Monday, July 16, 2007

Brokeoff Mountain

Lassen National Park
7 miles, elevation gain: 2,600
Elevation start: 5535, end: 9235 feet
Hiking time: 6.5 hours
Fawn, Julie

No, that is not Brokeback Mountain and no, there are no sheep on this trail. Ever since the movie, I have to think carefully for the name of this trail.

I wanted to hike to Brokeoff Mountain while I was in Redding. Bill and I had done this hike several years ago and I had remembered it as a beautiful and challenging hike. I wanted to see how it felt since I’m in much better shape now and thought it would be good training for the upcoming Rae Lakes loop. My mom was determined to find me a hiking partner, since she didn’t want me hiking alone.

She emailed her friend, Fawn, and said her daughter was in town and wanted to hike in Lassen. Fawn emailed back, suggesting Brokeoff Mountain. The die was cast. Two other women from Mom’s “coffee” group thought about coming, but Helga had broken her leg recently so they decided to pass.

I met Fawn at her house at 6:30 which felt really early, but we wanted to miss the heat. The trailhead is right before the SW entrance to the park, so we drove down to Red Bluff. We were taking my car, but Fawn knew where we were going.

It turns out Fawn and I have quite a bit in common and got on wonderfully. We got off I-5 at Red Bluff. We were busy talking away. I thought this was an alternate route, driving through orchards. I said – “I don’t remember this way to Lassen, what town is this?” Then Fawn realized that we were so engrossed in our conversation that we were on Highway 99 at Los Molinas and had missed the Highway 36 turnoff. She assumed since I was driving, that I knew where I was going. A very false assumption. J We turned around and headed back to Red Bluff and watched carefully for Highway 36.

The drive was beautiful, another clear day. You see unusual bluffs from the road as you head towards Lassen. We were on the trail by 9:00 a.m. Two other couples in the parking lot left at a lively pace, while we were putting on our hiking boots. It turns out that Fawn has done a lot of hiking and backpacking – just not lately. She hadn’t had her hiking boots on for several years.

We loaded up and hit the trail. I tried to do this hike at the same time last year, but at that time there was hip deep snow. Not so this year. The only snow we saw were a few patches below the peak. The beginning of the trail is lush with bushes and wildflowers. Fawn is a gardener and quite knowledgeable about wildflowers. She pointed out beautiful orange Columbine, Stickweed, Stinky Mint and Elegant Kitty Ears. I was pleased to see so many wildflowers.

The first part of the hike is past ponds, marshes and forest. The hike is a continuous uphill climb. The temperature was pleasant and there were constant breezes to cool us. The trail crosses a little creek filled with flowers. As you climb you get a great view of Lake Almanor in the distance. We stopped to enjoy the view. This was our first blister break. I was still nursing the Contra blister and Fawn has incredibly sensitive skin, so both her heels were raw. I had brought a blister donut and lots of band aids, so we did repairs.

As you hike the mountain looms above you. It looked like the trail crosses the face of the mountain in a very scary fashion, but I recalled from last hike that it went around the more sloping backside. Fawn wasn’t intimidated. Her attitude towards hiking is take it as it comes. Stop whenever you need to. There was still plenty of uphill. You climbed up through rocks and wound your way around the far side of the mountain. Now you had beautiful views to the south. The trail narrowed to a mountain pathway and the switchbacks began. We stopped for a second blister break for Fawn. She put on fresh band aids and doubled up her socks. She took it all in stride – so to speak – not complaining, just hiking along.

There was a great view of Shasta in the distance, framed by a group of trees. Then the switchbacks headed east and you were onto the final climb. There was an arch between two high points which had an incredible view of Shasta. There are three points at the top. Fawn said when she has done the hike with larger groups they lunch at the various high points.

We climbed to the final peak. It is very dramatic when you reach the top. It is a small round plateau with an incredible 360 degree view. Shasta, Lassen, Lake Almanor and the Trinity Alps all visible in the distance. It is a view that you have worked for and it fun to see just high you have climbed. Very rewarding.

The two couples were up on top. The older couple was taking photos of the woman striking yoga poses (something her yoga group does). The younger couple was videotaping the moment on there video cam. We had the guy take our photo with the throwaway camera. We were definitely the least high tech of the bunch.

We sat down to eat lunch. A hummingbird came zipping by. It surprised me that it would fly so high - such amazing little creatures. I enjoyed the view and Fawn assumed the “flattened Fawn” position from her backpacking days. She said when backpacking she always tried to find a nice flat place to take a quick siesta. You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful spot.

The couples left and a young guy came up. The trail wasn’t very crowded for a Sunday on a beautiful clear day. We discovered a metal container which was stuffed with little pieces of paper, business cards or whatever people could find to write on. The closest you could come to a log. Fawn and I left our names and she was able to smash all the papers back into the container.

We headed down the mountain at a much quicker pace. The views were spectacular on the way down as well. When we got down to the marsh we took off our hiking boots and waded in the stream and played in the mud. The water wasn’t nearly as cold as the icy water coming off of Shasta. The younger couple was resting there as well, since they were having trouble with their knees.

Fawn and I had a long discussion of whether this was a difficult or strenuous hike. She didn’t think so, but she thinks of difficult as having to hang off a cliff or cross a slippery log across a rushing creek. I generally think of difficulty in terms of elevation gain – though I will take scary factor into consideration. When I went to the official Lassen website they called it strenuous and said it would take 7 hours to hike. We hiked it in 6 ½ hours – but that was with lots of stops and at a slow space.

As we came into the meadows there were several different kinds of butterflies floating amongst the wildflowers – yellow, blue, white, black and a single Monarch. It was great to see such variety. The rest of the hike down was quite pleasant. We were back at the car by 3:30. We got out of the hiking boots - ahhhhh! – always a good moment.

We headed to Mineral where stopped to have our post celebratory drink (the usual Bloody Mary for me, beer for Fawn). We ordered onion rings (nothing like fried food after a nice healthy activity). The onion rings came hanging off a little contraption that looked like a coffee mug holder, complete with an indentation for ranch dressing.

It had been a wonderful day. Fawn was great company and the views from the mountains are still with me. I’m so glad I did this hike and met a new hiking partner and friend. It is the best hike in Lassen – even better than the hike to Lassen Peak.

Lessons Learned: Pay attention when driving to the trailhead. Never try to estimate how long a hike will take – it takes a long as it takes.

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