Thursday, August 9, 2018

Great Big Mama Tehama!


Date: July 23, 2018
Place: Brokeoff Mountain Trail Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Coordinates: 40.431489, -121.536209
Length: 7.5 miles
Level: Strenuous

Every year I go camping with a group of families at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Some times I stay for an extra day after everyone else has gone. Last time I did it I got to summit Lassen Peak with my chikas and a family friend. This year I was by myself and I hiked up the second highest peak in the park - that of Brokeoff Mountain. This trail turned out to be the most rewarding I've hiked in a long while, and as a result, this post is probably the photo-heaviest I've ever published here :-)

I stayed the preceding night at the Southwest walk-in campground where I had a restful sleep. I woke up in time to see Brokeoff Mountain light up in the first light of day (header photo).
I took my time breaking camp and getting ready. The trailhead is very close to the southwest park entrance and had only one car in the parking area, across the road from the trailhead. As I lingered in the parking lot, reading the signs and preparing my backpack and camera, another car pulled in and a fit-looking couple emerged from it and within a minute crossed the road and started up the trail. 
I grabbed my stuff and followed.

Two steps into the trail I stopped. A beautiful wildflower slope welcomed me. Among the wildflowers was a familiar favorite of mine - the crimson columbine.
Crimson Columbine, Aquilegia formosa
I plowed my way up through the colorful wildflower welcome and soon was swallowed by much taller riparian vegetation. In the midst of run a little creek.

I walked out of the vegetation and the view opened up. Brokeoff Mountain looked very far and high, it's top bathed in haze. There I was heading.
Brokeoff Mountain
Almost immediately I was again deep in vegetation. There was a creek line in the middle of that thicket too but it was dry.

The plantlike, however, was reaching for the water beneath the surface. I was surrounded by lush greenery dotted with colorful flowers.
Monkshood, Aconitum columbianum
Blue was a popular color in that area and included some familiar and beloved genera like the larkspur. The species I got by default (it's the only one that looks like this that's listed for the location) and I hope I got it right).
Nuttall's Larkspur, Delphinium nuttallianum
And then there was a shrub in bloom that I have never seen before. At first I thought it was a vetch of a sort but later I realized it wasn't even in the same family. I would never have guessed that this pretty bush, the fumewort, is of the poppy family.
Sierra fumewort, Corydalis caseana ssp. caseana

All that time I was walking slowly but steadily onward. The slope was mild but constant. The trail entered the woods at the time when the shade was a welcomed change.

In the forest - scant forest undergrowth. Here and there a sunny patch and some bloom.
Rose Meadowsweet, Spiraea densiflora
I sat down for a short snack break. From the scrub under the trees came the noise of animals escaping the threatening me. I raised my camera and clicked quickly as two dark figures came running and clucking across the path. I caught one of them on camera. I guess I know the answer now to the long standing question - the chicken crossed the road to get away from me.
Sooty grouse
There were many lupine blooming near where I was sitting. Lupines are always a pretty sight and they cover large areas of the mountain. This species grows in the lower slopes, and more shaded, forested areas.
Largeleaf Lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus var. burkei
I read the trail's description the night before my hike, and it said there was a lake somewhere off the trail. I didn't think of diverting there but when I caught a glimpse of water my feet directed me there. Well, it isn't the forest lake that's on the trail's description (that one isn't visible from the trail). Rather, it's a small pond, almost entirely hidden under vegetation. The open surface was so calm and the reflection of the dark forest surrounding so perfect that it was only the sheen that revealed it was a pond.
A forest pond 
I crossed a small vale covered in lupine, mint, and other flowers. Multitudes of bees, flies, beetles, and butterflies hovered from flower to flower. I did my best to try and photograph these small agents of plant procreation. Some photos came out ok.
Echo Azure, Celastrina echo Butterfly
The trail kept meandering through forest groves and small, open vales. Whenever out of the trees I would look up to see what's ahead. In the distance I could see tall fir trees decorated with beautiful, upright cones, like huge chandeliers, lit up in the sun.
Magnificent Silver Fir, Abies magnifica
The trail now aligned along a small creek. Little cascades fell noisily through knee-high vegetation, contrasting with the dry leaves and twigs that covered the adjacent slopes.

Very common in high wetlands is the beautiful California cornlily. Their foliage is gorgeous by itself but they were in peak bloom at the time of my hike - a special treat to the eyes and to the butterflies.
California Corn Lily, Veratrum californicum var. californicum
Higher up the trail I came into a narrow meadow that was sectioned by a number of beautiful little ponds of different depths and shapes, and different hue. I went off the trail and got as close as I could to these charming ponds, trying not to step n anything delicate. I took so many photos at that one spot, but selected to post here the one with the perfect reflection.

There was a very similar ponded meadow a bit higher up the trail. That one I got a good view of from above. It wasn't as charming as the lower one but the overall view gives an idea of how the pond-segmented meadow looks like.
Fresh water wetland
A short distance after that the trail became somewhat steeper. I left the wet meadows behind and was now ascending a dry, more exposed mountain slope. The peak of Brokeoff Mountain seemed only slightly closer.
I sat down for a short breather. A single hiker came up the trail and stopped to chat with me. He informed me that friends of his were hiking that very same trail the day before and were caught in and afternoon downpour that soaked them through. "I hope we won't get caught in the rain," he said, looking warily at the small bit of fluff that hovered like a halo over the mountain's peak.

The hiker bade me well and continued on. I lingered a bit longer at the pretty spot where I took my break to appreciate the wildflowers that were blooming there. Dry earth plants - very different than those I've seen earlier on the trail.
Mock Leopardbane, Arnica dealbata
The mountain mint, common along the entire length of the trail from trailhead to summit, seemed more prominent in the drier areas, less crowded by the lower elevation plants.
Pale Mountain Monardella, Monardella pallida var. Pallida
Whenever I accidentally brushed against the mint its strong aroma filled the air. That fragrance comes from the leaves and serves to protect this plant from pests. Insects, however, are most welcome to the pale flowery feast.
Pale Mountain Monardella, Monardella pallida var. Pallida with a visitor.
So delicate it almost slipped my attention - the dusky onion.
Dusky Onion, Allium campanuslatum
Now I was at the foot of the peak itself. The trail changed direction and I was walking north. The open slope was covered with lovely carpets of bloom laced with fresh greenery and dotted with dark mountain hemlock trees.
Satin Lupine, Lupinus obtusilobus
The prominent color of the slope was the light blue of the satin lupine. That was adorned by yellows of some aster species, white of mint, and the brilliant pink of the rockfringe, a flower I had first appreciated in the height of the Sierra Nevada at Mineral King.
A patch of Rockfringe, Epilobium obcordatum.
As I walked up I kept looking at the sky. Small clouds drifted by, but didn't hang around or amass to anything threatening.

There were fewer trees on the slope as I got higher and higher. But a few of those were near the trail. They were small and narrow and didn't cast much of a shadow. Not that I needed any - the higher I got the cooler the air was. Their cones were of lovely purple color.
Mountain Hemlock/Patton Spruce, Tsuga mertensiana
The slope was so mild that only by gazing down did I get an idea of how high I really was. One of the things I observed (and one that surprised me a bit) was that all of a sudden I wasn't seeing any more lupine. The mountain mint, however, was still very dominant on the slope.
Butterfly on Pale Mountain Mint, Monardella pallida var. pallida.
And then there were plants blooming there that I've never seen before. Like the cycladenia - a relative of the milkweed.
Cycladenia, Cycladenia humilis
The ridge of Brokeoff Mountain loomed to my right as  continued walking north. There were more clouds now, but not rain clouds. In fact, they were very white and fluffy, enhancing the sky blue.

The trail's description promised spectacular views from the upper part of the trail. Looking down west I could see the potential. Unfortunately the view was very depressing. What I saw was the heavy layer of smoke that filled the valley, streaming in from the Ferguson Fire that was raging near Mariposa at the time. What I didn't know was that on the very same day I was hiking up Brokeoff Mountain a new fire has begun - the Carr Fire that incinerated all of the area around Whiskeytown Lake, where I had hiked only a month before.
As of the writing of these words both fires are still raging, and some more firestorms have ignited since. This summer of 2018 has turned to be the most devastating fire seasons within California's recent history.
Smoke over the Valley
I turned my attention away from the smoke to focus on happier sights. Those included even small and apparently unassuming wildflowers. But wildflowers that were new to me they were, and pretty in their on minimalistic way.
Shasta Knotweed, Polygonum shastense
Indian paintbrush became a very common sight along the trail. It too was a species previously unfamiliar to me.
Cobwebby Paintbrush, Castilleja arachnoidea 
I was walking slowly so a number of hikers had passed me on their way up. As I approached the last major switchback I saw them trickling back down the trail, including the couple that had started ascending just before I did. They all wore wide smiles and reassured me that I was indeed "very, very close". I thanked them and chugged along.

At the final switchback the trail turns south and ascends gently, little by little nearing the mountain's ridge line.

Unlike the heights of Lassen Peak which were mostly bare save for a shrub here and there, the upper slopes of Brokeoff were carpeted with manzanita and quilted with so many colorful plants blooming that my head was spinning, and not from the altitude.
Bear Buckwheat, Eriogonum ursianum
The difference in the plant coverage between Lassen and Brokeoff could be due to the height difference, but I think it also has much to do with the fact that Lassen had last erupted only a century ago - a short time for a full plant community to establish itself at a location with such a short growth season.

I did see up Brokeoff some plants that were familiar to me from my Lassen Peak hike.
Timberline Phacelia, Phacelia hastata var. compacta 
But there were more plants there that I've never seen before.
Douglas' Campion, Silene douglasii 
Even those plants I was familiar with and  were present in great numbers I had taken the opportunity to look at closer. It was nice not to worry about anyone keeping up with me or me keeping up with anyone else.
Rock Spirea, Holodiscus discolor var. glabrescens 
I suppose I could have ascended faster but what would I have gained by that? I preferred to take it sowly and enjoy the spring display that the mountain had out for me that day.
Left: Bear Buckwheat, Eriogonum ursianum. Right: Great Red Paintbrush, Castilleja minita 
Well, maybe the display wasn't there for me. Or not just for me. Possibly not even for the golden-mantled squirrel that paused briefly on a rock and allowed me to take its picture.
Golden-mantled Squirrel
The creatures that this colorful display was for are those we usually think the least of. Yet, they are the agents of spring.
Pale Mountain Monardella, Monardella odoritissima ssp. pallida
Regardless of whom did the flowers bloom for, I was enjoying them immensely.
Left: Sierra Chaenactis, Chaenactis nevadensis. Right: Nuttal's Sandwort, Minuartia nuttallii var. gracilis 
Brokeoff is an odd name for a mountain, but in this case is is very fitting, for at its top Brokeoff Mountain looks like it is broke off. It's not hard to imagine this slope going on higher in support of a bigger mountain. A score of millenia ago that exactly was stood there - a huge volcano that nowadays is referred to as Old Tehama mountain. That mountain had collapsed and eroded away, leaving only a few remnants in its ancient perimeter, with Brokeoff Mountain being the tallest one.
Brokeoff Mountain ridgeline
The trail connected with the ridgeline close to the summit but there was a short distance to walk still, and more wildflowers to see.
Hieracium sp.
The trail was close to the edge and I stepped across to look at the other side. To the northeast was Lassen Peak, prominent and proud.

I came back to the trail and moved on to the summit. Just before the final ascend I was surprised to see what was clearly the remains of a human-made structure. This, turns out, was the remains of a cistern serving a fire observation outpost that used to be there.

There was no barren area on the mountain. High up I met a familiar wildflower - the very suitably named mountain pride, showing brilliant red against the gray basalt.
Mountain pride, Penstemon newberryi
I usually ignore grasses I see on hikes. To many of them are non-native and all of them are difficult to identify. This one, however, was too pretty to ignore:
Mountain Bendgrass, Agrostis variabilis
I reached the summit, where I was welcomed by a few other hikers that beat me to it, and also occupied the best picnic spots in the small, rocky area. I dropped my backpack and circled around, appreciating the view.
From Brokeoff Mountain summit: view northwest
Lassen Peak dominated the view to the northeast. I love the millefleur look of the mountain's foothills, just above the geothermal area of Bumpass hell.
Lassen Peak
I zoomed on the area just below the peak. There - Lake Helen, blue and tranquil, and one hundred percent liquid, unlike last year at the same time ...
Lake Helen
I turned my attention to the north side, just below Brokeoff. There I could see the remains of a snow patch and a pool where the snow-melt water collected. Extended from the little pool was a bright-green patch of vegetation, nourished by the snow patch. An small-scale ecosystem, right there!

Most of the people that I met at the peak had left by the time I finished my look around. I sat down to eat my lunch and watched the couple that remained at the top posing for photos at different spots around the summit. At some point I offered to photograph both of them together. they took my offer happily and then offered to photograph me so I posed with Lassen Peak in the background.
Then the couple resumed their selfie posing and I collected my stuff and started slowly down.
Elk Thistle, Cirsium scariosum
A narrow path between the rocks connected the summit with the main trail. At first I thought I should avoid it and go down the wider trail on which I walked up but a glimpse of purple lured me down the narrow path. It was a small rockcress, an early wildflower that was still blooming at the very top of the mountain where anywhere else it has already gone to seed.
Pioneer Rockcress, Bochera platysperma
Back on the main trail I increased my gait. Still, I found myself halting every few steps - it seems that I had missed many interesting sights on my way up.
Foxtail Pine, Pinus balfouriana
Now that I was on my way down I was less concerned with making 'good time' or with getting stuck in bad weather so I took more notice of the less conspicuous flowers.
The flowers are of Marum leaved Buckwheat, Eriogonum marifolium var. marifolium. (The visible leaves belong to Mountain Mint: Monardella pallida). 
The tink that required me to go down on my knees for a good closeup.
Silkey Radillaria, Radillaria argenea
 Even to the point of exaggeration.
Gray's Bedstraw, Galium greyanum
 But as small and as simple some of the wildflowers were, together with the colorful ones they contributed to the great spring spectacle that covered the high slopes of Brokeoff Mountain.

I was walking down through the carpets of manzanita when the couple I left at the summit came galloping down from behind me, passed me, saying "Bye", and vanished in a puff of dust around the switchback. They were the last humans I've seen for the rest of that hike. From that moment on it was just me and the mountain. Mamma Quail and Mama Tehama.

I turned the switchback and was walking no south again. Above me the clouds started getting serious, but not yet to the point of hurrying me along. I welcomed the breeze and the occasional coolness that came whenever such a cloud passed overhead.

Earlier that day one of the people that passed me on the way up told me he'd seen a bear near the trail below. I didn't expect the bear to be there still but I did look for it as I descended down the trail. I didn't get to see the flesh bear but I did see a celestial one :-)
Celestial Bear
Downhill I go. The time was passing and I started thinking about the long drive I still had ahead of me after finishing the hike. But I wasn't urged enough to quicken may pace. Rather, I kept getting distracted by fleeting sights such as butterflies posing briefly on the gravel.

The issue with walking downhill is that the eyes keep looking down ... where all the tiny little curiosities are.
Davis Knotweed, Aconogonon davisiae 
Step by step though, I made it down to the mountain's shoulders where I sat for a short breather by the carpet of manzanita.

It was below that point that the lupine dominated the wildflower scene again. So dense it was that while normally not very fragrant, the scent of the field of lupine filled the air and my entire respiratory system.

As inspired as I was by the sight and scent of the lupine fields the main reasons for this display were buzzing incessantly between the flowers.
Satin Lupine, Lupinus obtusilobus
The lupine wasn't the only blue species there but the others were not as unbiquitous.
Thickstem Aster, Eurybia integrifolia
The shadows were getting longer and I picked up my pace. It was easier now, that I was walking a milder slope and a more familiar terrain. It was also considerably hotter and I was hopping from one shady spot to another, eager to get in the forest area again.

I didn't stop anymore. Not for any serious break, just for quick shots of plants and places I had missed on my way up, or didn't think them as a reason to stop at the time. \

At the lower elevations those were the same plants I've been seeing for the last four days hiking with the family group I was with.
Pacific Bleedinghearts, Dicentra formosa
Now, as I sit at my home and writing this post, I wish I had taken more ditailed images of some of these plants. I guess this penstemon species will remain an enigma until the next time I hike that trail and look a bit more closely at it.
Penstemon sp.
I emerged from the last forest grove on my way down. There I could hear the cars on the main park road. Occasionally I could even glimpse the thin asphalt line.

I looked northeast. There was Lassen Peak, looking over the park. At 10,463'' it was the highest and most prominent peak in the park. It is hard to believe that only a geological minute ago it erupted in the shadow of a much larger mountain - the mighty Old Tehama.
Lassen Peak
A but further down and the peak of Brokeoff Mountain was in view again, looming high and distant. The present testimony of the old ancient giant that once loomed over this land.
Goodbye, Big Mama Tehama! 

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants.

Many thanks to members of the "I Love Lassen Volcanic National Park" group for recommending this trail, and for their help in figuring out what was that structure near the summit.


  1. I wrote a long comment, and it vanished :-( I'll try again.
    amazing hike, so beautiful! I loved especially the Aconitum and Aquilegia (both I saw with you in Lassen 9 years ago...)
    the Corydalis is also wonderful. there are 2 Corydalis species in Israel, in the Hermon. but in Europe and Russia there are many other species, with a variety of colors and sizes, they're incredible.
    and the colorful fly on the monardella has wonderful colors!

    1. Thank you, my friend! I was thinking about you a lot during that hike :-)

  2. This is certainly a great hike with many beautiful flowers and views (except for the fire...) The purple cones are amazing and the chicken is certainly a surprise :-)

    1. Purple is my favorite color :-) and there was much purple on this hike! Still, cones I wouldn't expect to be purple and they were a very beautiful find.