Date: July 23, 2018
Place: Brokeoff Mountain Trail Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Coordinates: 40.431489, -121.536209
Length: 7.5 miles
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|
The plantlike, however, was reaching for the water beneath the surface. I was surrounded by lush greenery dotted with colorful flowers.
|Monkshood, Aconitum columbianum|
|Nuttall's Larkspur, Delphinium nuttallianum|
|Sierra fumewort, Corydalis caseana ssp. caseana|
In the forest - scant forest undergrowth. Here and there a sunny patch and some bloom.
|Rose Meadowsweet, Spiraea densiflora|
|Largeleaf Lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus var. burkei|
|A forest pond|
|Echo Azure, Celastrina echo Butterfly|
|Magnificent Silver Fir, Abies magnifica|
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|
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|
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|
|Pale Mountain Monardella, Monardella pallida var. Pallida|
|Pale Mountain Monardella, Monardella pallida var. Pallida with a visitor.|
|Dusky Onion, Allium campanuslatum|
|Satin Lupine, Lupinus obtusilobus|
|A patch of Rockfringe, Epilobium obcordatum.|
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|
|Butterfly on Pale Mountain Mint, Monardella pallida var. pallida.|
|Cycladenia, Cycladenia humilis|
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|
|Shasta Knotweed, Polygonum shastense|
|Cobwebby Paintbrush, Castilleja arachnoidea|
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|
|Timberline Phacelia, Phacelia hastata var. compacta|
|Douglas' Campion, Silene douglasii|
|Rock Spirea, Holodiscus discolor var. glabrescens|
|Left: Bear Buckwheat, Eriogonum ursianum. Right: Great Red Paintbrush, Castilleja minita|
|Pale Mountain Monardella, Monardella odoritissima ssp. pallida|
|Left: Sierra Chaenactis, Chaenactis nevadensis. Right: Nuttal's Sandwort, Minuartia nuttallii var. gracilis|
|Brokeoff Mountain ridgeline|
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|
|Mountain Bendgrass, Agrostis variabilis|
|From Brokeoff Mountain summit: view northwest|
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|
|Pioneer Rockcress, Bochera platysperma|
|Foxtail Pine, Pinus balfouriana|
|The flowers are of Marum leaved Buckwheat, Eriogonum marifolium var. marifolium. (The visible leaves belong to Mountain Mint: Monardella pallida).|
|Silkey Radillaria, Radillaria argenea|
|Gray's Bedstraw, Galium greyanum|
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 :-)
The issue with walking downhill is that the eyes keep looking down ... where all the tiny little curiosities are.
|Davis Knotweed, Aconogonon davisiae|
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.
|Satin Lupine, Lupinus obtusilobus|
|Thickstem Aster, Eurybia integrifolia|
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|
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.
|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.