From the parking she doesn’t look like much. In fact she’s so unimpressive it was hard to tell she was even a peak, let alone the tallest mountain in Butte County.
But there she was—Humboldt Peak—at 7,082 feet.
Once on top, though, the 360-degree view was worth the final scramble up the volcanic outcropping. Charred remains from the Dixie Fire stand out against hillsides of green.
Embedded in the rock is a U.S. Department of Agriculture marker from 1935 that states the elevation—which is the elevation I’m going with, and not what other websites have posted.
A spot farther south following the Pacific Crest Trail is where the actual highest point in the county is—measuring 7,124 feet—near the Plumas County line.
We (the we being a group with the Lassen Chapter of the Native Plant Society) were on the Pacific Crest Trail except for the jaunt up to Humboldt Peak. A few miles farther south and we would have hit the halfway point on the PCT, where it’s 1,325 miles to Mexico and 1,325 miles to Canada.
In the parking lot a small group of volunteers had set up tables of food for through hikers; something they do annually. The decline in hikers at this juncture is likely attributed to last winter’s record snow in the Sierra.
Peak bagging was actually a bonus on our excursion. Our real focus was to see what flora was popping up alongside the trail, especially considering so much of this area was charred by the 2021 Dixie Fire.
We saw San Francisco campion, curry plant, Sierra penstemon, western snakeroot, Douglas’ catchfly, mountain coyote mint, Davis’ knotweed and others. Some flowers were still vibrant in early September, while most were well past their prime.
It was encouraging to see so much growth in an area that has been scarred by wildfire. Plus, saplings were sprouting, proving the forest will one day again be full of living trees.
At various vistas it was also interesting to see how the blaze that charred 963,309 acres and is the second largest in the state’s history didn’t burn everything in its path. Still, burned trees lead a path to Lassen Peak, which stands in the distance. While we weren’t hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park, the fire touched more than 60 percent of the park.
This section of trail also brings into view the massive Mount Yana caldera.
A caldera, as defined by National Geographic, “… is a large depression formed when a volcano erupts and collapses. During a volcanic eruption, magma present in the magma chamber underneath the volcano is expelled, often forcefully. When the magma chamber empties, the support that the magma had provided inside the chamber disappears. As a result, the sides and top of the volcano collapse inward. Calderas vary in size from one to 0.62 to 62 miles in diameter.”
Sometimes they fill with water. A well-known caldera is Crater Lake in Oregon.
Chico State’s website says, “Mt. Yana was active approximately 3 million years ago as part of the ancient Cascades arc.”
The National Park Service website explains, “Rocks of the Yana volcanic center dominate the area southwest of Lake Almanor. Butt Mountain, Ruffa Ridge, and Humboldt Peak are the major remnants of a deeply eroded andesitic composite volcano that was 24–32 miles in diameter.”
Looking out at what looks like a bowl of sorts it was hard to imagine an 11,000 foot volcano once filled this space. Honestly, without being told what I was looking at, I would have never known there was something special and historic about this landscape.
- Directions: From Chico, take Highway 32 east, go right on Humboldt Road toward Butte Meadows, go past Jonesville. Continue another 3½ miles to a parking area on the left. Trailhead is to the south. The road is not paved the entire way, but 4-wheel drive is not needed.
- Dogs: Allowed on leash.
- Length: Totally up to you. We did an out and back of more than 3½ miles.
- Elevation: The parking lot is at 6,654 feet.
- Terrain: Mostly compact dirt, with rocks embedded in single-track trail. A tiny bit of rock scrambling required to get to top of Humboldt Peak.