Wandering Lizard

An online magazine with information related to attractions, lodging, dining,
and travel resources in selected areas of the Western United States

A Walk to Hell and Back

Bumpass Hell
Bumpass Hell

Mount Lassen began life long ago as a side vent on the larger and now extinct volcano known as Tehama. Native Americans do not appear to have lived on the mountain but undoubtably hunted there when the weather permitted. Although Jedediah Smith passed this way in 1828 few European-Americans visited until the Gold Rush in the middle of the ninteenth century. In 1860 a prospector named Kendall Vonbook Bumpass discovered an area of steaming sulfur vents a few miles south of Mount Lassen's peak. For some reason he stepped into one of the boiling thermal pots in the area and lost a leg. Today this thermal area is know as Bumpass Hell. A mile and a half trail provides access from a large parking lot.

Bumpass Hell

The summer afternoon that I walked in to Hell was a suitably warm one, but the grade of the trail is gentle and it was an easy walk. The parking lot was half full and the trail had a constant flow of folks going in both directions. Views all along the route are spectacular even though there was considerable heat haze that particular day. It was the second half of July but patches of snow were still in evidence along the way and at one point the trail actuallly crossed a small snow field. The trail crests a short distance from the 16 acre thermal area and you get a good view of hell from the trail. You are also treated to the first whiff of "rotten eggs".

As you follow the trail down into the thermal area the smell of hydrogen sulfide grows stronger and clouds of steam rise from holes in the ground all around you. The earth is crusted with various colored muds - some still wet and some dried. There are pools of water that are crystal clear and others that are bubbling cauldrons of mud. The ground here is composed of andesite lava that is thought to be about three miles deep. Surface water percolates down through the lava until it hits rock further down in the volcano that is very hot producing the steam that then travels back up through the lava to the surface.

Bumpass Hell
Bumpass Hell

Less than a century ago Mount Lassen burst into a series of volcanic eruptions that sent large clouds of ash and smoke miles into the sky. Scientists believe that Mount Lassen is likely to erupt again sometime in the future. Some of the water and steam bubbling up to the surface in Bumpass Hell reaches 250 degree temperatures and appears to be getting hotter. This is a good place to obey the signs.

Bumpass Hell
Mare pictures from Hell...
Abecedarius, 8/04


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