With the 4th of July weekend coming up and looking for one last ski tour of the season, I set my sights south toward the southern Cascades, with Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak being the best options due to snow coverage. Since I’d already skied Shasta’s Hotlum/Bolam route a few weeks prior, I was pushing for Lassen Peak. Surprisingly, I wasn’t able to gin up much interest and was only able to convince my buddy Jonathan, who in turn, convinced his cousin Ossian to join in on the adventure.
Since the 4th fell on a Thursday, the plan was to take off Friday as well and do the trip as a long weekend, so we could combine it with a day climbing at Castle Crags. The morning of the 4th, Jonathan and I met up at his house (in Eugene) and then started the ~6hr drive to Mount Lassen National Park. Since Ossian was coming from Reno, we planned to meet him at the north entrance, near Manzanita Lake. The drive was pretty uneventful and we reached the park around 5pm, with Ossian showing up soon after.
As for the tour, we planned to ski the NE bowl, which can be done a few different ways. One option that was pretty appealing was doing it as a partial shuttle, which would reduce the climbing by half, or 2,000’. Before committing to this plan we wanted to confirm that shuttling was even an option, since the section of road required to do so is closed until they have a chance to plow it for the season. With that, we left Ossian’s car at the entrance and loaded up in mine to do some recon. Driving the main road through the park it became very clear that we weren’t the only ones who had decided to visit. We drove past lots of people who were lining the side of the road and taking selfies in front of snow banks, small lakes, random trees and anything else they considered “nature” compared to their typical urban existence. After confirming that the road was open all the way through the park, we headed back out to find a place to camp for the night. Luckily, we found a nice little spot on the outskirts of the park.
The next morning we got a relatively relaxed start, sipping coffee and taking our time packing up. This time we brought both cars, which meant we had to stop and pay for another entrance fee. Since it was still fairly early (~8:30am), there were far fewer people out, which made the drive a little quicker. Since we’d be finishing the tour at Emigrant Pass, we stopped there first to drop off a car and get changed into our ski gear. From the Emigrant Pass parking lot, we had a good view of Lassen’s NE bowl. The snow appeared to be a little thin and sun cupped, but still looked like it would be worth getting some turns down, especially for this late in the season. Once everyone was ready, we piled into my car and drove to the high point on the south side of the mountain, at an elevation of ~8,500’.
|Lassen's NE bowl, from Emigrant Pass|
As we’d seen in the lower parking lot, there was another group gearing up for a ski tour, which somewhat validated our crazy idea of skiing this late in the season. Apparently they were planning to ski the SE face, which also appeared to have enough snow to get in a decent amount of vertical. With our skis and boots strapped to our packs, we started the hike up to the summit, following the established route. The beginning of the approach followed a narrow boot path up the heavily sun cupped slopes on the lower mountain. Eventually the snow gave way to a wide hiking trail, with occasional signage that provided geologic facts and other tidbits about the surrounding area. The trail was so manicured that it felt like cheating, especially considering that we had already done half the climbing in the car… As we were ascending we saw a few other skiers coming down, who appeared to be enjoying their run. This gave us some hope that conditions might just work out and may be even better on the north side. As we closed in on the top, the trail did get a little looser and somewhat hidden amongst the talus. Just below the summit pitch was a long flat area, with more informational signage and a couple of other groups that were hanging out and enjoying the view.
|Ready to roll out from the upper lot|
|The start of the approach followed a narrow boot path|
|The sun-cupped lower slope|
|More nice terrain in the distance, assuming there was more snow.|
|The highway to the summit|
|Jonathan and Ossian set a health pace up the mountain, which was pretty easy to do on this trail.|
|And plenty of switchbacks|
|The talus on the upper slope|
|The flat-topped ridge below the summit pitch|
|A good view of Shasta, to the north.|
The final push to the summit was the most technical part, but even then it was pretty easy compared to what we have to deal with for most volcano tours. At the top we found some equipment powered by solar panels, which I’m guessing was for seismic monitoring. We also found weather that was pretty optimal, with mild temps and very little wind. We ended up spending about a half hour hanging out and chatting with the other groups that had come up for the view. Before transitioning over for the descent we threw down a quick snack and discussed our plan of attack. Conveniently, the snow reached almost all the way to the top of the mountain, allowing us to drop in about 25’ down from the true summit, although it looked like it would be a pretty steep drop-in.
|A cool volcanic rock on the summit pitch|
|Ossian and Jonathan take in the view from the summit|
|Looking onto the east flank of the NE bowl -- the slope we planned to ski.|
Jon hiked down the short techie bit to the top of the snowfield and readied his skis. Once he was locked in he dropped in for a couple of turns and then pulled over to wait for us. I went next, and found that the slope was just as steep as it had looked. In fact, I wasn’t confident enough to throw in a jump turn and instead side-slipped down to Jon’s position. Looking back up at the slope was pretty impressive, and I’m guessing that the angle was in the mid-50s. As I made my way down to the lower slope on skier’s right, Jon waited for Ossian, who dropped in soon after.
|Jon prepares to drop in|
|Ossian, partway down the steep summit slope|
Once we had recollected at the ridge above the slope we’d planned to ski, I headed down for some real turns and to grab some shots of the others coming down. Soon after both followed suit, throwing down some nice lines on the relatively smooth face, which held some nice corn snow. As we made our way down the face we hugged the east side of the bowl, which kept us out of the runnels and main debris fields that had collected in the center of it. The lower we dropped the more textured the snow became, and although it eventually turned into full-on sun cups, the snow was pretty soft, which made skiing fairly manageable.
|Jonathan, kickin' up some spray as he drops onto the slope of the east flank|
|Ossian heads toward the center of the bowl|
|Jon drops in for another pitch|
|Railing turns on the soft snow|
|Ossian gives chase|
|Jon harvests some more corn lower down|
|Still a bit to go before the slope flattens out|
|Ossian, searching for the best snow on the way down|
|Jonathan, surfin' the cups|
|Luckily the snow was nice and soft|
About 2,000’ down from the summit the slope began to flatten out and we entered a gully, which still held a decent amount of snow. It was actually kind of fun to ski down it and was certainly better than hiking. Eventually the snow tapered down and a small creek underneath began to emerge, creating unstable snow bridges. It was here that we made the transition back to hiking shoes (or sandals in Jon’s case).
|Jon drops onto the flats|
|Pretty textured down low|
|Dropping into the luge course|
|High on turn one|
|Ossian, partway down the drainage|
|Dropping into the unknown|
|One last straightaway|
|The end of the line|
|Looking back up at Lassen Peak from the end of our ski|
The hike out took us through the “Devastated Area”, the aftermath of the 1915 eruption. Due to the nutrient-deprived soil, the vegetation was spars, making travel pretty straightforward. For the next mile and a half we followed a straight line toward Emigrant Pass, checking my GPS from time to time to make sure we didn’t venture to far off track. Toward the end, the trees did close in a bit, which required some additional route finding, but nothing compared to what we usually deal with in Oregon, at least on the west side of the Cascades. Once back at the lower parking lot, Ossian and I drove back up to retrieve my car while Jonathan hung out with our gear.
|Pretty easy route-finding on the way out|
|Pretty easy route-finding on the way out|
|Typical terrain on the way out|
Once we got back from getting the car we packed up all of our gear and headed to Manzanita Lake for a quick dip and to fill up our water bottles. Next, we left the park and started heading west, toward Castle Crags, where we’d planned to climb the next day.
|Mount Lassen, from Manzanita Lake.|
Mount Lassen National Park is a pretty cool place that is definitely worth a visit, whether or not you plan to ski. I feel like we were there at a bit of an awkward time - still too much snow to access many of the park's landmarks, but not enough to afford great skiing. Don’t get me wrong, the snow still provided a super fun descent, but the sun cups and runnels definitely took a bit away from what would have been a really sick line -- 3,000’ descent with a steep headwall and even some optional chutes up high. Of course, the partial shuttle, which is only an option later in the season, was pretty damn nice. All that said, I would love to get back there during peak corn season. During the winter or early Spring would also be pretty sweet, but would require a longer approach and snow camping.
The tracks from our tour: