Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hell and Heaven Wrapped Together: Between Bumpass Hell and Cold-Boiling Lake

Heavenly reflections in a geothermal pool at Bumpass Hell

Date: July 2, 2014
Place: Lake Helen to Cold-Boiling Lake Via Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Coordinates (of the Bumpass Hell trailhead): 40.466147, -121.513991
Length: 4.5 miles
Difficulty: moderate
Click on the photos for a larger view

Of all California's National Parks I frequent Lassen Volcanic the most. I am also very proud to show it to friends and family visitors as if it was my own back yard ... so when my sister and her family came to visit us this summer we took them there.
Bumpass Hell is a must see spot in the park, and I never get tired of going there again and again. Most times, however, we do what nearly every other visitor does and head back up the trail to where we started. This time we took advantage of having been there with two cars and hiked all the way to Kings Creek via Cold-Boiling Lake.
Our hike from Lake Helen to
I've hiked this trail 6 years ago with another branch of my family. I was carrying the younger chika on my back and holding my older one's hand. The trail was narrow and muddy, and circumstances back then had made that hike a challenging one for me. I was looking forward to to hike this trail again, this time with Papa Quail and with both chikas walking on their own.
Lake Helen
We left one car at the Kings Creek Picnic Area and parked the other one at the Lake Helen Picnic Area (the Bumpass Hell parking lot was full). After properly admiring Lake Helen we crossed the road and joined the trail to Bumpass Hell. 
Guarding the trail

Brokeoff Mountain, viewed from the trail
We started slow, stopping frequently to attend to various needs that came up within our group. I used these opportunities to admire the mountain view.
Yes, we were descending all that
 As always, Papa Quail was finding out who was it behind the chorus of tweets.
Hermit Thrush
 The view, though, was just the beginning of the spectacle that awaited us. Having been very busy during the weeks preceding our trip, I completely forgot to expect the splendor of alpine springtime!
Penstemon newberryi
Alpine springtime - meaning there were flowers just about EVERYWHERE! Blossoms flowing exuberantly on the rocks,
Phyllodoce breweri (purple mountainheath)
 between the rocks,
Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)
 and hiding shyly under the rocks.
(Cardamine bellifolia (Alpine Bittercress)
And that was just the beginning. We got to Bumpass Hell and my mind was diverted from the flowers.
Sulfur and steam: the life signs of a seething volcano.
Named after an unfortunate cowboy who lost his leg after breaking through the thin crust of earth that covered the hot pool in the 1860's, Bumpass Hell is the largest of the geothermal areas within Lassen Volcanic NP. While not as big and spectacular as Yellowstone, Bumpass Hell is quite an impressive reminder that the Lassen area is alive with volcanic activity, seething underneath our feet.

My photos really don't do justice to this place. And there's no way to share online that odor either ...
Sulfur crystals
Precipitation water seeps through the rock. As it nears the magma it boils and steams right back out in hot, smelly and ghostly-looking fumaroles.

This perennial heat nurtures a beautiful palette of greens. I would love to see this place during winter. I don't know how feasible that is.
It is really a unique place. There really is no substitute to taking the time to go down there and experience the volcano at first hand. The sights, the smells, the bubbling sounds, and the goosebumps on the skin.

 As I mentioned, Bumpass Hell is a 'must see' spot and as such, there were quite a few visitors there. I'm sorry to say that not all of them knew that feeding wild animals is harmful and therefore unlawful.
Wild animals can get habituated on human food, which isn't good for them (come to think of it, most of that 'food' isn't very good for people either). They lose their natural fear of people and can easily become victims to vandals. Just as easily they can turn on the hand that feeds them and bite it, causing injury and possibly spreading disease.
In short, do not feed wild animals, no matter how cute they are and what poses they do to get it, and pack out all your trash to protect the wild animals and the environment in which they live and which we all admire and want to enjoy for years to come.
A squirrel fed by human visitors at Bumpass Hell
We took our time at Bumpass Hell but eventually it was time to move on. We crossed the little creek and continued east.
Reading Peak masquerading as Hat Mountain :-)
There is a small hill to ascend when going out of Bumpass Hell eastward. After that, the trail is all downhill. It was there that the alpine spring really blew me away.
Pussy Paws (Calyptridium umbellatum)
 Some flowers there I was well familiar with. In the low lands they were already done with blooming, but up in the high lands spring was at its prime.
Western Houndstongue (Cynoglossum grande)
The trail treads on a hillside, slowly descending towards the valley. For a while, though, we were quite high above, getting glimpses of great view of the meadow and lake below.
Crumbaugh Lake
The hillside itself was brilliant green. The trail was easier than what I remembered (perhaps it was not having to carry a toddler on my back), and I enjoyed the fresh mountain air and the warm sun.  

Stopping for frequent photo-taking, I soon found myself lingering behind the group.
All the better. That way I could pay closer attention to the cracks between the rocks,
Little-Flower Penstemon (Penstemon procerus)
 underneath the rocks,
Mountain Hollyfern (Polystichum scopulinum)
 ... and around them.
Castilleja minimata (Scarlet Indian Paintbrush)
Some of the flowers drew me in for a closer look.
Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa)
The rocks themselves were pretty nice,

especially as colorful rock gardens.

As we continued down the trail the trees separated and Crumbough Lake came into full view. It looked very inviting but we save that trail for another visit to Lassen Volcanic NP.
Crumbaugh Lake
The trail holds a steady downgrade and for a good segment is clear of trees. The exposed grassland is full of colorful bloom.
Eriogonum sp.
Two thirds of the way we found a convenient resting spot under some protruding rocks.
We ate and rested and ate some more. The camera didn't rest.
Mountain Mule Ear (Wyethia mollis)
Time was going by and we got up and continued our hike down. Once again, I lingered behind.
Fleabane, Erigeron sp. (glacialis?)
For a short segment the trail sinks into the woods. I was mesmerized by the shadow play of the trunks. It reminded me of a certain painting of Magritte.
A path in the woods
Some nice surprises awaited me when I emerged from the wood. A pretty mariposa lily for one.
Calochortus leichtinii (Leichtin's Mariposa Lily)
And lupines are always a pleasure for me to see.
Bigleaf Lupine (Lupinus latifolius)
Turned out I remembered correctly: the trail was muddy in some places, which made steady walking a bit of a struggle, even without wearing a child. But a wetland, any wetland, is always a great place to look for interesting flowers.
Howell's Marsh Marigold (Caltha leptosepala ssp. Howellii)
That wet trail segment, almost down at the valley floor, proved the most exciting, flower-wise.
Elephanthead Lousewort (Pedicularis groenlandica)
And what can be more exciting than encountering a wild orchid?
Piperia transversa (Royal Rein Orchid)
Easy answer: a patch of wild orchids :-)
Piperia transversa (Royal Rein Orchid)
One more acceptable answer: another species of wild orchid!
Sierra Bog Orchid (Platanthera dilatata)
Orchids are royal, even if they look somewhat drab next to more colorful blossoms.
Aconitum columbianum (Columbian Monkshood)
At the valley floor, nearly 1300 feet below where we started, the trail plunges into the woods again, and becomes guarded by clouds of mosquitoes. It might be a good idea to use the bug repellent ahead of time, because the little bugs managed to draw quite a bit of blood during the few seconds it took me to cover myself with deet.

There on the valley floor I met some of the higher elevation plants
Pussy Paws (Calyptridium umbellatum)
and others that I didn't yet see.
Cobwebby Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja arachnoidea)
In a clearing there is a lush meadow, and nestled in the grass is a small, apparently tranquil lake. That's Cold-Boiling Lake.
Cold Boiling Lake
The apparent tranquility is misleading. Volcanic gas is seeping out from underneath the lake and is bubbling through the water. Another reminder that we were walking on active volcanic earth.
Cold Boiling
The hour was getting late, and the mosquitoes got more and more brazen, so we hurried along the dry dirt path towards the Kings Creek picnic area, where Papa Quail and my brother-in-law drove off to pick up the car we left at Lake Helen, while my sister and I and the children had a relaxing picnic and explored the meadow and the creek.
Kings Creek
This hike is about 4.5 miles, and from Lake Helen to Kings Creek is nearly all downhill. It can be done in the other direction too, of course. The elevation difference is almost 1300 feet, and we took our time getting all the way down. It was a lovely hike, intense with sights and experiences, and I totally recommend this trail to anyone who wishes to experience Lassen Volcanic for more than just a 'drive through' day.

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


  1. This seems a wonderful trail - we should go there too :-)

    Not feeding wildlife should include not feeding the mosquitoes....

    1. Believe me Moti, I tried very much to refrain from feeding the mosquitoes ... and yes, next time you visit, I'll take you on this trail (or another gorgeous one, I know many!)

  2. next time take me there! it's amazing! so beautiful! so many flowers, so many views!
    oh wow....

    1. I kept thinking of you every time I stooped to photograph a flower, which was about ... every minute or too, I believe :-)