When Life Was Risky

If you value safety and comfort don't ask the guy who stepped in Bumpass Hell to plan the trip

You did what?

The Ranger at Mt. Lassen was asking a simple question. It's just that he was asking it to the group of four doofuses who'd shown up one week before the park opened for the season. They'd shown up early because one of the four wanted the trip when he wanted the trip so he didn't bother to double check if the late snow that year might push off the opening of Lassen Volcanic National Park all the way to Memorial Day weekend. After all he thought, "who closes a mountain?" And further "I got other things to do Memorial Day weekend, I don't want to deal with those crowds.."

Upon our arrival back at camp - well actually no campsites were open - I'll get back to that. We found out upon our arrival back at 6600' at the park entrance from a lone ranger that we had unknowingly hiked the most strenuous trail in the entire park. Apparently over 2600' of elevation gain and only the first 25% or so was a visible trail.

That would explain the unease I felt crossing large snow fields with a slightly audible crack heard now and again.

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Not only did I plan the trip and refuse to admit there might be a little more snow than we were prepared for, I'd also forgotten hiking boots.

I know, shocker.

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I don't say all of this to brag. I can't. The others chided me to no end. So unprepared. So cavalier. So ridiculous to have not checked whether the park was open.

They also know me well enough to know that even if I'd found out the park was not open I may well have pretended not to hear and planned it anyway.

Also they knew my history on Mt. Lassen.

Bumpass Hell

I really don't know where they get these names. Actually I guess I do, I did read one sign about Kendall Vanhook Bumpass who stepped through a thin crust of top soil on a trip to show off his new mining claim to a local newspaper editor and dropped his leg into a burning mudpot, badly scalding his leg - and in fact requiring amputation. The area was named in his honor.

His mother must have been so proud.

So I do read signs.

I just didn't read the one that said "stay on the trail" because I was too busy - you guessed it - hiking off the trail.

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It's really not my fault.

My spirit animal is an otter.

I also didn't dwell on the following - even reading it now my ankle is getting warm:

"Bumpass Hell is the largest hydrothermal area in the park and marks the principal area of upflow of steam and discharge from the Lassen hydrothermal system. The temperature of high-velocity steam jetting from Big Boiler, the largest fumarole in the park, has been measured as high as 322°F (161°C), making it one of the hottest fumaroles in the world. The steam heated waters are typically acidic and are not safe​"

Goodness really? 161 degrees?

Well, yeah, that's how it felt when I stepped across the little creek on the way back to the boardwalk, when the thin top crust broke through like delicate Créme Brouleé and sucked my left leg into that scald up to just below my knee cap. The best part was pulling it out.

Of course my flip-flip was gone. I'd forgotten my hiking boots.

Actually at that time I may not have owned hiking boots. Though I guess "owning" is a relative term no? The 'ownership' of boots is of little consequence if they're left behind.

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I do have actual pictures somewhere but this is close enough - except there was snow around. Yes, flip flops. At any rate just attempting to get back to the boardwalk is what did me in. I stepped over a little trickle that looked just like that and VOOOSH! Instant SCALD!

Better than losing the flip flop was pulling my leg out and hearing the sulfur sizzling my skin like bacon, yes bacon.

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While the sizzle was happening my friends - the unplanner may forget boots but should not forget friends - my friends were stepping onto stones and dirt trying to find a path I could walk out on. Which they did except I couldn't walk - remember the snow and the missing flip-flop - so they took turns carrying me to the car. It was they that drove the convertible home while I elevated the burned leg and requested some Jackson Browne please.

Trip dating

I know when this happened not because I remember dates but because I was working on the Giants' new ballpark at the time, stud welding and drilling plates inside the concrete bleachers and tapping the threads so the bleachers could be bolted to something when they were getting installed. Standing in one place the next day with the blood rushing to the bumpass-burned leg I finally had to call it. I'm rarely too sick to work but this was one of those times.

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I found out from a nurse it was probably a second degree burn, and the equivalent of a chemical one at that. The Giants' never noticed my absence.

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It was then that I research Kendall Bumpass. You are correct. I researched after the burn, not before the trip.

So these friends knew

They knew my history right? They knew my planning modus operandi was rarely based on comfort, ease, predictable outcomes, or even basic safety. Others were considered actually, the dyed-in-the-wool bum to quote Steinbeck, considers others it's just that others - the bum assumes - would also put the aforementioned comfort, ease, and etc.. low on the list of priorities.

I get it from my dad.

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To summarize then, if comfort, ease, safety, yada yada are low on the list of priorities what is high on the list?

Just to go.

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Before we left on the hike that Saturday in May, I did plan one thing. I stashed a few cold beers in the cooler with fresh ice. After all it was Scott's birthday.

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When we talk about the trip now the consensus is that after that hike up to 9235' in mostly trail-less wilderness, and sliding back down most of the way on fresh snow, that those beers were some of the best any of us ever had. And so warm was the campfire that night. And so clear the stars that shone so bright at that altitude that kept us up. We laugh about the 'campsite' the ranger let us stay at, probably out of pity. Just outside the park opening and next to the extremely clean bathrooms. Clean because the park wasn't open yet.

At least not for those that care about such trivialities.

The experience is what we still talk about. The serendipitous campsite next to the bathrooms with hot water, the view of Lassen from that gorgeous broken peak. The searching for the trail in a white field of no trails, the sliding down on our jackets to get back. Those cold beers waiting for us. The drive home and the feeling of accomplishment. The feeling of overcoming. The shared experience of pushing through and of survival.

Opinions vs. Experience

It seems now people are rallying around shared opinions: Do you wear a mask? Do you NOT wear a mask? Do you believe Fauci? How could you question Fauci?? Did you see that one study? I don't believe that other study.

These opinions are costing friendships. I had lost four but now it's down to two. One who was on this trip.

So the question I'm asking now is simple: Did you ever think that friendships were based on shared opinions? Do you have any friendships based on shared opinions?

A shared opinion friendship to me sounds like a book club. Or an anarchy meet up.

I've always thought friendships were based on shared experiences.

But opinions matter! We have to agree or do you want people to die! Don't you care about opinions? I can't be friends with so-and-so with her 'opinions' about this.



Nope I don't have time for opinions, I've got another trip to plan.