The name sounds like an unfortunately cute play on the rough volcanic terrain. But the Bumpass Hell trail is in fact named for Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, who lost a leg when the ground gave way and dropped him into a 240°F pool of boiling mud.
The stench is awesome. Raw surphur, hydrogen sulfide, and any number of other noxious compounds boil out of the very bowels of the earth, propelled by steam at temperatures up to 464°F. Great clouds of wet gas hiss out of vents, plop out of mudpots, spray out of fissures, rise in steaming gouts to blanket the area with a low-lying funk. When the wind turns your way, you’ll see it. And then you’ll smell it. And then you’ll regret it.
Nonetheless, this was a fantastic hike. The trailhead parking lot was empty, so we enjoyed the trail in solitude. As with the Lassen Peak trail, this one is well-marked and maintained. It leads past a half-dozen staggeringly beautiful vistas, where the land falls away for hundreds of feet into the valley that formed when the original volcano (Mount Tehama) collapsed about 400,000 years ago.
It’s an easy hike, climbing 500 feet in a mile, then dropping 250 feet into the stinking crater that inspired the area’s name.
To prevent any modern tourists from contributing a limb to whatever gods lurk beneath the thin, brittle ground, the Park Service has constructed a boardwalk system over the top of the active area, past incredible examples of boiling pools, mudpots, steam vents, and a runoff stream that looks like the output of a chemical plant (and is probably no less toxic). In the half hour we spent there, I learned more about geology than in an entire semester on the subject in college. (Then again, that might be due to the fact that everyone else in the class was on the football team.)
I imagine this is a popular hike, due to its unchallenging nature and otherworldly attraction. Do it early in the day to avoid chatter on the boardwalk and crowds around the mudpots.
See more pictures in my Lassen Volcanic National Park picture gallery.