A chance meeting with an older couple (our age!) in the elevator at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Reno this Saturday morning in late September gets me wondering about our plans for the day. They tell us that they couldn’t get into Lassen (Volcanic National Park) because of the snow yesterday. In the high Sierras, Lassen is where we are headed today.
Checking online, I find that a section of the park road is indeed closed due to snow; though we can get into the park, we will not be able to drive through as we had hoped.
Heading north out of Reno on highway 395 in California, we spot a tree with hanging ornaments at, what we later learn is, Hallelujah Junction. As we whiz by at 65 mph, we see that they are athletic shoes. Wanting to explore this mystery further, we double back and find that we are at a classic shoe tree.
I learn online that A shoe tree starts with one dreamer, tossing his or her footwear-of-old high into the sky, to catch on an out-of-reach branch. It usually ends there, unseen and neglected by others. But on rare occasions, that first pair of shoes triggers a shoe tossing cascade. Soon, teens are gathering up their old Adidas and Sauconys, families are driving out after church with Dad’s Reeboks and grandma’s Keds.
After cruising the flat high desert route 395, we turn west at Susanville onto route 36 to climb into the mountains where Lassen reigns. At the entrance to the park, we learn the entire park road has reopened, and there are two waterfalls trails for our hiking pleasure.
On our park map, the ranger circles the 3.5-mile roundtrip Mill Creek Falls Trail that leaves from the visitor center and another 3-mile hike to the Kings Creek Falls Trail eight miles into the park; we would not have had access to the Kings Creek Falls yesterday due to the snowfall.
Different from most waterfalls hikes where we climb along the creek bed up into the mountains, the Mill Creek Trail has us hiking first up, then down along the hillside; but perplexingly mostly downs. WTF! Adding to the up and down-ness conundrum, the trail has no signage; after 15 minutes, I wonder why no one else is on this made-for-the-average-Joe-and-Jane trail; the trail is short, promises waterfalls, and leaves from the visitor center.
Hiking on for ten minutes more, we have to be a mile into the 1.6-mile hike at 6500’. Still no signs and still no other hikers returning from the falls at what would be a very popular hiking time (130P). I am ready to bail; Hannah is not; she pulls out the faith card. Though I don’t have much faith in the trail, I do in her, so we continue. Listening intently, I don’t hear any sound of a rushing creek or thundering falls; seems like a wild goose chase to me.
Finally, spotting two couples returning from the falls, Hannah learns that we are indeed on the right trail. Forty minutes after leaving the trailhead, we arrive at the Mill Creek Falls. Hiking an additional tenth of a mile to the bridge at the top of the falls, we have a classic picture of the valley below.
Upon our return to the visitor center, Hannah goes in to buy postcards as I sit in the sun on the bench outside the front entrance. Ready to change into sandals from my hiking boots, I head to our little nothing rental Hyundai Accent, when I see an older couple approach. She looks familiar. Being semi-bold as any good introvert would be, I speak up and say, Do I know you? She doesn’t seem to recognize me, but I am pretty sure and introduce myself.
Joy responds, Dan Rothermel, yes. Turning to her husband Ted, she mentions I told you about his book, “Sweet Dreams, Robyn.” We have not seen each other in 25 years! Her Centering Corporation published my first book back in 1991. Joy was the one who believed there was a market for my narrative poetry about our family dealing with our four-year-old daughter Robyn’s leukemia (Robyn is now 36!). Joy’s belief in me as a writer set in motion my writing career. I am forever indebted to her for taking a chance on me.
What are the odds of us all meeting in this out-of-the-way national park, miles from civilization? If there was thirty seconds difference in timing, we never would have met.
After sitting with them in the café for thirty minutes and still happily stunned at our chance good fortune, Hannah and I then take the winding park road (which was closed yesterday) past the 8501’ Lassen Pass for the King’s Creek Trail.
At 3P, we hike on the meadow trail, again unprepared for the steady descent over rockiness down to the Kings Creek Falls. A mile and a half later, we see the rushing river down the canyon which ends at a fenced off area for viewing the falls.
Seeing twenty-somethings, and even a family with preschoolers down the cliffside, I descend for one more picture while Hannah follows.
Leaning into the rocky cliff away from the chasm below, Hannah is not loving the descent at all. Once back at the rim, she tells me that this is the very last such rocky descent – ever! It was only this past February that she fell 25’ off the San Ysidro Falls Trail near Santa Barbara; cliffside hiking is no longer her thing any more.
With that realization, we blissfully return to the trailhead for our drive to Redding for our overnight. We toast common sense with a fine Merlot.