Shasta's Alpen Glow, Lake Siskiyou, Mt. Shasta National Forest, California
My original itinerary had me going along the California coast to Big Sur and Malibu and then inland to the desert at Joshua Tree before going up to, what I hoped would be, a winter wonderland in Yosemite. But California's response to COVID nixed those plans rather slowly and unevenly over a two week period. So being ever flexible I looked for other places to photograph and camp and chose Mt. Shasta, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Crater Lake National Park and the Painted Hills National Monument. I had never been to Mt. Shasta and didn't really know what to expect. I was thinking something like a hippie ski town and that's kinda what it was. Friendly, outdoorsy, and beautiful nature all around Shasta-Trinity National Forest. And the mountain just has the most beautiful shape. The twin summit is like a perfect wave or a perfect haircut full of fashion and confidence.
The Beautiful Curve of Mt. Shasta, the second highest mountain in the Cascade Range. Mt. Shasta, California
I camped about 4 miles past Lake Siskiyou in the National Forest, off a heavily iced road. The campsite was quiet (I was the only one there) and of course, cold. I was supposed to ease into the cold weather, but the above mentioned park closures forced me into my -20 F North Face bag earlier than I had planned. This bag was to become my lover and my Patagonia down parka was my best friend. Without these two items of kit the trip and the photography would have been impossible.
Mt. Shasta is 14,170 ft. You can drive right up to the tree line and although I did, the parking area and mountain side were pretty crowded so I ended up spending most of my time around the quiet banks of Lake Siskiyou.
Lake Siskiyou Reflections, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California
Morning Fog Clears, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California
It's about a 2 hour drive from Mt. Shasta to Lassen Volcanic National Park and while access inside Lassen would be limited, I wanted to do what I could in this park, which I had never visited. The drive over winding country roads was pleasant, but I worried what these roads would become if snow or ice fell. Pockets of shade would likely be tricky and I made a mental note not to speed nor to brake too hard. I decided against buying dedicated snow tires and instead ran my old BF Goodrich All Terrains (snow rated). I had chains, but was loathe to use them on. And I am happy to say that I made it through the entire trip without once putting them on.
Light and Shadow and Forest of Evergreen Trees, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California
A bald eagle looks down from an old scraggy tree, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
As the road climbed up towards Lassen, the snow began to lie thick along the side of the road. Blue skies belied the cold of December in the Cascades. The only thing open in this area of the park was the entrance road, but even it was closed after about two miles or so. Behind the Road-Closed Gate was a faint line of unplowed snow that lead up the hillside into Lassen's backcountry. I parked here and walked around Manzanita Lake, looking for wildlife and a place to photograph sunset and sunrise. I found a bald eagle, but didn't see the otters, which I had read about earlier. The walk was pleasant and as evening approached a chill blew in with a few clouds.
Eagle in Deep Blue Sky, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Half Moon and Winter Chill, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Eruption? It's Been a Minute, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Frozen Manzanita Lake and Ever Changing Sky, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
After the pink sky turned to grey, I walked back to the FJ and drove out of the park, looking for a turn off into the Lassen National Forest where I would sleep for the night. Overnight a slight drizzle turned to sleet and then to snow and I awoke inside an ice box. The roof top tent-- no matter how amazing it is-- is still a tent. And like a tent, it takes maintenance. Before departing I had to brush off the snow so that I could close the tent. The outside fabric was stiff from the cold, but it closed up fine.
Sunrise Sunstar, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
First tracks over forest road. Cautious and cold I turn onto the highway and see that here, too, the plows have yet to come. It’s early still-- sunrise more than and hour away. Only short spells of light around the winter solstice here in the southern Cascades. First tracks and it’s clear that I am the first to arrive at Lassen Volcanic National Park today. No other tires or human foot prints have marked the midnight snow. Quiet, calm and yes, freezing. The tradeoffs of visiting the national parks in the winter are many. Many of the northern and mountainous parks have area, road and season long closures. Most if not all campgrounds are closed or snowed-in. Water is not readily available as most spigots have been shut off and the pipes drained for the season. Driving is stressful and the weather unpredictable. But the solitude and freshness of view are inspirational.
Eagle Dare, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
On my way back to Mt. Shasta intermittent stretches of highway are hidden by the pines and the shadows hold black ice that changes lives. Headlights flash, warning me to take caution and care. I soon see, all along the right side of the road, articles of clothing, blankets, dishes, gear. A pillow. And then a camper lies separated from a silver truck, which lies a hundred yards away. I pull over and stop. I take out my first aid kit and walk towards the driver and passenger to offer assistance and see that other travelers have stopped to do the same. They slid on the ice, unusual for this time of year. One of the bystanders says to me as I approach. Sirens are the next sound to break the silence and I slowly head on. Just a few minutes down the road a truck floats in the forest, suspended between two trees. How it got there I'll never know. But a man who holds an iPhone shakily surely knows. These Winter Views come at a cost. I must be sure that it is one that I can afford. Caution and Care. I shall proceed with caution and care.
Pine Comes, California
Next up, Crater Lake and the Painted Hills