Lassen Peak: California's hidden treasure

Uncover the West's most beautiful, least visited wonderland

Upper Meadow
Photo: Thomas J. Story

My husband, Pete, and I have chosen Lassen because we want to climb a big mountain but have neither the gear nor the muscle mass for anything truly intimidating.

Lassen seems doable. To wit: The trailhead to the 10,457-foot summit of Lassen Peak begins at 8,500 feet. With a head start like that, we figure we can make it to the top - even with our twin toddlers on our backs - and be back for lunch.

Lucky for us, Lassen is also procrastinator-friendly, and we're able to get a campsite at Summit Lake with less than a month's notice. When my dad and my brother sign on to the trip a week later, we get another right next door. Once we're there and settled in, we hit the trail to the top, which starts out lined with wildflowers and shade trees but quickly gives way to rocky paths, steep slides, and views out to the Sacramento Valley.

I'm carrying our daughter, Magnolia, on my back, and she happily munches a breadstick as I plod up the mountain. We haven't gone far when we're passed by a 6-year-old and her dad. Soon after, an older couple, looking like they've stepped out of an ad for granola bars, wish us a good morning and jog past us on their way back down.

I use the stunning views as an excuse for the many pauses in my progress. As we stand huffing on the dramatic edge of the mountain, my dad points out Lake Almanor, where he went fishing as a kid. I nod and scan the green horizon, mentally mapping Northern California, while the twins begin to wail and the wind howls.

We are so close, so very close, to the top of the volcano when it becomes clear that mountaineering glory will remain out of our reach. For the sake of the kids, who are tear-streaked and really mad at this point, Pete and I leave my dad and brother to tame Lassen Peak without us.

We'll have to wait a few years before we witness the summit (we hear later that the view is worth every arduous footstep). For now we can claim to have changed a diaper at 10,000 feet. It's something.

Next: Nature's softer side

 

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