Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Mountain That No Climber Can Ever Summit: Mt. Tehama (the Brokeoff Volcano)

The gigantic boulder is a glacial erratic, left behind by sheets of ice that once covered the Lassen region.
After being slightly distracted by ducks and the beautiful fall day in Yosemite, Geotripper is back on track to finish up his exploration of the Cascades volcanoes of Northern California. It was already approaching noon of our last day on the road back at the end of September, and we had six hours of driving ahead, so our list of features we were investigating was becoming short. In fact, one of the features we were interested in just simply wasn't there.

Mt. Tehama, or the Brokeoff Volcano, began erupting around 600,000 years ago just south of the present-day site of Lassen Peak. It was a stratovolcano similar to Mt. Shasta or Mt. Hood, composed mainly of gray andesite with interbedded ash and lava flows. The mountain alternated between explosive eruptions and effusive eruptions and eventually grew to a height in excess of 11,000 feet, hundreds of feet higher than modern Lassen Peak (10,457 feet).
There is a pretty good reason that mountain climbers can never summit Mt. Tehama, though. It's not there anymore. Around 400,000 years ago the magma chamber under the mountain ended volcanic activity. There has been debate about whether the mountain ended with a tantrum or a whimper, but the consensus seems to lie with the latter. The volcano stopped erupting and chemical weathering, river and glacial activity tore it apart. All that remains are a series of lower peaks surrounding the original throat of the volcano including Brokeoff Mountain, Mt. Diller, Eagle Peak and Diamond Peak.
 In the aftermath of the eruptive cycle that ended activity at Tehama, several plug domes erupted and grew on the flanks of the older mountain, including Lassen Peak itself about 28,000 years ago. Hot rock continues to simmer beneath the complex, evidenced by the recent (1914-1917) eruption of Lassen Peak, and the presence of geothermal systems like Bumpass Hell and the Sulphur Works.

From the Bumpass Hell trail, the peaks of Brokeoff Mountain and Mt. Diller seem to provide a near-perfect profile of the long-gone volcano, but the original edifice was much larger, something like 15 miles around. The center of the volcano was in the foreground and the two peaks were just part of the western flank. An aerial photograph of the mountain (from a Canada flight in 2005) offers a different perspective...

I annotated a version of the picture for a previous post on the volcano, and it is reproduced below. I'm mostly satisfied with it, although the height of the peak may be a bit exaggerated. In any case, good luck climbing to the summit!

Up next, the final stop of our trip!

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