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341. Prospect Peak (09/12/03)

Hikers (13): Barbara, Cal, David, Eugene, Laurie, Neel, Oliver, Peter, Russ, Steve, Sue, Taylor, Winnie
Distance: 6 miles
Rating: 4 difficulty, 10 beauty
Park info: Lassen Volcanic National Park

Write-up by Steve -- Pictures by Cal

So much for well-laid plans.

We were supposed to do Prospect Peak in the morning, followed by a visit to the nearby Cinder Cone. Instead, we blew right by the Prospect trailhead (saw the sign, but not the trail), and ran into the glorious Cinder Cone before we knew what happened. Rather than turn around, we conquered the Cone. The only drawback was that Jayne, Sue B, and Ernie skipped Prospect entirely after that. Luckily for them, The Leaf-Crazed Man was counting the hikes separately, so there was no Black Leaf of Shame for them.

1, 2, 3. . .INCH

Since Prospect is the third highest peak in Lassen (after Lassen and Brokeoff), it doesn't get much love judging by the hard-to-find trail (and many downed trees across it). This isn't helped by the fact that getting to the trailhead requires driving well outside the park and then back in. On the flip side, finding the trail adds to the adventure, and going where few others have gone is always a plus. We didn't see anyone else on the Prospect trail.

The trail was comfortable and shaded most of the way. We couldn't see the peak, but we all kept motoring along while enjoying the forest scenery. Since I was training for Boundary Peak, I took off from the start. After an hour or two (it was hard to tell), I started seeing some rocks, so I figured the peak must be coming soon. Great! So I picked up the pace and followed the trail up. A little later, I was beyond those rocks and back into the trees. Oh well, not there yet. Fortunately, there was a cool breeze at the crest of a minor pass. Ah, fresh air in the great outdoors, and I knew the peak was close at hand.

Ten or twenty minutes later, I reached a clearing in the woods. Finally, the peak! Then I noticed the trail kept going up slightly in the distance. Peering through the trees, I could sort of see that the top of the mountain was a little ways off. I picked up the pace again and headed in that direction, following the meager trail while keeping an eye out of the reflectors that helped mark the trail.

Eventually the trail got pretty steep, and I could clearly tell where the peak was. A few switchbacks later, I could see some scraggly looking trees on the top. I almost broke from the trail knowing that I was there, but decided to stay on the gentle, though diverting, trail. Damn! You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by then, but I soon discovered that this still wasn't the top. Instead, the trail skirted this peak then and gently rose onward.

Ultimately the trail ended rather unceremoniously at a little fire circle with a rusted old can in the middle. Nearby was the USGS marker, so there was no question--this was the top! I lifted up the old can a little later to discover that it contained the peak log, into which I wrote a little note on INCH's behalf. Perhaps it was the multiple false peaks, plus the fact that we had already done the Cinder Cone, but I was pretty beat from the hike. It was definitely the hardest of the three peaks we would do in Lassen, even though it was shaded and relatively cool the whole way.


View of from the top of Prospect Peak

After a while, everyone else made it to the top except Cal and Winnie. The front runners started heading down, while others decided to wait a little bit for Cal and/or Winnie. As it turned out, Cal was just a few minutes down the trail, and only Winnie was AWOL. A spot about quarter mile back along the trail afforded a picturesque view of the Cinder Cone. Other than that, the views from Prospect weren't nearly as good as the other peaks, making it the least photographed Lassen hike!


View of Cinder Cone from the Prospect Peak Trail

At the bottom of the switchbacks I ran across the word "POOH!" written in dead pine needles. This turned out to be a brain teaser of different magnitudes for each person who later encountered it. The answer: it was a message from Winnie (the Pooh), who had turned around at that point. I ran into a melancholy Winnie a few minutes later. Hopefully her spirits were lifted by Neel, who had been on my heels the whole trip down, but slowed down to Winnie's pace once we passed her.

The best part of the hike was seeing the craggy edge of the Fantastic Lava Beds again. I had gotten Cal's keys on the way down, and now knew I was mere minutes away from our cold beverage supply! Much to my surprise, Sue B, Ernie, and Jayne were still waiting in the parking lot (perhaps for the beer!). We swapped stories about our trips, and had some drinks, while the rest of the group filtered in. A fine ending to Lassen's #3 peak.

Epilogue: Ernie's car, which was much too nice to be on a dirt road, wanted to leave early to drive slowly back. We agreed to meet up at the gas station outside the town of Old Station, which we remembered being next to a restaurant (by this time, we were quite hungry). After twenty minutes or so, everyone in the Party Van was back, so I decided to go rendezvous with Ernie's car, and wait there for the Cal's van. However, Dobby had not yet returned, and loyal Peter refused to leave without espying Eugene's lovely visage, despite the fact that (1) all of Cal's van would be still be there to welcome Eugene; (2) Eugene and Laurie were in that car anyway; and (3) we had walkie-talkie confirmation that they were fine. The rest of the Party Van was too inebriated to care, so both cars sat around for a while until the highly anticipated Dobby and Laurie sighting.

We then took off for the gas station, only to not find Ernie's car. This made a lot of sense when we noticed the entire strip "mall" (including the restaurant) was for sale. Whoops! So after some pit stops, we headed back to Mineral (far, far away). Fortunately, we happened upon an eating establishment a few dozen miles later. And it wasn't just any old restaurant, either, but rather The Best Food In The Mountains.

What happened in that restaurant is the stuff of legends, with poor Oliver being the unwitting recipient of an INCH Women Interrogation that likely violated the Geneva Convention (but luckily for him, falls outside the scope of this diary). But at least we all fueled up, and everyone besides Oliver had a good time.

Milestones:
Sue's 30th leaf



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