Hike date: 6/22/2019. Summit reached via snow and regular switchbacks.
Summer has just arrived but as anyone who has visited Lassen National Park knows, summer is a relative term.
With snowfall in parts of the park exceeding 400-500 inches a year, Lassen holds on to winter for an awfully long time. So it really wasn’t a surprise when I pulled up conditions and found that the park had 10+ feet, yes feet, of snow along the road and of course plenty covering the trail to the Peak. Perfect time for a visit clearly!
At 10,457′, Lassen Peak is an impressive volcano (the second most recent one in the lower 48 to erupt too) but with the road and trailhead reaching around 8,500′, the regular hike up to the top is actually quite reasonable, once the snow melts out that is (see my trail guide for the regular hike.) Right now is not regular.
Driving through the middle of California early in the morning, it was fun to watch the temperature drop from over 70 off highway 5 to 60, 50 and eventually 40 something. No surprise that as the temp went down, the snow level went up. At the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, there’s not much left but there is snow even there!
By the time I reached Helen Lake, it was full on snow walls along the road that made my Jeep feel tiny. As for the parking lot for Lassen Peak, well it’s a good thing they plow it out! Heads up however, restrooms are not open and there are never any facilities besides vault toilets at the trailhead so fill up on water and grab your snacks before you leave the visitor center!
The summer trailhead is still many feet under snow but a strong bootpath has been kicked in by the hikers and skiers heading up in recent weeks and let me tell you, it’s a lot different than the summer route as you head right on up the usually switchbacked hill. In the early morning hours, crampons crushed but with temps picking up, those in ski and mountain boots fared just fine as well. By the time if my return at around noon, the snow was getting mighty soft so get an early start or suffer the slog!
While there’s plenty of snow down low, the trail is surprisingly well melted out from about half way up. Thus from the top of the first hill, the bootpath splits into a few variations. Some paths head right for the switchbacks and dirt trail while others aim for the slopes to climber’s right to skin or boot up the snow as far as it lasts (of course, stay on the official trail when on dirt!)
There’s probably a good 700 – 1,200′ of snow climbing right now depending on how you route. With this much snow and temps cooling off nicely at night, microspikes, poles and waterproof boots make life a lot easier and safer, you never know when you’ll hit an ice patch. Snowshoes never became necessary for me but later in the day, that could change as it keeps warming up.
After the constant snow ends, the switchbacks begin in summer like fashion right up until the snow starts again. There are a handful of small patches along the way to the summit to navigate but mostly it’s dirt for the final push until you reach the top of the mountain.
The top of Lassen Peak was looking great with everything snow covered aside from the top parts of the crater and of course the rocky section that makes up the true summit. It’s a tame scramble from the end of the snowfield to the top but also a long way down.
The ski crowd had a line in right off the summit saddle for the way down and I heard conditions were decent, I mean it is almost July and all. For me on boots, the return was a fast plunge step until I returned to the switchbacks and then a quick snow hike to the car. Spotted several good glissade shoots as well for anyone hoping to get a little slide in!
So if you’re looking for some more exciting hiking and great views this summer, there’s enough snow left to keep Lassen Peak plenty fun well into summer this year.
For more on the hike, see my original Lassen Peak trail guide.
Be sure to view the conditions and alerts before heading into the park or on any hikes!