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339. Brokeoff Mountain (09/11/03)

Hikers (15): Barbara, Cal, David, Ernie, Eugene, Laurie, Neel, Oliver, Peter, Russ, Steve, Sue, Sue B, Taylor, Winnie
Distance: 7 miles
Rating: 4 difficulty, 10 beauty
Park info: Lassen Volcanic National Park

Write-up by Peter

It was the inaugural hike of the 2003 INCH Lassen Weekend! We had hit the road early in the morning, and the drive up in the Party Van had been pretty lively, with shrieks of laughter coming from Barbara and Taylor in the back of the van, and salsa and chips flying all over the place. The guys in the Calmobile had “taken a shortcut” (i.e. lied about their route), but the good thing was that all of us arrived at about the same time.

Now it was time for some serious hiking. We checked in to the legendary Mineral Lodge as fast as we could, and loaded up to get an afternoon hike in before darkness.

The park (LaVo!) was a few miles from the lodge. We drove there as fast as we could, only to find that we had overshot the trailhead, which was located before the park entrance. After some hasty backtracking, we finally found it and geared up.

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

The hike was tough right from the get-go. We started out by heading up a moderate incline, but being above 8000 feet with no time to adjust to the altitude made it feel a lot tougher. I was huffing and puffing less than a quarter-mile into the hike. I had been struggling with a lousy cold the last two weeks leading up to the trip and my head and chest were still congested. Fortunately things flattened out soon after that so I was able to catch my breath. Steve took off like a bat out of hell, but the rest of the gang was taking it slow and sticking pretty close together. The exceptions were Cal and Winnie, who had already dropped out of sight in the back. Good thing we had our walkie-talkies with us.

After the initial uphill, the trail took us along the side of a marshy pond. It was very pleasant and cool in the late afternoon, and surprisingly, not buggy at all. Brokeoff Mountain loomed up ahead of us. It was best not to look at it – it seemed beyond comprehension that we were going to climb that thing in just a few minutes. I could see that some of the INCHers (Sue!) were giving me dirty looks and cursing me under their breath.

At the far end of the pond, we lost the trail. I had seen what looked like a trail branching off to the left earlier, but I had doubts about it and had just kept on walking. After scrambling about for bit among the trees, I decided that it would be best for us to back-track to the fork. The good news was that it was the right decision, and it also gave Cal and Winnie time to catch up to us.

Now it was time for some more elevation gain. The trail was grinding, leading us through switchbacks, fallen trees, and yet more switchbacks to the top of the tree line. We had to stop and rest a couple of times. My congestion was taking its toll and breathing was getting harder, especially as we got to higher altitudes. The Man, Oliver, and Dave took this opportunity to start pulling away from the pack. I don’t know who had less mercy -- the trail or The Man. Both were brutal!

The trail flattened out again and led around the back of the mountain. Less than a mile to go to the top … Esteban’s voice came crackling over the radio – he had already summited. Good job! As I looked up to the peak, I could see his head bobbing about as he surveyed the view from the top.

I could see the other three guys up ahead, and Sue was coming up fast from behind, wielding her sharp pointy poles as a dangerous weapon. This motivated me to pick up the pace and keep going. This last mile seemed to take forever, but every time I thought about slowing down or stopping, the thought of Sue passing me up kept me going. Not only was she not slowing down, she seemed to be speeding up -- she was a maniac on this trail!

At last the summit came into close view. Oh, thank God! I huffed and puffed the last few steps to the top and threw down my backpack. I thought my chest was going to explode. Good job, Sue! After giving her a well-deserved high-five, I just flopped on the ground, coughing and wheezing. I felt like I was going to cough up a lung. Mmmmmmm, phlegm!

After a couple of minutes, I was sufficiently recovered and was able to start looking around and enjoy the magnificent view from the top. The sky was nice and clear, giving us a great view of Mount Lassen to the northeast (it seemed close enough to touch) and the very impressive Mount Shasta to the northwest. To the south, the flat plains of California’s mighty Central Valley stretched out before us in the late afternoon sun. It was well worth the pain and suffering to get to the top.

As I sat there in the dirt, still too tired to move, the others began to drift in … Taylor, Barbara, Dobby, Laurie, and eventually Cal. Still no sign of Winnie, but Cal said she wasn’t too far behind. I have to say that for someone who’d been out of action for a while, Cal did great on this hike.

We sat there for about half an hour, before gathering ourselves to head back down. Before leaving, I made an entry in the small log book at the top: "Sept. 11, 2003: INCH - United We Hike! God Bless America." Even out here in the beautiful wildnerness, the events of that horrible day never left our minds.

A couple hundred yards down from the peak, we came across Winnie. Turns out the reason she was so late was that she had taken a nap on the trail (as if sleeping in the van all the way up had not been enough)! She was pretty tired, but had kept going. Good going – that’s the true INCH spirit! Also in keeping with the INCH spirit, we abandoned her to go on by herself. Just kidding ... a group of kind INCHers stayed to walk with her back up to the summit and then back down.

The way back down was a lot easier, and I felt like I was practically flying. This was a lot easier than the hell we had just gone through. Before I knew it I was back down below the tree line, and there scrawled across the trail was the INCH logo, and a drawing of Mickey Mouse. I guessed this was Steve’s way of saying this hike was too easy for him.

When I got back to the car, I found Sue B (aka Bert), Ernie, and Neel had arrived. They had started late and gone the wrong way at the fork. They had taken the wrong trail for about a mile to some lake (I remember reading about it in the trail notes) before turning back. They has also been the ones to do the INCH petroglyphs on the trail. Very nice. I gave them a pat on the back for a good effort and let them know they would be getting a leaf for their attempt (this appeared to be a source of quite some concern).

Eventually everyone made it back down off the hill. Each person had guessed a different person had made the Mickey Mouse drawing, but none had got it right. That tricky Bert!

The Lassen trip had gotten off to a great start. Now it was time to head back to the lodge for Rib Night! Mmmmmmmmm!

Epilog: At the conclusion of the weekend, there was considerable difference of opinion as to which was the hardest hike. Cal and I contend that Brokeoff with its 2500 feet of elevation gain over 3.5 miles was the toughest; Steve and Russ claim that Prospect Peak made them the most miserable, and yet a third group choose Mount Lassen. I can give some merit to Lassen as it is the highest peak in the park, rising to over 10,000 feet, but for the life of me I don’t get what was so difficult about Prospect with its shaded trail, good footing, gentle slope, and relatively low altitude. To each his own, I guess. The key thing is that we were all miserable and suffered at some point, and that’s a good thing.

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Eugene's 210th leaf

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