After visiting the park last year, I returned to Roseburg waving my hands like some wild-eyed zealot extolling the virtues of the One True Park. Apparently, all that fervent proselytizing was to some avail, because eight other hiking disciples and converts joined me for a long weekend of hiking fun at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

So many choices, and all involve lakes!
This year, our first hike was probably the toughest, if only for its 12 mile length. Last summer I had hiked the section of trail that ambled next to beautiful Twin Lakes and a part of the current trek would follow in my footsteps past the Twin Lakes. The route on this day would also incorporate a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (or PCT as we like to call it) and return through a burn zone past a series of scenic little lakes.

Lassen Peak rules
With all the lakes encountered on this hike, it should come as no surprise that we began at Summit Lake. Initially, the path went past a series of trail intersections (I did say Lassen Park was full of trails, didn't I?) before charging briskly uphill through sparse trees and thick mats of low-growing kinnickinnick bushes. The expansive view quickly opened up to massive Lassen Peak, the park's centerpiece, and nearby Reading Peak. 

One of many small, nameless lakes
Fortunately, the climb was short in duration, eventually leveling out atop a scenic bench before dropping down to the lakes. At first, there was a series of small nameless lakes reposing below rock piles formed by the surrounding mountains. Echo Lake was the first encountered lake worthy of a name and at first look, was quite pretty and charming. But given the context of all the other lakes hiked to on this hike, it was actually fairly nondescript by comparison.

Upper Twin Lake
In my opinion the Twin Lakes win the Most Scenic Lake(s) prize. They were the largest of the bunch and Lower Twin Lake had the extra bonus of having Fairfield Peak looming at the end of it while sunlight sparkled on the lake's surface like so many glistening diamonds. Our walking pace slowed up somewhat as most of us had cameras and were using them: the scenery just demanded appreciative photography.

Katchan is overjoyed to see a ranger station

The PCT broke away from the Twin Lakes and we hiked north on a small piece of the long-distance trail. A point of interest was the backcountry ranger station which was closed. A sign there advised that bears are attracted by odors and I thought that was inconvenient, seeing as how we were all going four days without a shower on this outing. Good thing I didn't eat spaghetti the evening before, if you get my smelly meaning and enough said about that.

Lunch at Feather Lake
Once we turned onto the Cluster Lakes Trail, the forest disappeared entirely, replaced by miles and miles of ghostly white snags, the skeletal remains of a forest that had been incinerated in a wildfire about five or six years ago. The day was beautifully sunny yet still cool; the hiking was quite pleasant as we trod up a gentle slope. After several miles, we stopped for lunch at idyllic Feather Lake which had no feathers at all but did have a nice beach and lots of dead trees surrounding it.

The trail did a walk-by of Silver Lake
After a luxurious lunch and laze, we resumed hiking and less than a mile later, we came unto Silver Lake, with a partial view of Lassen Peak. And less than a mile later, we passed by the Cluster Lakes, the blue waters visible behind the white tree trunks. See a trend? Yup, we visited a lot of lakes as we circled through the Lassen Park backcountry. 

Watch out for falling trees
However, the longest stretch of lakeless hiking occurred as we left the Cluster Lakes. I was bringing up the rear, as the day had warmed up and the sun was sucking the energy right out of my legs. A small tree falling about twenty yards behind me got me walking a little bit faster for a mile or two. I caught up to Penny and Peggy and was telling them about the tree and right on cue, we heard the crash of another tree meeting its demise somewhere in the forest.

Big Bear Lake
We had two bear encounters on this hike. That's right, we visited Big Bear and Little Bear Lakes. Little Bear invited a foot soak and wade as we took a break from the increasingly hot work of hiking through a shadeless forest. A long climb awaited us after the lakes, a daunting task when legs were cooked noodle soft by the constant heat.

Little bears at Little Bear Lake
After passing a small nameless lake with some nice backpacking campsites, and after climbing the last hill, we returned to the level bench overlooking Summit Lake. Katchan, as his wont, had left us all to eat his dust as he sped down the trail. He doubled back and met us as we were descending to Summit Lake and he was bearing gifts: a large bottle of Gatorade. It tasted awesome and made all the hiking worth it. All life should be like an ice cold Gatorade after a 12 mile hike.

All in all , another great hike
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. I love Lassen NP! Looks like you had great weather, even if it was a bit warm. And yes ice cold Gatorade is good, but an ice cold post-hike beer is even better! :)