So Today I Climbed A Volcano And Sat Inside... on Volunteer USA

Rob Merton, a University of Warwick student, spent this summer on Volunteer USA, here's an excerpt from his fab travel blog.

It was +2 degrees C when I woke up in just my sleeping bag. We were at our first camp site in Lassen and we were only there one night so we thought 'hey what the hell- who needs a tent- it's only one night!'. Well despite the fact I couldn't feel my toes, my mosquito net lined sleeping bag was wrapped around my head and my iPod was pressing against me from the pocket from the inside of the bag I had generally an alright night's sleep considering. I reiterate though, it was two degrees C and it was August in California. We were only 5500 feet up too. It was tuesday and we packed up camp and went to our second camp site. It was around 1pm when we'd set up camp at site no. 2 of 4, which was a 3 mile hike from where the van was parked, and started to do anything that resembled work. Pretty relaxed start to the week really. 

The campsite was by a very picturesque lake called Snag lake which had a load of discharged rock from the volcano at the end of it. The rocks were about 20 feet high and went on for a mile and a half. The other side was Bute lake, which was where the 4th camp site was. They think they used to be one lake that got split in half. They aren't sure though. I reckon they should find out.

The work itself was pulling weeds with a small hand picks, similar to what the dwarves used in snow white, but we weren't dwarves so they were pretty small. Could do some damage though! The weeds certainly knew what was coming to them. We were obliterating 2 types of weeds: Mullen and Bull thistle. They apparently aren't native- they came from eastern Europe, so they had to go. The other weeds that were there, by the way, were completely fine, even if they were weeds. Ugly weeds at that. But, as I say, they were native, so it's all fine... We pulled 2000 weeds that day between the 15 of us (we were helped out by park ranger type people) in two hours, which was pretty good going. Wednesday and Thursday were along the same lines of pullling weeds. Pretty relaxed work compared to what I was doing in Yosemite. The place we were doing it in though was insane. It was all burnt out so it was just half burnt tree stumps surrounded by a graveyard of fallen dead trees. I'd climb over a few and they'd just collapse under my feet. Was quite scary at points.

The weekend crept up on us and we were at our 3rd camp site. The 2nd one was in the back country with noone around- this one was front country with screaming babies. The hand picks never looked so lethal. Nevermind- it was good- there were actual toilets at this place and running water. And by toilets I mean a designated hole in the ground that was housed by a plastic toilet looking object and it was indoors. No flush required. Yum...

The days off enabled us to explore Lassen. Yet another awesome National park. Very strange terrain. One minute we were hiking up a massive snow mountain, then on desert terrain and then on grass. Pretty surreal. Gorgeous though. And another thing about Lassen, it's a volcanic national park, so they weren't mountains or hills we were climbing- they were volcanoes. Last erruption was 90 years ago so not likely to go off again- well so their 'scientists' reassured us in the video we sat through on the 3rd day. Apparently when it errupted, it threw rocks and boulders 100pmh around the park, they were going so fast they rolled half-way up the nearest volcano. We were also told that all the small rocks around the place were, unless specifically put there, from the volcanoes. So that was pretty cool. Anyway- on the friday we hiked to Bumpass hill, which was a place where the volcano was still bubbling and letting off ALOT of sulphur gas. It's the stuff they put in stink bombs. It made me want to throw up by the end it was pretty disgusting. I didn't mind you, but yeah. The terrain here was mental- it was like something off Star Trek. Really cool pastal colours everywhere, and of course the bubbling pools of lava made it more like it. On the way back we didn't stick to the trail, as we were pretty high up on the snow, so we slid down to the bottom on our backsides- was much fun. 

Saturday and Sunday were pretty relaxed days- Sunday we literally just sat at the campsite and chilled and read. Monday to Wednesday was the same work as the previous week, just in different locations, this time there was actual life in the plants and even a stream with lots of tributaries that we had to scramble over. Unfortunately the second day was cut a few hours short for me as I managed slip on a tree just before crossing the river and I landed on the sharp edge of my pick. Landed at the very top of my left leg where all the lovely nerves are. The tool was fairly blunt, but still- was on the floor unable to move for around 10-15 minutes. Worst dead leg. EVER! So I hobbled back to the van with Tim, the supervisor, and rested it. Still hurts now, but I'll get over it. I worked on Wednesday, so was able to move it. And anyway I needed it better by Wednesday evening as were climbing Sinder Cone volcano. 400 feet staright up on terrain comparable to sand. It was a pretty vertical trail too. Very tough. So I put on some loud, angry music on my iPod and stumbled to the top in 14 minutes. The views were immense. Comparable to Eagle's peak at Yosemite, not sure which I prefer.

We also went right down into the volcano (it's not active obviously), but that was really cool. We were going to play baseball there, but we didn't have a ball. Had a bat and glove though. Nevermind. So climbing that was a pretty cool end to a really cool two weeks in an amazing national park. I was told only 400,000 people visit the park a year and only around 400 people go to the part we went to to start with. Mental, so if you're in California- give it a look, you won't regret it! I certainly didn't.

Not sure what project I’m on yet for next week, might put an edit at the bottom when I know. Sequoia I know is leaving next week which is a month long! We'll see anyway. This weekend James, Tim and I are going to San Francisco via San Jose which should be a good laugh.

Speak soon...


[Edit- I'm going to Point Reyes on Monday for 2 weeks, which is just North of San Francisco. Sounds fun!]


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