After two nights and a day in Portland, we were back to a night of camping. Frankly, Peter and I were somewhat half-hearted about it, but Kelly was eager to spend another night in a tent and roasting marshmallows over a campfire.
And so, we drove 8 hours south to a spot I’d read about that sounded idyllic: Lake Almanor in the California Cascades. By the time we got there, it was dark, and the campgrounds were even darker. Though the campgrounds were open, we didn’t notice another soul in them, except for a spot with a camper, which may have been abandoned. I quickly set to work getting up our tent and cots, while Peter started a much-needed fire.
Now I don’t like crowd camping, but this campground was so dark, deserted, and quiet it was downright eerie. I tried to take Kelly to the campground entrance to pay our camping fee and for her to use the toilet, but the overwhelming darkness was too much for me and I pulled us back to the only local source of light: our camp lantern, and sent Peter on the task. The eerieness of the location was added to by the fact there was no potable water to be had, and most of the bathrooms were locked closed for the season.
And just as had been the case last year, we urban Californians underestimated how cold things can really get, and we were sorely unprepared. By the time we had dinner, temperatures were approaching freezing, and we all huddled up next to our fire. I did enjoy having naturally-frosted-cold beer with Peter, and watching the campfire die down with my family around me.
But the night was a hard one. Peter, who encouraged Neil with stories of his attempts at the Zero Hero Award, later admitted to worrying about our welfare through the frozen night. Neil had a hard time, even in his thick winter coat, but he survived. And after finding out my ancient, stuffing-spilling sleeping bag was inadequate for even the Humboldt Woods, I’d overcompensated by buying 20-degree sleeping bag at a convenient Portland sporting goods store. It was also extra-wide, so it could fit me and Kelly comfortably. And so, with my thick sleeping bag and personal heater, I slept just fine, as long as I kept my head under cover.
The overwhelming silence freaked me out more. Even in the woods, I’m used to hearing some sound, whether owl hoots or coyote calls. And as multiple signs had warned us, this was bear country. But nothing was stirring, not even an insect. Peter had to step out in the middle of the night, and he said a fog laid over us that was so thick he couldn’t see a foot in front of himself. We were all glad to have another fire we could huddle in front on the next morning.
After an impromptu drizzle prompted us to break camp quickly, we walked down to see the lake we’d come to see. I was unimpressed. It does have great scenic beauty:
but so does most everything in the area with a view of snow-crested Mount Shasta. The beach was completely made out of volcanic rocks that made going over them hard, and there was a lot of marine junk, like bait package lids, lost anchors, and grimy baseball caps. Every so often, a green plant that looked like dandelion leaves thickened and encrusted with salt, grew in between the rocks. Hmph, I’ll make do with Loch Lomond, thanks.
The Lassen Volcanic Park was nearby, and I would have liked to have seen it: it sounded Icelandic. But we were all feeling grimy and cold, and besides our house was officially termite-free and inhabitable, so we headed home.