Although I would return to the coast before hitting San Francisco, I headed inland from the Lost Coast to see Mount Shasta. I spent a day working in Redding, polishing up a few posts and pictures, before heading up to the mountain. Forced to drive the infamous I-5, I sped through a deep valley that afforded constant views of Mount Shasta and brought me into the shadow of the epic Castle Crags. After a quick stop in the Crags, I continued towards Shasta. Bunny Flat trailhead is the highest road access on the mountain in winter. It is, therefore, the launch point for anyone attempting a summit or skinning up for a day of skiing. It is also a bomber spot for sledding and watching the sunset. When I arrived, I saw a man loading crampons and ice axes into his truck. I immediately struck up a conversation, asking him about his day on the mountain. He had no complaints about the weather, but the warmth had definitely made the snow more dangerous. He showed me pictures from the summit, but cautioned against an ascent. Luckily, that hadn’t been on my list.
As the shadows lengthened, I scampered around the clearing, borrowing a sled for a quick run down a ridiculously steep slope and setting up my sunset vantage point high on a ridge. Then, I settled in and watched the colors deepen around me. Soon, shrill yelling, swearing, and bickering splintered the serenity of the moment. I glanced around, confused and somewhat concerned. Just up the hill, I spied a young couple, standing apart in knee-deep snow. Accusations of infidelity, emotional instability, insecurity, and indifference cascaded down the mountain like an avalanche. I couldn’t help but listen and steal quick glances at the unfolding quarrel. As I listened to a crash course in the history of their relationship, my gaze stole back to the sinking sun, no longer distracted by the chaos behind me.
Suddenly, a heavy silence fell over the mountain. For the next twenty minutes, every person on Shasta watched the sun fall behind a far ridgeline with deep reverence. Relationship squabbles no longer held any power. The beauty of the mountain and the grace of the sunset had captivated us all, if only for a few minutes. As dusk settled over the peak, everyone began gravitating back to his or her car. A quiet chill crept in, feeding off the warm vacuum that the sun left behind. Then, like clockwork, the pained voices of the couple rekindled their fervor, although their passion had subdued greatly. Eventually, the crowds thinned. At last, I was alone with the stars and the howling mountain winds.
In the morning, I clipped into my snowshoes and wandered around for an hour or two as the sun rose crested the hills to my east. The silence of that morning on Shasta permeated through everything, from the moss-covered trees to the impenetrable banks of snow. Eventually, I hopped back in the car and began my speedy decent down into the town of Mount Shasta, where I found warm coffee and Wi-Fi aplenty. After a bit of research and writing, I pushed onwards to my next volcano: Lassen.
Although Lassen came highly recommended, I was met with closed doors and closed roads at every turn. Once again, the doldrums of off-season travel had struck. The central section of the park’s main road, highway 89, had been closed for months, preventing me from exploring Mount Lassen or any of the volcanic features along its base without committing serious time and energy to hiking in. Attempting a better vantage point, I even circumvented the park, driving hours out of my way, but to no avail. The second visitor’s center I tried was closed as well. The endless detours left me with one lasting impression… in my windshield. Somewhere in my wanderings around Lassen, a crack had begun to grow, curving gently across my windshield. I had been living with a centrally located, tiny crack, but this one would require attention… quickly. I left Lassen Volcanic National Park with my tail between my legs and started my journey back to the coast.
Maps, Maps, Maps!!!