Lassen Volcanic, CA

Beginning the trail up Mount Lassen.

2.5 miles and 2,000 feet. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. In other words, this was a very quickly ascending, very strenuous hike. A calf workout, for sure. Bring your hiking poles, both of them!

Little mountains, all nearly entirely covered with snow. Kids played in the snow banks by the parking lot, sledding down the slopes. It reminded me of other California mountains I visited as a kid, the frozen fingers, the red noses.

And the best part of Lassen? The butterflies.

Millions, billions of them, in orange and black sheets sweeping up the mountainside, carried onward by the winds. I was so dearly lucky to have seen such a thing, so many of them teeming so quickly through the air at once that they bounced off my sunglasses a few times. It felt as if this sight was just for me, as if they were welcoming me home in this swirling, colorful parade. I couldn’t believe it.

The steep climb only became more and more beautiful, the blue marble of the pond growing smaller between the rolling white hills. I took a rest just before the last leg to the very top of Mount Lassen, and very much found the altitude getting to me. Mind you, I don’t believe I’m out of shape. But I found myself out of breath just standing there in the thin air at 10,463 feet, having to take a few desperate breaths before my lungs steadied again. My little Florida lungs (and legs) are still not used to these elevations.

At the peak, after very carefully treading through the slick snow with my trekking poles, I climbed the scattered boulders up to the real summit.

A bit of the trail ran through the snow on the right side there. Step very carefully, and don’t rush.
A nice view for a rest just before the summit.
Mount Shasta.

Mount Shasta in the distance was a smog-tinged orange in my sunglasses, but just as much of a soft, transient cloud as Mount Rainier had been. Down below, all manner of volcanoes were visible. This, after all, was the site of one of the more recent eruptions in 1915. Veins of snow covered those sleeping giants, and the rolling mountains faded into the ceaseless California haze, their blankets of deep green woods veiled by the ever-thickening pollution. Still, the waterfall of orange tortoiseshell butterflies rushed through that air, sent straight up into the sky off the face of the summit.

And because these pictures could never accurately capture the sheer number of the butterflies, here’s a short minute video of the tortoiseshells. Don’t worry, I spared you all my heavy breathing.

Very tired from the way up, I happily descended Mount Lassen again.

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