A late season backcountry paradise | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A late season backcountry paradise

Jeremy Evans
Jeremy Evans / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Stateline resident Will Davenport looks back in amazement at 20-foot snow walls present in Lassen Park in Northern California's Lassen National Park. The 10,457-foot volcano in the Cascade Range had a wetter than normal winter and should have superb backcountry skiing and snowboarding conditions through July.

LASSEN NATIONAL PARK – In Northern California, a white blip sprouts out of a landscape dominated by dense pine forests and unassuming ridge tops. This blip seems to be a contradiction to the surrounding terrain, a gigantic, white thumb contrasted with mellow, green ripples.

It’s exactly this oddity that makes Northern California’s Lassen Peak, the southernmost mountain in the Cascade Range, one of the best backcountry descents on the West Coast. Not only is it one of the more efficient trips possible, Lassen has a view from its summit that can be attained with little difficulty.

From a parking lot at just over 8,000 feet, a 2 1/2-hour hike over gentle snow slopes and a well-defined ridge ends at a cream-colored lightning rod that marks the true summit. Once there, 14,162-foot Mount Shasta appears to the north, the northern Sierra Nevada stretches to the south, the desert landscape of the Great Basin fills the eastern horizon, and the smog-filled Sacramento Valley sits to the west.

After soaking in the view, skiers and snowboarders then discover Lassen is one of those rare big mountains that provides a descent from the actual summit. By leaving one car at the parking lot at 8,000 feet and another at the Devastated Area parking lot at 6,500 feet, dropping the northeast face allows for continuous turns for more than 3,000 feet on advanced terrain.

And here’s the best part: I did this two weeks ago and backcountry descents will be still possible until the end of July, possibly even into August.

Each winter, powerful storms coming off the Pacific Ocean slam into Lassen, leaving snow drifts of more than 30 feet by spring. When Stateline’s Will Davenport and South Lake Tahoe’s Adam Makda joined me for this trip in the middle of June, 20-foot snow walls towered above the recently plowed Lassen Park road.

Spring certainly hasn’t ended in Lassen National Park, with most of the high country above 7,000 feet still buried under several feet of snow. In fact, there is so much snow that the Lassen Park Road (Highway 89), the only road running through the park, won’t be completely open until mid-July because of snow.

Although this inconvenience required a two-hour car shuttle instead of a 10-minute one if the road was clear, the descent was well worth the effort our cars had to make.

The terrain immediately below the summit was steep – probably about 45 degrees – and with an exposed drop of 3,000 feet, the first few turns were confidence builders. However, the snow was soft enough that my edges dug in and I proceeded to shred a steep line of turns longer than any resort in the Lake Tahoe basin could provide.

At the bottom of the descent, rapidly melting snow had created a torrent of water that decorated the lower tentacles of the mountain. With the snow finally erased, Will, Adam and I congregated near a stream.

We craned our necks back toward the summit, acknowledged our tracks, and then telepathically said to one another “I can’t believe it’s June and we just did that.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.