Conquering Your Fears


I just did two things that I never thought I would do, two things that were so scary I wondered if I would survive them.  It all started on a long-planned, five-day camping and hiking vacation in Lassen Volcanic National Park in north-eastern California during the last week in August 2011.

My boyfriend, Michael, has more camping experience than I and has a winning methodology for what to pack, what to eat, etc.  By him volunteering to take on the planning, packing and driving responsibility, it meant that this would really be a restful vacation for me (he's a keeper to be sure!).

So after dropping my vacationing grandkids off at their mom's house Saturday morning, we finished packing up the car and started the three-hour road trip.  What ever did we do before GPS?  Thankfully, Michael has a great GPS program on his phone which guided us flawlessly through North Natomas, Nicklaus, Chico's Butte mountains, and several other small towns until we reached the south portal to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

WOW!  This place was so different from the usual camping and hiking trips we take along the coast or Sacramento valley.  Everything was still green and there were fields of wildflowers among the green trees and verdant mountains.  The park extends from about 6,000 to 10,000 feet in altitude.

Lassen Visitor's Center at south end of park
Wild flowers abound everywhere
After stopping at the Visitor's center for a fabulous sandwich and big chocolate/vanilla soft serve ice cream cone, and 20-minute movie about the remarkable geologic formation of four different types of still-active volcanoes at the park, we began exploring the visitor center grounds on our own.
Incredible rock formations are everywhere
There was snow everywhere too, even though the weather was a perfect, in the low 80s.

OK, now back in the car to start driving up a 30-mile road to our campsite.  The coolest thing about Lassen is that the powers at be constructed the main road through most of the interesting natural wonders that people want to see.  From you car you can see mud pots (below) belching their acrid and rotten-egg stinky sulfuric odors.

The terrain is very different from Yosemite, although there are some granite-like formations.  But there is much more lush greenery, which energize those us of who love living green.

There are also waterfalls, flowerful meadows, trees, trees, and more trees, mountains, streams and rivers and little lakes along the northerly main road up to nearly the northern end of the park, where we camped at Manzanita Lake.  But it took us about three hours to get there, mostly because we had to stop at every vista point and take pictures and marvel at the sheer beauty of the place!  It only took about 30 minutes to get the campsite totally set up.  All foodstuffs and anything with a scent (e.g., toothpaste, lotion) had to be locked up in a bear locker at one end of our campsite.  I said bears. Remember that ...
Home sweet home for the next five days
By then, it was about 5 PM and time to eat.  Small campfire then franks and beans rolled in a tortilla for dinner.

As night began to fall, we decided to walk 5-10 minutes to the lake to catch the sunset.

We had very noisy neighbors that night and neither one of us got much sleep.  Even though it was only about 42 degrees at the coldest and we had a queen-sized air mattress and thick sleeping bags, we were pretty darn cold at night.  And, of course, the thought of bears prowling at night ... especially when we had to exit our "safe" haven for a bathroom run in the middle of the night.  Needless to say, we were tired in the morning when the crows began their LOUD (did I say LOUD?) squawking at 7 AM ... We were cold until the sun began peeking over the tall tree tops at our campsite.  As Mr. fixed breakfast by 8:30 or so, though, it was quite pleasant and I had shed some of my layers of clothes.  

Sunday, we decided to explore Manzanita Lake and take pictures.  The one-hour route took us about three hours because we were so engrossed in every little nook and cranny.

Lassen Mountain in the background

It was HOT that day, so we stopped by the little camp store and bought more ice cream on our way back to the campsite.  After rest that afternoon and dinner, we decided that it would be cool to go back to the far side of the lake and wait for night fall to catch the Milky Way over Mt. Lassen using Michael's super duper new camera.  We caught exquisite pictures as the sun fell (his are better than my iphone pix below).

By 8:30, the first stars were visible, but I started getting really worried about the fact that there are NO LIGHTS except moonlight on the 3/4 mile back to the other side of the lake. We were the only ones out there (well, the only people) and it was getting darker and darker, but there still were only a few stars.  Certainly not enough to make it worth our while to stay ... alone ... in the dark ... where bears had been spotted that day ... Finally, we packed up and turned on our headlamps, but mine hardly produced any light.  So Michael had to lead the way, most of the way.  I am not afraid of the dark, per se, but we did not really know our way out there and it was tough to follow the dirt/sand path back in the dark.  We tried to be noisy to let the night critters know we were there, but it's amazing how timid one's voice can sound when there's a bit of fear mixed in.  Thankfully, Michael has a good sense of direction and was able to get us back to the campsite - had it been up to me alone, it would have taken a lot of longer to get there (even though I remembered I had a cool flashlight app on my iphone that did a great job of lighting the way back)!
It was DARK when we started making our way back along the 3/4 mile trek to the campsite.

I needed a LOT of chocolate and a little port wine when we got back to the tent!  I kept saying, "I cannot believe we did that!"  An hour later, we were looking up through the treetops at the most amazing Milky Way.  I cajoled Michael into getting out his camera and tripod to take pictures of that amazing celestial site.  We wanted some star shots after that harrowing hike back from the wilderness!

That was the first of the two events that I wasn't sure I would survive.

Thankfully, there were no noisy neighbors Sunday night, so we were well-rested and ready for Monday's trek to King's Creek.  As soon as we parked our car along the main route, halfway to the south-end Visitor Center, I knew this would be special.  We heard water flowing and could see a delightful creek from the road and a meadow of wild flowers.  The following are pictures from this moderately difficult hike.
View from the road

Gorgeous flowers all along the waterways

We tried to find another hike along the route back to the campsite

Clam chowder, french bread and a salad for dinner. S'mores for dessert.

Even though we were really tired after the Kings Creek trip, we decided to hike up the Cinder Cone Volcano on Tuesday.  Neither of us had done anything like that before and thought we probably could get some interesting pictures.  We packed everything we could in the car that night so we could hit it by 7 AM the next morning and hopefully get some great sunrise pix.  We did not realize that there would be road construction that would slow us down, nor an exceedingly BUMPY 8 mile "path" (30 minute ride) to Butte Lake, which was the entry point for the Cinder Cone hike.  What that means is that the sun was already kind of high when we started the hike.  Photographers like Michael know that means the pictures might be a bit overexposed if you don't have a polarizing lens, which we did not.  

We were intrigued by the 20-30' high "Fantastic Lava Beds" that surrounded one side of the path up to, an all around the actual volcano.  Mounds and mounds of rock.
Lava beds
Here's a view of the mountains as we walked up to the Cinder Cone volcano.

Here's our first complete view of the 600' high volcano (6300 to 6900 feet above sea level)

You cannot believe how steep this sandy/cinder trail is! It averages 30 degrees, but there are portions that are much steeper, as you can see.
I found two sturdy sticks that I could use as walking sticks. Michael used the legs of his tripod.  It seemed like it took an hour to get up to the top because we had to stop every 20 steps or so to breathe and get more water.  I am NOT fond of heights and really had not intended to go all the way up, but we kept putting one foot in front of the other, hoping we would finally reach the never-ending top.  Finally, success was ours!

And the view was breathtaking! That's Mt. Lasson Volcano which is about 4000 feet higher than the top of the cinder cone volcano.

Further around the base of the Cinder Cone Volcano are brightly-colored cinder beds.  While there is a route to those beds at the base of the volcano, I cannot imagine that walkers could get the phenomenal view that we did on the top of the mountain!

Here are the cylindrical spirals of the center of the Cinder Cone volcano.  People can walk all around the top and down into the bowels of the cone, if they like.

Looking down into the center of the volcano.

Lots of red iron oxide-colored lava rock and cinders all around.  Depending on how the light hits, you can also see purple hues, oranges, reds, and yellows.  The palate changes continuously.  The colors in this picture are not enhanced.

On the far side of the top is Butte Lake, with lava beds in the foreground. Colors are enhanced for the lava and trees, but the water is that blue-green.

We took tons of pictures, had lunch, drank lots of water from our backpacks, chatted with other brave souls, most of whom were visiting from other countries.  It was exciting for all of us to make a world connection and we all contemplated a successful descent.  Going up a hill is difficult, but it's the coming down of a steep mountain that I agonized over.  Vertigo. I was SO HAPPY to have my walking sticks, but I was nervous, nervous, nervous.  I heard my (deceased) mom's voice in my head telling me she didn't want me to join her this soon and to be very careful going down.  My brain saw lots of people who had made it up the volcano with NO walking sticks, many in seemingly worse physical shape than I.  From the tippy top of the cone I could see some of those people who made it down the steep hill.  So I knew we "should" be able to make it without broken necks.  But it took a LOT to conquer my fear of starting down.  I practiced by walking up and down the contours of the center cone area.  It was time to start.  Sticks don't fail me now.  I was SO JITTERY! You could not see the start of the path from the top. Michael took video of my tentative, disjointed, steps. One stick followed by my foot, then the other stick followed by the other foot.  It seemed interminable.  My left knee started to ache and I knew I would not make it using that technique. Then I remembered that as a big-footed gal, I often walk down stairs horizontally instead of vertically, so I turned my feet sideways and started again. Much better, faster, smoother.  Going down, we gave comfort to those we met coming up: "It's worth it.  You're almost there. You can do it."  Then WE WERE DOWN!

Never have I ever been so glad to make it successfully down a hill!  

Our reward was to bathe our sore feet in lovely, cool Butte Lake.

We couldn't believe we made it! This was the second time that I thought I wouldn't make it back home, but we persevered and conquered our fear!

We took a nice shower, then a well-deserved nap in the afternoon.  Dinner was delicious quesadillas and broccoli and roasted marshmallows for dessert.

The next day was our last but we wanted to see a couple of additional sites on our way out after another great breakfast, this time french toast and eggs scrambled with veggies.

After packing up the car and driving about 10 miles, we hiked a mile or so to the Magical Boiling Lake.  The bubbles do not come from an underground hot springs, but carbon dioxide.  So we were excited to see such a thing, but, well ... you can see what we saw.  Not much.

This whole trip was a marvel.  I didn't originally think Lassen Park would be anything special but it went waaaaay beyond anything we could have imagined.

We tested ourselves on many levels and we persevered. We survived!  This new-found strength will help us in all future endeavors and renew our appreciation for this world and everything in it!


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