September 28, 2017 by Deborah W. Trotter
Hiking to Bumpass Hell this past weekend felt like a homecoming. I had hiked there many times in my youth, and since then when our children were young, but had not been on that trail in over two decades. What I felt on Sunday was just proof that National Parks really can get inside you.
At 8,200 feet elevation at the start of the hike, the sunny autumn day’s temperature was hovering in the high 40’s, making for perfect sweatshirt weather. The trail head sits just above sapphire blue Lake Helen, and there are views of the park in every direction.
While the hike is considered moderately strenuous, it is more or less level until the last bit which is fairly steep downhill into Bumpass Hell. Of course, you must climb out on the way back, and the altitude makes that challenging if you are not used to it.
One of the most popular trails in the Park, it is also wide enough in most places that you can easily pass slower hikers, as well as those going in the opposite direction. Much of the trail is rocky as it winds its way along the shoulders of Bumpass Mountain, and it was still wet from a recently-melted September snowfall on Sunday.
You know you are getting close when you start to smell the distinctive sulphuric odor of rotten eggs, and then you quite abruptly come to an overlook from which you can see your destination below.
From there the trail becomes steeper, and you descend directly into Bumpass Hell.
For visitors’ safety and to protect its features, raised boardwalks traverse the site, Lassen Park’s largest hydrothermal area which comprises large steaming pools, fumaroles and boiling mudpots in a colorful landscape. It is essential to stay on the boardwalks to avoid damaging the terrain or possibly getting badly burned. Kendall Bumpass, who in 1865 broke through thin crust here and plunged his leg into a boiling pool below might rather have kept his leg than have the dubious honor of having the site of his mishap named for him.
Winter snows will close the road through Lassen Park and cut off access to the Bumpass Hell trail until next summer, but for now, adventure awaits you there. This Saturday, September 30, 2017, is a fee free day in the park in honor of its being National Public Lands Day. What are you waiting for?