Archive for the ‘LASSEN VOLCANIC NP’ Category


September 10, 2009

Lassen was my 41st park.  From Tucson, I flew to Reno and drove to the Park, spending three days there.  The Mineral Lodge is a nice spot with good rooms, great food and a small store.  Being only 9 miles from the Park, it is close.  I found the southern half of the park more interesting, with Bumpass Hell, the Brokeoff, Lassen climbs, Mill Creek and the Summit Lakes region.  I do want to camp in the latter spot some day.  

During my stay, I hiked half way up Lassen, saw Bumpass Hell, hiked up Brokeoff, Mill Creek Falls and beyond and Summit Lakes loop.  It inspired the Medical Society column Two at Lassen on this blog.


September 9, 2009


September 5, 2009


To appear in an upcoming Sombrero 

“The upper half of Lassen Peak is closed due to a rock fall,” the young ranger told me. 

“Crap,” I replied, disappointed that I wouldn’t climb the dormant volcano.  So, I hiked half way and the next day climbed nearby Brokeoff Mountain, which was prettier, longer and steeper.  What happened on each affected me deeply. 

After my first hike, at a store, I saw one of those collection jars for money to help defray medical expenses for a local, usually a child with a horrible condition.  The picture showed a smiling pair:  the boy will never smile again, for he died three weeks earlier on Lassen, in that rock fall that closed the trail.  His sister was severely injured.  My whiny complaints made me feel small. 

The Park Service has said little publically, but it appears that a section of a rock wall collapsed over the two siblings as they were starting to pose for a picture.  They were thrown down the mountain, the father catching his daughter, the boy dying in his mother’s arms.  Whether the wall was poorly designed or maintained is not clear; we do know that American infrastructure has been neglected, including the Parks. 

The girl’s medical costs may well bankrupt the family even if liability is proven and damages are awarded.  Senator Coburn says neighbors should help neighbors.  Yeah, right.  We bail out AIG and Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch paid $3.6B in bonuses as it was going down the tubes, nearly destroying the world’s economy, while lesser folks in the Sierra with catastrophic needs get coins and a few bills.  Liberals, the word often used with a tone of contempt, believe in helping others who can’t help themselves.  I reserve my contempt for the American financial community and those who feel money should be spent policing the world rather than in America.  Imagine starting a hike with your spouse and two kids, a job, house, and comfortable life; two hours later, you’ve lost a child, the other hospitalized in grave condition, your life suddenly in tatters.  Let’s tax ourselves to pay all catastrophic medical costs over $50K and preventative care, use medical saving accounts and credit for usual care and federal funding for the poor, with full coverage for children.  Decent medical financing.  Good.  Not worrying about medically-caused bankruptcy:  priceless. 

I suspect the Lassen tragedy was preventable, a concatenation of things that cost a young boy all the wonderful things that life offers, like love, family, friends, wilderness and making the world a better place.  It changed his family and friends forever.  It changed me, and I never knew him. 

I suspect the NPS will learn something from the disaster.  After the Hudson River collision there will be changes, for aviation learns from mistakes, except perhaps air ambulances, one of the least regulated, dangerous occupations in the country.  Medicine should investigate mistakes and regulate itself.  Over time the number of lawsuits might decrease and fewer patients – nurses and pilots, too – would die. 

The next day on Brokeoff, I encountered an 82 year-old with no shirt, no water and no food on a 7 mile hike with 2500 feet of elevation gain.  I suggested he turn around; he assured me he was a nationally ranked cyclist.  Nationally ranked fool, I thought, hoping my phone would work if he dropped dead.  He did summit, and I made him drink the extra water I had.  He likely made it back down, especially since I told everybody coming up to offer water.  Had he died, his death would have been preventable, unnecessary and frankly stupid.

 The national parks are our crown jewels.  Lassen was my 41st and a wonderful place, but a microcosm of America.  Instead of a rock fall, we’ve had Iraq.  Instead of one boy, we’ve lost four thousand.  Instead of one injury, we’ve had 30,000.  Instead of collection jars, we’ve spent a trillion that could have been spent for infrastructure in the Parks, the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi or an air controller at a Flagstaff hospital.  I could easily have been under that rock wall; I had been over that I-35 bridge dozens of times.  I lived.  Twenty-one didn’t in the three incidents. 

An old man brags about his condition; we brag about our medical system, which was trashed in a recent compelling Atlantic article.  Instead of no water, food and shirt, there is not enough access, money and quality.  One of these days, the old man will fail, as we all will.  Our medical system is failing and will continue to degrade so long as we don’t act.  It isn’t a choice between socialism and laissez-faire.  It’s realizing that no regulation kills people and trashes economies, and total regulation limits human potential.  If an octogenarian wants to hike without water, that’s his business, until he needs a medevac, putting others at unnecessary risk.  A 9 year-old can’t be protected from a sudden natural rock fall, but a trail annually traveled by 35,000 ought to be safe under normal conditions. 

The boy’s death deeply moved me; the old man’s hubris left me shaking my head, wondering how life could be so unfair.  To escape the arguing, hypocrisy and lies, I went deep into the volcanic backcountry.  But Lassen and Brokeoff showed me there is no escape from the same issues I see every day at home.