Saturday, December 8, 2018

Winter Wonderland ↔ Lassen Volcanic National Park

Winter is in full swing at Lassen Volcanic National Park!

It's amazing to think that we spent all autumn hiking the trails in and around the park and now everything is covered with beautiful sparkling snow.

The road through the park is already closed at the visitor's center, but we trekked in far enough to walk over the bridge and see Manzanita Creek.

You know how I love clouds and boy, were they putting on a show over all that winter landscape!

Mt. Lassen is pretty spectacular when it's covered in a fresh blanket of white stuff, too.

This spot where Manzanita Creek flows into the lake is one of my favorite places on earth...

I've never seen it in winter before and it was even more magical covered in snow.

I'm thinking about investing in some snow shoes, because how awesome would it be to hike some of the trails we did this summer in the snow?

Who am I kidding? Now that winter is finally here, I'm looking forward to curling up with some hot cocoa and reveling in the fact that it's not 100 degrees down where I live in the valley!

It's amazing how the landscape of a place can change so much throughout the different seasons. Time on the clock ticks by so fast that it's nice to be able to mark the passage of it when nature shifts the scenery around.

As much as I love this time of year, I'm also looking forward to spring when the wildflowers start blooming in the park. Now that we have a few hikes under our belts, hopefully those uphill trails won't be so daunting!

Here's to a wonderful winter season full of good memories, beautiful scenery and new adventures!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Gray Lodge Wildlife Area ↔ Gridley, California

Welcome to the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area!

Now that the road to Lassen is closed due to all that wintertime snow, we're headed to one of my favorite birding spots in the valley to check out the wildlife.

Gray Lodge is just one of the many areas in the Pacific Flyway that offers refuge to migrating birds.

The entire area has incredible views of the Sutter Buttes...

There's a four dollar per person fee to visit Gray Lodge or you can use your CDFW Lands Pass.

They've recently made improvements to the refuge, including a paved trail, sloped for the mobility impaired, and better restroom accessibility.

I was really impressed by how accessible they've made this area so that everyone can enjoy the beauty of this place.

I could have stood at the viewing platform and watched the shorebirds all day, except the bugs and mosquitoes were out in full force and we were getting eaten alive. Don't forget to bring insect repellent!

The 3 mile loop auto tour is a great way to see all the birds and geese you can handle right from the comfort of your own car...

Here is the website for Gray Lodge where you can find maps, wildlife checklists and more information.

To find out more about the types of birds found at Gray Lodge, go to my birding blog Wings and Daydreams where I've posted lots of photos.

Watch the highlight video from our visit:

Let's go on an adventure!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Twin Lakes Loop Trail ↔ Lassen Volcanic National Park

This was our most ambitious hike yet!

We started the hike feeling like this:

And almost ten hours later...

(We'll get to the reasons why later.)

lassen volcanic national park

I'm calling it the Twin Lakes Loop Trail, but I've seen it named differently depending on which website you go to. Lassen's website calls it the Summit Lake to Cluster/Twin Lakes Loop, All Trails has it as the Cluster Lakes Loop, and the trailhead sign says it's the Summit Lake Loop.

Whatever you want to call it, this hike was a beast and it kicked my patootie, big time. As in, halfway through I started to panic because I didn't know how in the world I was going to find the strength to finish it. (More about my kick-butt perseverance later.) Let's get started!

First, we begin our hike at Summit Lake. This is a beautiful lake--it even has a campground--and I'd like to go back and spend some time here. Preferably sitting at a picnic table with my feet up and a cool drink in my hand.

But we're not here to dilly-dally! Time to buck up and get going!

The beginning of this trail is pretty steep as it climbs up the ridge through a fir forest to a manzanita carpeted woodland...

We've done enough hikes lately to know that the best views are a result of all that difficult climbing work...

The views are a nice payoff and we enjoyed the unique landscape of the meadow of manzanita...

There are several unnamed lakes along the way. I think that if they can manage to stay full through the heat of summer, then they deserve a name!

The trail then continues climbing to a ridge top to the intersection of the beginning and end of the Cluster Lakes Loop trail. You can follow the trail to the right to continue to Echo Lake, but we decided to stick it out and hike the entire loop. (Looking back, I wish future self could tell my past self to just hike the pleasant walk to Echo Lake, have a nice time and go home instead of continuing on the grueling loop. That's what you get for trying to push yourself and #hikefurther!)

The trail passes through the 2012 Reading Fire area. There were miles of dead standing trees and the park's website cautions that they can fall without warning. (We did have to climb over several different trees along the way that had fallen and were blocking the trail.)

At first, the fire's destruction was fascinating, but after a few miles, it started to get a little depressing. We were under the impression that the trail passed through a small section of the fire damaged forest, but in fact, it accounted for more than half of the hike. Not quite the beautiful, shady, scenic hike I'd been expecting.

lassen volcanic national park
Little Bear Lake
The main lakes we passed by are as follows:
Summit Lake
Little Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake
Silver Lake
Feather Lake
Lower Twin Lake
Upper Twin Lake
Echo Lake

lassen volcanic national park

lassen volcanic national park
Silver Lake

 The last time you'll see me fresh-faced and smiling during this hike... (Ah, memories!)

lassen volcanic national park
Feather Lake
By the time we reached the twin lakes, my calves were beyond burning and my feet pleaded with me to have mercy on them. Unfortunately, we had to keep on trekking. Spending the night in the forest was not an option.

Lower Twin Lake

lassen volcanic national park
Upper Twin Lake

10 miles in and somehow I don't feel like climbing anymore...

Are we there yet? Yep, we finally arrived at Echo Lake. (But there's still a couple more miles to go to get back to the car!) Echo Lake was probably the prettiest of the 8 main lakes in the loop and I'd recommend just hiking to it and skipping the loop altogether.

lassen volcanic national park
Echo Lake

This is the most exhausted I've ever been in my entire life. I still can't believe we were able to keep on pushing through the pain and fatigue and make it back to the trailhead. Between the two of us, hubby is The Rock (and I'm the hopeless romantic who'd rather live in my fictional sunshine and roses fantasy world than join reality) and he even had a difficult time getting through this hike.

In total, we hiked 12.8 miles with an elevation gain of 1539 feet and it took us 9.5 hours. Whew! No wonder it took me several days afterwords to recover! This trail reminded me who's boss and it sure as heck isn't me. This was our ninth hike in nine weeks and I really thought I could handle the distance. Boy, was I mistaken! And here I thought the hike to Ridge Lakes was easy peasy when it was considered strenuous. Who's in charge of classifying these hikes anyway? From now on, I refuse to hike further than about five miles or so. I proved to myself that I could do longer, but it so wasn't worth it in the end.

Now, it's time to rate this bad boy using our complicated rating system...

My rating for this hike is pretty harsh. After all, it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Seriously. Physically, I don't have anything else to compare it to. When I saw the car in the parking lot, I literally started to cry. I'm giving it 2 Never Again's out of 5. 🚷🚷

Hubby's 4 our of 5 is more generous (most likely because he's The Man), but he also said that this hike is making him throw in the towel as far as longer hikes are concerned. 💪💪💪💪

And when the big guy drops the mike on something, you know it must have been rough.

So, there it is. The Vaughn's have officially been put in their place!

On the plus side, this hike wasn't enough to make us never want to go on a hike ever again. We'll still visit Lassen in the spring to make some videos that show off all those snow-capped mountains and blooming wildflowers. And those two and three mile hikes will seem like a piece of cake. Red velvet cake overflowing with ooey-gooey decadent cream cheese frosting...

Here's the highlight video from our hike!

Let's go on an adventure!