Lassen Volcanic National Park's Chaos Crags are a dominating presence in the Manzanita Lake area of the park. Visible from nearly everywhere in the area, the Chaos Crags form a dramatic backdrop to Mazanita Lake and the main park road as is winds through the northwestern portion of the Lassen area. The sheer west wall of the Crags towers up to 2,500 feet above the lake. The jagged appearance of the Chaos Crags constitutes ons of the most imposing scenes in the Lassen environs. In spite of this, the Crags receive little attention beyond the ogling of tourists. This is due in part to their immediate proximity to the star of Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lassen Peak. The main volcano towers an additional 2,000 feet above the highest point of the Crags. In most peoples minds the jagged peaks of the Chaos Crags may just be appendages of the primary volcano. Another reason why the Crags remain hidden in plain sight is the complete lack of trails leading into the interior of the Chaos Crags complex. A few off trail routes are possible but they are difficult, to say the least. The name of the formation itself indicates their wild and inaccessible character. Once access into the heart of the Crags is achieved, movement remains strenuous and it is easy to become lost amidst the lava flows. Nonetheless, the Chaos Crags remains a spectacular and mysterious part of Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The Chaos Crags consist of six primary summits, the highest of which is 8,530 feet high. Like Lassen peak, the Crags are plug volcanoes. These are formed by thick viscous lava that oozes to the earth;s surface in layers. The volcanic "plugs" grow a little higher with each layer of lava that reaches the surface. Also like Lassen Peak, the Chaos Crags have grown out of the remnants of the now obliterated Mt. Tehama. This long gone stratovolcano is believed to have exceeded 12,000 feet in elevation at one time. Tehama eventually erupted, blowing out its innards and collapsing in on itself. Brokeoff Mountain, the second highest peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park, is a remnant of the old southern slope of Mt. Tehama. Despite the finality of the ancient stratovolcano's destruction, the volcanic forces the led to its demise remain active. Geothermal phenomena like Bumpass Hell, Sulphur Works, Cold Boiling Lake and Devil's Kitchen are humbling testimony to the power lying perilously close to the earth's surface. These same forces eventually pushed up Lassen Peak, a process that reached a crescendo between 1914-1921. The volcano was continually active during this period, including a cataclysmic eruption in 1915.
The Chaos Crags were created by equally powerful forces. The pressure beneath the earth forced the lava above ground, pushing up the high dacite pinnacles visible today. About 300 years ago undetermined forces caused the northern section of the Crags to break loose of the main formation. The rubble created an enormous landslide that moved at speeds in excess of 100 MPH that destroyed everything in its path. The debris now sits at the foot of the Chaos Crags and is known as the Chaos Jumbles. The large amphitheater created by this event now contains the small, seasonal Crags Lake. The movement of the debris is not yet done since the talus slope continues to seek its angle of repose. Rocks tumble down the slope on a regular basis, often giving loud reports as they fall. Occasionally one will fall into Crags Lake.
As noted previously, the Chaos Crags pose a formidable challenge in terms of summiting any of the dacite pinnacles. Two trails approach the Crags, both of which depart the Manzanita Lake area. Neither trail pentrates into the interior of the formation. The first trail goes to Crags Lake. This trail is 4 miles round trip and gains 700 feet. A steep ridgeline rises just southwest of the trails highpoint, just before it dips down to the lakes. It is possible to climb up this ridge and approach the higher areas of the Chaos Crags found in this area. Access into the interior is uncertain on this route. Whether one is able reach the inner regions of the Crags or not, the views of Mt. Shasta, Crater Peak, and the Trinity Alps are magnificent.
The second trail approaching the Chaos Crags is the Manzanita Creek trail. This route is 7 miles round trip and climbs 1,100 feet. The trail itself terminates in a large meadow beneath Loomis Peak, on the northwest side of Lassen Peak. The Crags are often visible to the east along the trail. About 2.5 miles up the trail the route finally comes alongside Manzanita Creek. If one leaves the trail and follows the creek downstream, the confluence with another substantial creek can be found. Following this tributary upstream away from Manzanita Creek will eventually lead to a saddle between Lassen Peak and the Chaos Crags. Difficult access into the interior may be gained from this route. The saddle may also be accessed by off trail hiking through the devastated Area, the region ruined by Lassen Peak's 1915 eruption. This option required negotiating the Crescent Crater and massive skree fields, so the Manzanita Creek approach may be better.
It must be noted that all of these routes require substantial off trail hiking and climbing over extremely difficult terrain. Even if on followed these routes, they still do not describe the final assent of the 8,530 high point. This summit may be unattainable without technical climbing, or like the Lizard Head in Colorado, it may best be left unclimbed because of the condition of the rock.
From Redding, drive east on Highway 44 to the main park entrance.
From Red Bluff
From the city of Red Bluff, drive east on Highway 36, through the town of Mineral. Beyond the town, head north on Highway 89. Enter the park (fee required) and continue on the main park road (still Highway 89). The road winds around Lassen Peak and eventually arrives at the Loomis Museum and Manzanita Lake campground. Trailheads are located in this area.
From Chico and Highway 99
Drive northeast out of Chico on Highway 32 for almost 54 miles. Turn north onto Highway 89 and continue to the Lassen Volcanic National Park entrance. Enter the park (fee required) and continue on the main park road (still Highway 89). The road winds around Lassen Peak and eventually arrives at the Loomis Museum and Manzanita Lake campground. Trailheads are located in this area.
Red TapeThe Chaos Crags are in Lassen Volcanic National Park as well as the Lassen Volcanic Wilderness. Normal NPS and wilderness rules and ethics apply.
The entrance fee is $10.00.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
PO Box 100
Mineral, CA 96063
Four campgrounds are within easy distance of both trailheads leading towards the Chaos Crags. The closest is the Manzanita campground, from which both trail actually depart. This campground costs $18 per night during th summer and $10 during the fall months.
The Crags campground is the next closest and costs $12 per night. The twin North and South Summit Lake campgrounds are a short distance further away and cost $18 for the north campground and $16 for the south campground. The pleasant Summit Lake seperates the two sites.