Lassen Peak Trail Accident was Unforeseen
Contact: Darlene M. Koontz, 530-595-4444 ext. 5101
The fatal accident that killed 9 year old Tommy Botell and seriously injured his 13 year old sister, Katrina (1.7 miles up) on the Lassen Peak Trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park was unforeseen as the park completed assessments of the trail earlier in the season. “We are so sorry this accident occurred.” said Park Superintendent Darlene M. Koontz. “In the long history of the trail, there is no record of anything similar to this accident and we had no idea that this rock wall would fail in such a manner.”
The Lassen Peak Trail is an historic trail that was in existence before the spectacular 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak. Early in the park’s history, visitors arrived at the trailhead by horseback to hike Lassen Peak until the park road was built in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Today, over 25,000 visitors hike to the top of Lassen Peak between June and September. This unique opportunity to hike to the top of one of the world’s largest plug dome volcanoes as a day hike has made this trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park very popular and one that many visitors specifically come to the park to hike.
The extreme conditions of temperature, precipitation, wind, and the composition of the volcanic rock of this mountain create a challenging environment to maintain this historic trail. The loose volcanic soils and rocky conditions are exposed to the forces of weathering which effectively breaks down the rock. There is also human-caused erosion from those hikers that cut switchbacks in summer and those that lose the trail as the spring melt partially covers the trail with snowfields. Each year park staff hike Lassen Peak Trail throughout the summer and flag the trail in the spring to help visitors find their way without further impacts to the trail.
Three years ago, the decision was made to pursue a more comprehensive rehabilitation project beyond the annual summer trail work. The planning, surveys, and assessments were completed and the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Lassen Peak Trail Rehabilitation Project was completed with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) decision approved by the NPS Pacific West Regional Director in February 2010. The work has been planned for implementation and completion in the next five years and will include widening of the trail, replacing rock structures, establishing a route around the crater at the top and delineation of a route to the very top of Lassen Peak. This project is called, “Reach the Peak,” and is in partnership with the Lassen Park Foundation. The Park will begin work as soon as weather permits this spring.
For more information about the Reach the Peak Project or general park information, please visit the park website at www.nps.gov/lavo or call the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center (530) 595-4480 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 pm. daily.
Did You Know?
The 29 mile Main Park Road was constructed between 1925 and 1931, just 10 years after Lassen Peak erupted. Near Lassen Peak the road reaches 8512 feet, making it the highest road in the Cascade Mountains. It is not unusual for 40 feet of snow to accumulate on the road near Lake Helen.