Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Dangers: Boiling Mud

Boat, taking a rest alongside the trail.
July 24: One thing you have to give credit to the folks who selected the route for the PCT--if there was a way to route the trail to a new danger, they would do it in a heartbeat. This time, the dangers included boiling mud, steam, and ground that could fall out from under you dumping you into a boiling pool of water.

I had, at long last, arrived in Lassen National Park! =) A spectacular wonderland of thermal features second only to Yellowstone. I had visited Lassen last year with Amanda so this area wasn't new to me, but the section of the park that the PCT crossed was new to me. I'd seen the western half of the park, but the trail crossed through the eastern half.

When I reached a trail junction to Terminal Geyser, I decided to take it. The geyser was about 0.2 miles off the PCT--at least according to the signage--and I wasn't particularly rushed. I needed to slow down, in fact, to hit the post office first thing Monday morning. So yeah, I'll check out this Terminal Geyser place located less than a quarter mile off the PCT even though I'd have to retrace my steps back afterwards. So far as I can tell, I'm the only thru-hiker to make this particular little detour.

The trail followed a steep slope down to Terminal Geyser and I started having second thoughts about the decision. It's one thing to hike off trail for 0.2 miles, but downhill? That would require my walking uphill to get back which didn't particularly appeal to me.... But I was already committed.

Terminal Geyser was somewhat disappointing.
First, I smelled that sulphur. That rotten egg smell that's so distasteful. Yes, the earth was angry here, but I still didn't see the proverbial smoking gun. Then, I saw signage, warning that the ground was thin, brittle, and slippery, and that I could break through and be severely burned. YES! Material for my blog! =)

Then I heard it--a hissing, rumbling, gurgling sound.

And finally, I saw it--steam rising from the ground, swirling around in the air.

But Terminal Geyser, from the looks of it, was well named. I saw no geyser--it was terminal. I've seen geysers in Yellowstone before, with that gaping hole that spouts out water. I've seen geysers shoot out of pools of water. But there was none of that here. It was merely a pile of rocks with water flowing underneath and steam coming out. If enough pressure built up, the water wouldn't bust up into a geyster--it would hit all the rocks and be scattered to the four corners of the wind. A small path led directly to where the steam escaped, and I followed it closer in the hopes of seeing something more... spectacular. Or something. As far as things went, I was a little disappointed with Terminal Geyser.

But there was nothing. Near the end, I was careful to step on solid, thick rocks. If my foot plunged through cracks in the rocks--that would be bad. Very bad. I stopped at a point where I felt it was too risky to continue, took some photos, then returned to the official, well-worn trail.

"Well that was a waste of time," I thought. "Time to get back to the PCT!" Uphill. Drats, definitely not worth it, I thought.

Boiling Springs Lake was much more exciting to see!
It seems shocking to me that those three trees
on the right can even survive on that shoreline!
I made it back to the trail and eyed the next thermal feature listed on my map: Boiling Springs Lake. I hoped it would be more interesting. It seemed promising as the number of day hikers on the trail increased dramatically. First it was just a few, then it was dozens. A few were severely overweight. "They couldn't have come far," I thought. "The lake is near!"

I passed a mom with two children, and they asked if I had come from Terminal Geyser. "No," I told them sadly, "There's no geyser." They looked disappointed. "But there's a lot of steam and noise!" They brightened up again. =) "Yep, if you want to see a lot of steam and hear a lot of noise, that's a great place to visit!"

Turning a corner, I saw a large, soupy-looking lake that was absolutely spectacular! It bubbled, it burped, it farted, then burped again. The lake was a bluish-gray color, and the shoreline was a thick mud that bubbled and threw mud in the air. Despite the dozens of people around, it was thrilling! It was exciting! It was cool!

Photos were taken, but I pushed on to Drakesbad Guest Resort--the source of the large quantities of day hikers on the trail. Rumor had it that food could be had, and restrooms, and civilization. It sounded good to me!

I take a pony ride after finishing lunch.
I arrived at the dinning room with only 15 minutes to spare before lunch was over. It was a buffet, and I picked over the leftover sandwich makings and various food options, piled up my plate with cookies and apples, and joined a table with nearly a dozen other thru-hikers who had arrived before me.

After lunch, I went outside and spent the heat of the day sitting out on the porch reading an issue of Popular Mechanics. I hoped to finish it before I left so I could leave it behind--dead weight I no longer wanted to carry. Which is when it started to rain.

Well, technically, it wasn't rain, per se, but rather those hoses you'll sometimes see outside in hot locales that spray out a watery mist to keep patrons cool. Except that these hoses didn't spray out a cooling mist--it was more of a squirting rain. I didn't mind getting wet--I knew I would dry quickly as soon as I started hiking again, but I did move my pack out from under the unexpected downpour to keep my gear dry.

Late in the afternoon, I continued hiking up the trail, walking into the absolute worst mosquito cloud of my life. I had to keep moving, hiking as quickly as possible to outrun those blood-sucking bastards. I stopped for a few seconds to take a photo, and the mosquitoes swarmed. I practically ran down the trail--it was the only way to avoid them.

The trail out of Drakesbad was steep and hot!
Then a shoelace came loose, flapping with every step. "Crap!" I thought. "I can't stop long enough to tie it properly! The mosquitoes will swarm! They'll suck me dry of blood in ten seconds flat!" I kept hiking with the shoelace flapping around, but my shoe was working loose. I needed to do something. I stopped for two seconds, just long enough to grab the loose lace and stuff it into the shoe alongside my foot. It still wasn't tied properly, but hopefully that would help keep the laces from turning into tripping hazards and maybe help keep the shoe from falling off completely.

I needed to find a safe place to camp if I wanted to survive the night. Somewhere not near water, somewhere high and exposed, where it was cold and windy. The problem was that nothing on my topo map suggested anything like this was near. Nothing! Argh!

I kept hiking, and the mosquitoes followed in a cloud that seemed to hover just behind my head. If I stopped for even a second, I could kill half a dozen mosquitoes on my hand with a single swat of the other hand. It was terrible. It was the stuff of nightmares.

When I reached Lower Twin Lake, the mosquitoes died down--a little--and I found Lizard who was hiking with four girls. (Lucky man!) The first time I met this group was during lunch at Drakesbad. Lizard was thru-hiking the trail, but the four girls told me they were just section hiking.

"Really?" I asked, "How far?"

"About 48 miles," they said, proudly.

"That's not long enough to count as a section hike!" I protested. They seemed insulted by my protest. Weekenders sometimes do more miles than that, though. Okay, technically, I suppose they are doing a section--a very small section--of the PCT, but I wouldn't have called it a section hike.

But I didn't protest very much--there was nothing to be gained by doing so.

Lower Twin Lake
One of the girls offered to spray me with a huge can of DEET they were carrying, and I happily let her. She walked around me and covered me with DEET from head to toe. It felt awesome! I've never had so much DEET applied in such a short period of time before, and it was awesome. The occasional mosquito still managed to find its way through the cloud, but I could deal with them one at a time.

The group also had one extra dinner which they offered to cook up for me. I had plenty of food in my pack already, but they actually offered to cook the dinner! Sure, I'll take it! =) Glad I stopped to chat with you folks!

And, shortly after sunset, they all went to bed. I set up camp nearby. While I was in no rush to get to Old Station, I knew I'd be getting a very early morning start to my hike the next day--I had to get on the trail before the mosquitoes could swarm. Ugh!


CLoveR said...

A study of grasses living at the edges of thermal pools at Yellowstone, revealed that fungus living on the grass somehow impart high heat tolerance to the grasses. Maybe something like that is helping keep the trees alive on the side of that lake!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Ok, now I'm feeling self-concious about considering doing some section hikes of the AT one day. Are thru-hikers really that snobby about section hikers??
Maybe only if they don't offer to cook for thru-hikers? :D

This is what I discovered about your two geothermal features:

"Located in the southeast corner of the park, Terminal Geyser is not actually a geyser, but rather a cold stream flowing over a steam vent."


"Just northwest of Terminal Geyser, large, warm-water Boiling Springs Lake has many hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles along its west shore."

Wow. I've never seen a pony that could carry TWO saddles on it's back before! There's a spot behind you for Amanda even!

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers