March 25, 2013 by Deborah W. Trotter
According to the calendar, spring arrives in California in March. But what that means in the real world depends on where you are. And what year it is.
Last week on the first day of spring, I was with my dad up at Manzanita Lake. It sits above 5,400 feet elevation just inside the northwest entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Highway 89 through the Park was still closed to traffic for the winter a mile beyond the entrance station, but because it has been a light snow year in northern California, patches of bare ground freckled the white landscape.
You might conclude that means it will be possible to drive through the Park soon, but I assure you that winter still lurks in the mountains.
The lakes are frozen, and storms like the one settling in that day will probably dump more snow, especially at the higher elevations, 8,512 feet at the road’s highest point.
There is no sure way to know in March when Highway 89 through Lassen Park will open for the summer season because winter snow packs vary, and spring snow storms are unpredictable. In the years since 1980, road openings occurred as early as May 10th (in 2001) and as late as July 21st (in 1995). I predict that this year’s opening will be much closer to May 10th than to July 21st. The Park Service has already begun clearing the road from both Park entrances, and if you enjoy watching snowplows and heavy equipment at work, click here to see an informative and entertaining video.
Contrast this year’s situation with 1998, one of the heaviest snowfall years on record in the last quarter of the 20th Century, when the Park road didn’t open to vehicles until July 12th. On June 28th of that year, we took our kids up to the Park. We knew we wouldn’t be able to drive through, but the road was open from the southwest entrance as far as the Bumpass Hell trailhead parking lot, and we wanted to see the record amounts of snow still burying the Park in winter conditions a week after the official beginning of summer.
It was an unexpected treat to discover that the road, although closed to vehicular traffic beyond Bumpass Hell, was plowed and open to foot traffic all the way to its summit near the Lassen Peak trailhead. We could take a hike right up the road, and that’s what we did.
The sky was high altitude blue, the snow almost blindingly bright, and the wet asphalt road surface glistened. We could practically hear the sun melting the snow, and its unavoidable abundance made mischief in the form of snowballs, climbing, sliding and “excavating” irresistible.
Never underestimate the pleasures of an unplanned hike and frolic along a road that you usually only drive on. Especially when you have it all to yourself as we did that day. Your perspectives will be altered, and you might start to feel just the slightest bit possessive about that area you are getting to know at a more leisurely pace.
For updates on Park road clearing progress, visit that page of the Lassen Park website here. If you pay attention, opportunities to take a hike up the road before it is officially open will undoubtedly knock.