Volcanic mountains

Lassen Volcanic National Park (July 14)


The scenery this afternoon was strange. The trail passed through severely burnt areas, with the addition of smoke from a wildfire miles away.

I’ve learned that some wildfires burn more than others, incinerating growth to varying degrees. This area seemed to have been completely decimated by a past fire, only bare logs remained standing.

The landscape of the past forest fire was paired with the smoke from a current forest fire, with views and such a hazy gray sky. The austere, warm and exposed landscape. My breathing was not altered, but I could smell the smoke all afternoon.

I stopped for a snack break, and a few friends walked past me, heads down, both headphones on, listening to their audio and apparently just walking. I called out their names and no one saw or heard me. I thought, it’s kind of a hellish place to be.

Although, throughout the day we were able to see Mount Lassen, often passed out through the smoke, and always awe-inspiring. A friend of mine says it’s like seeing ghosts in the mountains, when you see a hazy mountain through the smoke like that. We’ve been doing a distant skirt around Lassen all day. Pretty cool to see, this volcano which rises above 10,000 feet.

Over time, we learned that the smoke was likely coming from the nearby Dixie fire, which allegedly started on July 13. I had a few friends who described a hike in this area after me, with smoke so thick they had a sore throat and ash raining down on them as they walked. I was able to hike Lassen Volcanic National Park without much difficulty other than emotional discomfort, but during the week the PCT was closed (over 100 miles of trail closed!) Due to heavy smoke covering the trail.

At this point, the Dixie Fire has burned nearly 249,000 acres and is 35% contained, according to the headlines. As always, it’s mind-boggling to consider a number like this, this whole area. I also read that he caused evacuations and destroyed more than a dozen structures.

There has been general unease lately among the hikers around me. Most everyone hopes to hike the trail as much as possible, and some increase their mileage with that goal in mind. I don’t have the desire to dramatically increase my mileage for this purpose, but I understand the reasoning.

It’s disheartening to walk through these landscapes, but also a precious part of the journey, to see these things for myself. Of course, I am only indirectly affected, as a passing traveler. I keep the firefighters and firefighting personnel, communities and angels of the trails, and all those affected by the fire, in my thoughts and prayers.

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