Lake Helen is located next to Lassen Peak and this picturesque alpine body of water certainly does provide all the inspiration needed for hiking to the top of this gigantic volcano. In fact, Lake Helen is most famous for boasting majestic views of the reflection of Lassen Peak on the water, which naturally has a way of luring landscape artists worldwide. The best time to catch a clear reflection of the volcanic peak at Lake Helen is early in the morning while the water is dead calm before the warmth of the sun strikes up a breeze. Getting an early start to capture this one of a kind image will also place a visitor in a good position to hike to the top of Mt Lassen, which certainly is a fulfilling accomplishment that will provide fond memories that last a lifetime.
Of course spending some time at Lake Helen is a good way to allow the body to adjust to the high elevation, before starting the strenuous hike up Lassen Peak. By taking it easy for an hour while snacking and hydrating, the body will be better in tune with the high elevation conditions. Taking things a little slower above 8,000 feet will also ensure that the effects oxygen depletion will be less severe, so it is best to cast aside any urge to set a new world speed record on the trail. The 2.5 mile ascent to the top is moderately steep and there is no climbing involved, so as long as a hiker avoids becoming winded, the effort will be a rewarding experience. As a plus, the trek back to the base trailhead is a very easy downhill run, which is a nice reward for the strenuous ascent.
As can be seen in the photos, the smoke from the 2020 wildfire season was just starting to become thick while I was at Helen Lake and Lassen Peak. In fact, by the time I exited Lassen Volcanic National Park a little later that morning, Mt Lassen could not even be seen through the billowing smoke clouds. Needless to say, high elevation hiking is a no-no in smokey conditions and capturing a memorable landscape photo of the reflections on Helen Lake was an impossible dream due to the same conditions, so there was no use hanging around longer than necessary.
The extreme wildfire season of 2020 was cause to shorten my planned lengthy tour to a three day evacuation from the deep woods in northern California and a quick visit at Mt Lassen was all that could be accomplished on the way to Nevada. After a very long wait, the California summer forest fire season of 2021 turned out to be even worse than the year before, so that tour was cancelled too. Recently the Lassen Volcanic National Park was completely closed due to the Dixie Fire and as of the time this article was composed on October 2nd, the park still remains off limits. Fortunately most of Lassen Volcanic National was unscathed, so the scenic beauty has been preserved. For those who wish to experience this majestic volcanic landscape, checking for closures will be necessary when making plans in the near future.
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