Thursday, January 21, 2010

lovely Lassen part two, Bumpass Hell!

The morning was bright with fast moving clouds dappling the sunlight. We rubbed our eyes and headed out early to hike to Bumpass Hell, a very active volcanic thermal vent area in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen Peak was frosted with snow or maybe a blanket of hail and we stopped along the way for a few photos. There were only two other cars in the trail head parking area when we arrived. The sky seemed to be clearing for us but the air was bitter cold. The chill and the altitude made mrs. a-go-go’s asthma kick in right away so it was slow going. A mile and a half hike at 8000 feet wore me out too. Fortunately we could hear the hissing steam of the big vent once we had walked to the top of a ridge.
Hearing the cauldron we could believe that it wasn't much further so we muddled through. The steam clouds smell like rotten eggs and the 4th of July. As we approached the constant booming hiss of the main vent became overwhelmingly loud. It sounded like a never ending blast from an enormous locomotive. It's a swell alien landscape with orange and yellow sulfur crystals and bubbling mud pots. The big vent is a howling furnace with a constant jet of supper heated steam. The cloud would blow over the board walk once in a while and the heat and steamy breath was surprising.

The thermal vents at Sulfur Works are well fenced, but the board walk at Bumpass Hell lets one walk close to the bubbling mud pots and hot puddles. Close enough that if the steam blows the right way it gets uncomfortably hot. The places are blanketed with warning signs that ask people not to leave the board walks, because too often some one tries to get closer and falls through the crust into boiling mud and steam. Mr. Bumpass himself (the namesake of the place) lost his leg after he fell through into super heated mud.
There were a few spots where enough sulfur condensed out of the steam to build a visible crystal crust. Mostly it looks like turmeric sprinkled around. The hot ponds were all odd colors from turquoise or green to orange and the milky stream flowing out of Bumpass coated its banks with white and yellow. Plenty of knuckleheads make the walk to Bumpass Hell. People had thrown junk into several of the mud pots to see if they would melt or corrode or whatever. There was a pencil, a water bottle, wadded trash, several obviously misplaced rocks, and many twigs and wood debris. There aren't nearly enough trees alive near the vents to supply all the wood debris, and the majority of it had to be yanked off trees from up the trail and thrown into the cauldrons. It’s sad that people insist on being dopes, but the strangeness of the place overcomes all the human wreckage. The day had begun to warm up so we hiked up from Bumpass Hell and out to see more of our cloudy heaven.

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