Lost in Lassen

I was lost on the mountainside on my way to Prospect Peak, and the prospect of finding the trail again seemed bleak. It had disappeared entirely right before my eyes. I tried to trace my steps to find the trail, but it was no use. The term “trail,” to begin with, was very gracious for I questioned about a dozen times which direction the trail led. I convinced myself for a while that I was on a trail, but it may have been my imagination more than anything. 

I was in Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California, along picturesque lakes, beautiful groves of pines, and volcanic peaks laden with snow. I had just descended from Cinder Cone volcano. Going up was strenuous, coming down, a breeze. Back at the trailhead I realized I still had quite a bit of sunlight to spare and thought I’d attempt a hike to a mountain peak. There was a trail for Prospect Peak. Not much was labeled, so I didn’t know how long it would take to reach the summit, but I thought I’d give it a try. If it became too much I could always turn around. 

As I ascended I was noting how barren the forest was. There were pine trees, the ground was covered in an endless bed of pine needles, and there were tree stubs and the remains of fallen trees scattered about, but aside from that, the forest was very bare. Unlike the forests of the East in which low growth crowds the forest into a rich jungle, here the forest was quite barren and open. As I ascended, mounds of snow laid here and there, but despite these piles of moisture, the place was dry and the air was hot and hollow. 

I was enjoying my hike up the mountain, but since the forest was naturally quite bare it contributed to the difficulty of not knowing where the trail led. Occasionally I would see where feet had trampled upon pine needles before, but the higher I got the more snow there was, and it looked like the snow had partially melted and refrozen, wiping away any footprints that might have been. I checked here, there, and everywhere. The trail cut me loose.

I figured there was no use turning around and giving up on reaching the mountaintop because I had no trail to lead me back. Afterall, in order to make it to the mountaintop, all I needed to do was travel upward, and so I did.

Now that I was just trudging through snow, apart from a trail, on my own, the forest became a little daunting, and I was becoming a bit concerned. The trail provided me company and security, but now I was alone. What’s that dark spot over there? Is that a bear? No, just a stump. It was like I felt the bears would know I was lost, and therefore I would become an easy target. 

Through the trudge of uncertainty, I reached the top. Snow, about a foot deep, spread all across the mountaintop. A few pines stood around, but for the most part it was bald. The view of Lassen Peak was unobstructed. I had never seen a mountain so snow-capped before. I found it so novel at the time to be amongst such snow in June. Later in my summers working in Montana, I learned that snow and the summer just coexist. Apart from the prominent Lassen Peak were other short mountains behind and around it, each with a sharp peak, not rounded like what I’m accustomed to seeing in Appalachia. One stood behind another, and the pattern continued until it faded into the blue sky. And then, there, where the mountains faded into the blue sky I lifted my eyes and to my utter amazement stood the fantastic, magnificent, incredible, Mount Shasta. Its majestic snow peak appeared sticking out in the blue of the sky. It diminished the grandeur of all the other mountains in the area. I had never beheld a mountain so towering and dominating, and here I was standing before it, still about sixty miles away.

When I first arrived at this point I was held in marvel by Lassen Peak, with all it’s snow, thinking it was quite a spectacle. I couldn’t have imagined a finer mountain in the moment, but  once my eyes caught sight of Mount Shasta, I was humbled, and Lassen Peak was humbled, and Prospect Peak was humbled. We were all humbled. The beauty and magnitude of Shasta was beyond our comparison.

A similar sentiment was delivered the following day in the park. I had rented a kayak and was making my way around Manzanita Lake. I was noticing the trees tightly packed together reaching and competing for the highest stance in the forest, to get the most of the sun giving light. Although beautiful and stately in their own being, the pine trees were nothing compared to the mountain just behind them. As my eyes were drawn up to the mountain, my view proceeded to the sky, and I observed the clouds, and how the clouds themselves create enormous rotundities, They formed heavenly mountains of their own, as well as canyons and valleys, with such depth and beauty. Suddenly the grandeur of the mountain was diminished by the wonder of the sky. 

This had me thinking that the beauty of nature has no end. It’s a path and always precursor to that which is more beautiful and closer to perfection. If we follow the pathway of beauty, it ultimately leads us to the Creator, whom none of us have seen. We only see His craftsmanship. Just like the majesty of Mount Shasta was unimaginable before it caught me off guard, so the perfected beauty of God is beyond our comprehension. When we see these marvels of nature, they are just fragments of God’s craftsmanship. His perfected beauty, unrevealed to us on earth, transcends all our minds can fathom. 

It is great to ponder the depths of beauty, but also there is the practical to take into account when pressing. At the moment, apart from knowing I was on a mountaintop, I was practically lost. I had to find my way back without a trail. I knew I could get down the mountain, but I needed more than just to get down the mountain. I needed to find my car. I needed to be pointed in the right direction. I was torn between whether I needed to bear more to the left or right. I had lost all sight of where I had come from. How symbolic: If we lose sight of where we come from, if we disregard our past, we end up lost. 

Focus! 

Is that a bear?! No, just another stump. 

Evening was upon me. Tonight the temperature will probably drop below freezing in these high reaches, I thought. I am unprepared to be lost in Lassen Volcanic National Park. My mind went right to the worst case scenario in which I couldn’t find my way back.

I had my hiker GPS on me. It was turned on, but I made the classic mistake of not creating a waypoint. This is an error I have made over and over again. I guess I start off my treks full of confidence and excitement, that I lack to even consider marking a coordinate on my GPS. This would have been helpful in a number of instances. 

I grasped the GPS in hand, and browsed through its features. Could there be anything to help me? I opened up the map feature. This was the bottom of the line model, and by maps, it only provided black and white outlines of state borders, nothing to be of any real use. But then I noticed lines all over the map of the U.S.. Could it be? Has this device been tracking my every movement since I purchased it?! Sure enough it had! Perhaps that’s a little creepy and invasive, but at the moment I was excited. I zoomed in as close as I could to a singular line on the screen which was my pathway. I could follow this line all the way back to my whereabouts in 2016, but all I needed was to get to the parking lot I was at a few hours ago. 

Sure enough the technology delivered!

Back at my tent I heated some canned goods over the fire for dinner and settled in my tent for a rejuvenating night’s rest. Here I was in the dry and cool forest, under the canopy of tall pines, beneath the star filled sky, with the company of the sleeping volcanoes. I was no longer lost but comforted in the luxuries of nature. I was so satisfied. 

Read the previous entry “Singing into a Volcanic Crater” here: Singing into a Volcanic Crater – on the verge (joshthehodge.com)

Check out my book Canyonlands: my adventures in the national parks and the beautiful wild here: https://www.amazon.com/Canyonlands-adventures-National-Parks-beautiful/dp/1711397873

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