30 July 2012

Prospect Peak and Cinder Cone

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Locate the trailhead.

In one corner of Lassen Volcanic National Park, there is a section of land marked "Fantastic Lava Beds" and, next to it, "Painted Dunes". Next to this is another feature nude of vegetation simply labeled "Cinder Cone" and next to it is the much larger peak of Prospect Peak. I decided to see how fantastic this lava bed actually was and get another peak in for good measure. Arriving at Butte Lake, promptly found two trails, one heading west around the lake and one heading up the hill to Bathtub Lake. Heading west, I found my trailhead next to a small lot off the boat launch. There was another map, looking angled at relief and showing the weakness of this as data communication since sometimes the mountains hide the trails, and a box full of brochures for the interpretive trail that starts here and goes along the Fantastic Lava Beds to the Cinder Cone. I headed first for Prospect Peak, which breaks off just under half a mile down the trail.

black and white swallow tail
A butterfly, a type of swallow tail, that is in its last days.

edge of lava flow
The edge of the Fantastic Lava Beds, a flow of lava that has shrunk Butte Lake quite a bit.


The trail is all black cinder. The rocks seem to promise pain to anyone who dares come here without their feet fully covered. The trail moved under each footstep, making it take more energy to walk than it should. Prospect Peak is a shield cone rather than a cinder cone, but as the trail climbs to the top, it is still covered with cinders. There are more trees on the peak, so there is more occasion for forest litter to be mixed in with the cinders. I found that pine needles on the top of the cinders helped very much to freeze them into place and make walking easier, so I kept to them when they were available. Outcrops of rock along the way show old lava flows. Holes surrounded by a bit of burned wood show where trees once stood, but curiously don't seem to fill in very quickly.

little pink flower with 9 long, pointed petals
A small monocot on its first flower as it blossoms in the cinder.

lichen growing in rings on the trees
A few perfect rings of lichen while others arrange theirs in a more blotchy pattern.

an outcrop of lava rocks on the cinder ground
One outcrop of lava along the side of the shield cone. Here also, the manzanita grows as a very short ground cover.

As the trail climbs, the cone of the volcano gets steeper and, it its way, more perfect. The trees below are almost all beautifully scented Jeffrey pine, but up here red firs dominate the hillsides. The trail is still covered in cinders, but they seem to not be so deep and there are times where there is rock to walk on. The trail gets easier in one way as it gets harder in another.

trees on the side of the shield cone
The trail starts to turn away from straight up as the side of the shield cone becomes steeper.

Near the top, the trees thin out and it becomes easy to see out to the surrounding landscape. Snag Lake, at the other side of the Fantastic Lava Beds, is visible and I discovered there was a small forest fire on the side of Lassen. I sat for a bit at a high point on the south side of the peak checking out the views and after still seeing no planes, tried and failed to call in the forest fire with my highly variable cell phone signal.

Snag Lake from near the southern high point on Prospect Peak
Almost to the top of Prospect Peak, I can now see out to Snag Lake and Mount Hoffman.

small forest fire
A small forest fire in the wilderness area west of the road and east of Mount Lassen. I finally found information on this fire on the Lassen Volcanic National Park facebook page.

top of Cinder Cone
The top of Cinder Cone, the many trails around it clearly visible, and the Fantastic Lava Beds beyond. Most of the Painted Dunes are hidden by the cone and trees from here.

Mount Lassen
Mount Lassen and parts of the western side of the park.

Prospect Peak caldera
A little of the ridge of the crater, which slopes down to the left to make a shallow dip in the otherwise large, flat top of Prospect Peak.

The crater on Prospect Peak is a wide and gentle dip to the middle of the mountain. High points on the map lie southeast, southwest, and north. The trail wraps around the southwest one, where I stopped, and heads to the north one where the true peak, labeled East Prospect, lies. After my stop, I proceeded around to the north end for a different view. I found that the peak northwest had a suspiciously tidy looking fire lookout on it with a good road and remembered that up here, there are still occupied lookouts. One of these does happen to be on West Prospect Peak, so I wasn't so worried about getting the fire reported anymore.

fire lookout on West Prospect Peak
The fire lookout on West Prospect Peak, which is occupied, and was likely already monitoring the Reading fire out on the east flank of Lassen.

Looking out, the land northeast seems to flatten out while everywhere else, volcanoes continue to poke up as very round mounds of all sizes. I found a golden USGS marker with no date and a post at the true peak. A short distance away, the remains of a long abandoned fire lookout, or probably a shed that accompanied it, have fallen into a pile of wood with a little glass and wire.

little volcanos in a somewhat northerly direction
Off to the north, and likely a bit west, little volcanoes pop up. Shasta was also visible from here.

a little of the north slope and the flatlands beyond
The north side of the volcano is a little barren and the views out northeast a little flat.

colapsed wooden structure
The remains of some structure that once was on this mountain. The peak had a fire lookout, but this doesn't seem to have nearly enough glass to be that. It is probably just a shed.

I started down the mountain again. Coming down, the black cinder wasn't so bad for walking on. As I went, I found an obstacle in my trail that hadn't been there on the way up. One of the 40 foot or so high and very rotten stumps of tree had managed to fall over while I was on the peak.

fallen rotten log
I found a new obstacle in my path on my way down. Yes, I expect it did make a sound.

I got down the mountain quickly and turned to go toward the cinder cone. The trail was dreadful to walk on again, giving way with every movement. On the other hand, the trees are generally large Jeffery pines so the smells were strong and sweet with subtle changes as I moved through the forest. The well used trail is wide and, in a few places, the pine needles help hold the ground together a bit better. I met a few people along this trail, a few who did not go up Cinder Cone when they got there.

lava flow coming up to big trees
The lava comes very nearly up to some large trees, but maybe not quite large enough to have been there when the lava was hot. Sparse trees grow in the cinders, but even fewer find a hold in the lava beds themselves.

Cinder Cone
Cinder Cone and one of the trails that heads steeply up the side. Two people on the trail near the bottom went up to the first sign and came back.

Upon seeing the trail up the side of Cinder Cone, I wondered how the hike to the top of it on all these cinders could be considered "moderate". It was hard enough to keep going on the fairly flat stuff past the Fantastic Lava Beds, much less climb more steeply than trails usually climb on it. The sign at the junction at the bottom gave me my answer. The mileage back is about the same as the stated mileage to Cinder Cone at the start, so the moderate route does not include going to the top. I would recommend that if the trip to the top looks like too much but you think you can continue on largely flat stuff, you go around to the second trail up and take it until it starts its similar steep climb to get good views of the Painted Dunes and some more interesting sections of the Fantastic Lava Beds.

I settled into the trudge up the steep, wide trail. I lost 2-6 vertical inches with each step up. The rocks on the inside are small and the steps along it all seemed to be long, probably from downward going people, but they shifted plenty going up too. The rocks on the outside are much larger, but still shifted quite a bit when stepped on. Toward the outside, I found what seemed like the best section for going uphill without feeling like I was actually on a stair machine. Reaching the top, the cinders are again a thin layer over more solid rock making walking much easier. The crater in the center dips down deep and about as sharply as the outside. I turned left to get to the high point of the little peak.

Cinder Cone crater
The top of Cinder Cone seems to have two edges although the signs say this is the result of a single eruption. The crater is a steep sided and deep hole at the center.

Lassen in the distance from the high point of Cinder Cone
Looking out to Mount Lassen from the high point along the edge of Cinder Cone, the smoke from the fire now looks like a little extra afternoon mist.

Butte Lake and Fantastic Lava Beds
Butte Lake had shrunk drastically when the flow making the Fantastic Lava Beds finished.

I continued around the outside edge of the crater toward the Painted Dunes. After the south edge, I dipped down to the inside edge too see the bottom of the crater where there is a pile of rocks. I decided not to go down to the bottom. Instead, I made my way back up to the trail that heads down from the east side of the crater where the views of the Painted Dunes are the best.

Painted Dunes
Sandwiched between Cinder Cone and Fantastic Lava Beds are the Painted Dunes. Here, a few trees grow among the blotches of red and black and gold.

Fantastic Lava Beds
Apparent structures in the lava flow are easy to see here. Snag Lake is in the background.

crater of Cinder Cone
The crater of Cinder Cone has another steep path down it to the bottom and a small pile of rocks large rocks at the bottom.

high point of Cinder Cone and Prospect Peak
The high point of Cinder Cone with Prospect Peak, the further point, in the background.

The trail down from the east side of the peak is narrower, but just as steep and loose as the trail up. It makes a few turns toward the bottom around the edge of the Painted Dunes and the Fantastic Lava Beds before coming around to view a boulder field of the largest cinders that popped from the cone. These largely rolled to the bottom and a few look like they landed here, shattering on impact.

Fantastic Lava Beds
Fantastic Lava Beds on the west side of the flow looking in the Snag Lake direction.

viewpoints for the dunes and lava bed
The tail end of the trail as it comes back down off Cinder Cone to the edge of the Painted Dunes.

stipes of red on cinder dunes
Fantastic Lava Beds and Painted Dunes from low along the trail up the south side of Cinder Cone. Here, the dunes seem to have red and gold stripes from the top down.

large cinders gathered at the bottom of the slope
Large cinders and rocks gather at the bottom of the slopes of Cinder Cone.

The trail comes to an intersection to go to Snag Lake, which can be used as a long loop back around to the side of Butte Lake I parked on. Hiking uphill on loose cinders again, I quickly got to another intersection that heads off to other lakes and to the Pacific Crest Trail. A little more climbing and I was back to the junction where I started up Cinder Cone. I was ready for anything but cinders, so I walked down a little way to a point where the Painted Dunes were more visible and stopped to watercolor a little and rest a lot. I accidentally sacrificed all of the water I had left to the watercolor, but with the cooling evening and 1.5 miles or so gentle downhill (although on shifting cinders) I had left to hike, I wasn't worried. I finished the hike as the sun set.

Butte Lake in the twilight
Butte Lake in the twilight. The edge of the lava flow is seen extending into the lake.

I had hoped to stop by Bumpass Hell again after this one, but again, there wasn't any time.




©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 4 Aug 2012

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