A Beautiful Escape to Medicine Lake and Glass Mountain

Standing in the field of exposed obsidian feeling both completely exposed and completely hidden is a strange and wondrous feeling

We woke up to find that the water in our bottles had frozen. We knew it was cold that night, we just didn’t know it was a night we should have left our things in the car or in the tent with us.

The trade off, though was that we had the campsite virtually to ourselves, and were granted views of some of the most spectacularly star-studded night sky vistas that we had seen in awhile.

We had long weeks of work, and to relax and unwind we decided to head up to Medicine Lake. We had tried to reach this destination earlier in the summer, only to find that the roads were still covered in snow in early June.

This time, however, it was open. We made the drive up Saturday, after packing everything we thought we might need, including a new two burner propane camping stove that we were hoping to test out. We drove up I-5, taking the exit to Highway 89 through McCloud. We stopped to make sure we had enough gas and water, and drove through the beautiful Modoc Forest roads. We’ve stopped at the Jot Dean Ice Cave before, so decided to keep pushing and make camp as early as we could.

When we arrived at Medicine Lake, we were pleased to find the campground virtually empty. For some reason, not many people wanted to brave the potentially-sub-32 degree Fahrenheit weather in a tent.

The lake, we’ve learned, was an important location for numerous local indigenous populations. My father, too, had spoken of the lake with a kind of reverence that made it more than just another tranquil mountain lake. When we arrived and were driving through the campsite, we saw a red-tailed hawk perched plainly on a stump beside the road. We drove slowly, not wanting to scare it off. Of course, as we approached on the road, it flew off, but it was the closest I’ve ever been to a wild bird of prey. It seemed to be a symbol of the natural world’s significance at this lake.

I have to say, there are truly no bad spots at these campgrounds. However, I feel quite confident that ours was one of the best. Right along the shore of the lake, with scattered trees to add to the view, ample firewood and a perfectly flat soft spot for our tent.

We set about putting up our tent, our master bedroom for the night. We had brought mounds of blankets, sleeping bags, pillows, and even a comforter from home. Yes, we were camping, but we were doing it in style.

After we set up camp, we headed to Glass Mountain. It was fairly easy to find based off the signs, although the mountain itself was not labeled. It is easily identifiable though by it’s rocky face.

Glass Mountain is covered in black obsidian flows, with jagged and beautiful crumbled rock. It is a desolate area, with a few scattered trees that seem to defy natural laws by existing on the rocks. There are a few “trails” that meander across the low mountain, offering a firm path.

If you stray from the path, the rocky surface is uneven and loose, and careful footing must be ensured. We found huge chunks of gleaming obsidian, as well as thin strips of obsidian that were nearly translucent, no doubt giving rise to the name of Glass Mountain.

It should be noted that this area is one of historic and pre-historic importance, so removing obsidian is prohibited by law. However, it is absolutely free to walk along this former rim volcano that overlooks an incredible vista. Like much of northeastern California, the geologic past has created a bleak and exposed landscape that has a strangely alluring charm.

After looking through my photos, it is clear that they just don’t do it justice. Standing in the field of exposed obsidian feeling both completely exposed and completely hidden is a strange and wondrous feeling.

We retreated back to our campsite after this, eager to be back before dark. After we arrived, we soon created a roaring fire and started cooking our dinner. In the past, our dinners typically were the freeze dried backpackers meals that only require the addition of boiling water. Tonight, we were going to try to make spaghetti and marinara sauce for dinner and an apple crumble for dessert. (Admittedly, it still requires boiling water, but hey, we’re trying).

The food was delicious and warm as the cold of the night began to creep in. The sun slowly set and with the darkness came the cold. We bundled up tighter and huddled closer to the fire as we ate our meal. The apple crumble ended up being more of an apple mush, but it still tasted of sweet cinnamon. We were tired from the day, and ended up retiring to the tent, under a mound of blankets before it got too cold.

I do remember waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I didn’t want to leave the warmth and comfort of the tent, but I knew that my bladder would not wait. I put on some warm clothes, and opened the tent flap. It was bitter cold, and my eyes were still blurry with sleep, but I could see the dazzling sea of stars above. I could only really stay to enjoy a moment before the warmth I had accumulated began to leave, but it was enough to remind me just how awed and small I feel when I am stargazing.

The next day, I woke up and went outside to find that the few water bottles we had left outside from the night before were frozen. We knew that it had been cold the night before, but we didn’t realize just how cold. I boiled some water to make coffee and gathered some leftover wood to start a fire. Fire speaks to the Neanderthal in us, and is a strangely psychological comfort.

It was my first time back to Medicine Lake since being a small child. Camping in the cold tent exploring jagged mini mountains and eating by a roaring campfire seemed like an appropriate last camping trip of the summer. Not to say there won’t be more impulsive, cold camping trips in fall, but it remains a beautiful location.

Ryan Loughrey

Ryan has been wandering the PNW since 1993. Follow his blog at peaceloveandabowlofrice.wordpress.com

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