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Backpacker Magazine – October 2011

Rip & Go: Three Sisters Loop - Lava Beds National Monument, CA

Discover hidden wonders in a cave-riddled wilderness.

by: Bill Rozday

Lava tube in Lava Beds National Monument (Photo by Eli Boschetto)
Lava tube in Lava Beds National Monument (Photo by Eli Boschetto)
Lava Beds National Monument (Photo by Eli Boschetto)
Lava Beds National Monument (Photo by Eli Boschetto)
Craghopper's Bear Survivor Full Stretch Trousers (Photo by courtesy)
Craghopper's Bear Survivor Full Stretch Trousers (Photo by courtesy)

Take it With You
Download a printable PDF of this entire weekend.

GPS-Enabled Trip Report
See this trip on a map, download it to your phone, GPS, or computer, and more.

Key Gear: Indestructible pants

The Monument conceals nearly 800 lava tubes, dozens of which are accessible from this route. But exploring them often requires scrambling across piles of apparel-shredding basalt rubble. Your best defense? One of the toughest pants we’ve ever tested. Craghopper’s Bear Survivor Full Stretch Trousers ($85, are made with a stretchy nylon-spandex blend with reinforced cuffs, which adds durability without inhibiting range of motion. Our tester, a spelunker from North Carolina, used them for three straight months without one tear. Note: They run small in the waist. Order up a size.

See This: Andromeda Galaxy  
Lava Beds’ high altitude (4,500 feet), dry air, and remote location (40 miles from a town of more than 1,000) mean world-class stargazing. November is the perfect time to spot this neighboring galaxy, which at 2.5 million light years away is the most distant thing you can see with your naked eye. Start by finding Cassiopeia’s big W, about halfway up from the eastern horizon at 8 p.m. on November 1. The right half of the W points like an arrow toward Andromeda, two outstretched fists away: Look for a faint, elongated smudge. If you’re eager for more, the Leonid meteor shower will rain 10-15 shooting stars per hour in the predawn darkness of November 18, though the moon’s glare promises to interfere this year.

Locals Know
It’s hard to tell where the Monument’s cinder cones and lava tubes come from. That’s because the Medicine Lake shield volcano doesn’t look or act like its showier cousins in the Cascade Range. In place of a central cone that erupts with a bang, the low, sloping Medicine Lake Volcano oozes from multiple vents across a 700-square-mile area. The Monument covers only 10 percent of that, yet it’s home to some of Medicine Lake’s most convoluted terrain. Starting in 1872, its trenches and tubes helped 60 native Modoc fighters confound 600 U.S. soldiers for months. When cut off from water, the tribe survived on ice inside caves. Add a dayhike through the heart of the Modoc’s rocky defenses on the 1.5-mile Captain Jack’s Stronghold Trail.

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Nov 05, 2011

Nice feature, hope there'll be more.


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