Hiking the Big Nasty (Lava Beds NM) 04-May-2018

Big Nasty Trail Schonchin Butte Lava Beds National Monument California

While the primary attractions at Lava Beds National Monument are its numerous lava tube caves, there are some above-ground sites worth visiting too. Having hiked to Whitney Butte in the past, today we aimed for Mammoth Crater, the Big Nasty Trail (despite whatever prurient thoughts you may be harboring, this trail was named after a brush-covered formation of rough lava rock), and the lookout atop Schonchin Butte.

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Lava Beds National Monument 01-Apr-2016

Lava Beds National Monument is located in northeastern California, in Siskiyou and Modoc counties. The Monument lies on the northeastern flank of the Medicine Lake Volcano and has the largest total area covered by a volcano in the Cascade Range. We’ve made several visits to the monument to both explore some of the caves (which are actually lava tubes) and to do a short hike to Whitney Butte in the adjacent Lava Beds Black Lava Flow Wilderness Area.  It should be noted that those caves along the Loop Road can be closed to entry to protect hibernating bats, so it’s not necessarily possible to visit all of them during a single visit.  Also the recent appearance of White-Nose Syndrome (a fatal condition in bats associated with exposure to a fungus) in Washington State might eventually further complicate visiting these caves.

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Whitney Butte (Lava Beds National Monument) 27-Aug-2015

Lava Beds National Monument has a lot of caves but it also has some above-ground hiking trails that make a nice counter-point to time spent crawling around in the dark. Starting from the Merrill Ice Cave parking lot, the trail to Whitney Butte is basically an easy hike through open country,

Lava Beds National Monument Whitney Butte
Start of the trail to Whitney Butte and the Black Lava Flow Wilderness

with good views of Mount Shasta to the west,

Lava Beds National Monument Whitney Butte
Mount Shasta

past Whitney Butte – we were dissuaded from climbing it due to an unfortunate juxtaposition of shorts, long grass, and rattlesnakes (a hike up it might have been easy and fun, given colder weather and longer pants) –

Lava Beds National Monument Whitney Butte
Whitney Butte

to the face of the Black Lava flow.

Lava Beds National Monument Whitney Butte
Face of the Black Lava Flow, with Mount Shasta on the horizon

The face of the flow is around 30-50 feet high and speaks to the bulldozing power of large masses of molten rock in motion. We tried climbing up on it but that was like balancing on large razor blades – not AT ALL forgiving if you miss a foot or hand-hold and slip. A short hike (6 miles round-trip; little elevation gain) but a nice balance for a day otherwise spent underground.

Lava Beds National Monument Whitney Butte
Our track to and from Whitney Butte and the Black Lava Flow