Mt. Konocti, our own 4,300 foot volcano, is the focal point of California’s largest freshwater lake, known as Clearlake (the name is a little deceptive). The volcano has been dormant for 10,000 years but the landscape is alive and well. The Pomo Indians dominated this region for 11,000 years, until the onset of the white man, when disease and hardship nearly wiped them out. One Pomo legend claims the name Konocti means “mountain woman,” referring to the silhouette of the mountain, which resembles a woman lying horizontally. Recently trails to the summit have opened to the public, allowing access to the three peaks, orchard groves, Downen homestead, and the deep secrets of the mountain. It is a geological phenomenon.
The rain that falls on Mt. Konocti never drains into the lake but is absorbed into the mountain. The Pomo’s thought the water drained into a series of underground caves, hidden within the mountain, with eyeless fish swimming in the darkness. Satellite imagery has determined that there is a large opening beneath the mountain although scuba divers have not been able to locate the underground caves.
In 1903, Mary Downen of Lakeport, recently widowed, was seeking solitude. She took a horse to the top of the mountain and decided to stay. Mary built a one room cabin on a peaceful glade, which is still standing, and at 2:00 p.m. each day she would signal her family in Lakeport with a mirror.
Larry decides we are going to conquer the mountain today, so I lace up my tennis shoes, and we head to Kelseyville. I start out with a positive attitude, smiling, sipping water from my bottle, enjoying the voluptuous views. I force Larry to participate in a few selfies, but it’s a hot day, and with each step my attitude drains like a slow leak. After hiking for what seemed like hours, I think I might not make it to the first section, an open bluff with restrooms, and picnic table. When they came into view I cheered..
This is when you have to decide which of the three peaks you want to explore and continue climbing towards. I vote for the closest and advise Larry not to mess with me. My legs are shaking, I think I might have heat stroke, and I am no longer able to talk. I know, major crisis, but Larry seems unaffected. I melodramatically drag my ass up the last fifty feet of this God forsaken mountain, sucking down my water at an alarming rate, and collapse on the bench at the top of the world. Like Mary Downen, I decide to stay, just build me a freaking cabin, because I am done. Now Larry wants to take a selfie, I have just enough energy to offer up the universal sign of irritation, he seems amused. From the brim of this majestic mountain I slowly regain my strength, as my breathing returns to normal, so do I, and since Larry refuses to carry me, I attempt a dignified descent down the mountain.
My thoughts turn to Mary Downen, her solitude, and the grit it took to live up here all alone. What did she do all day? Did she read, write, or just wrestle with her thoughts? Like me, I think Mary found her strength on the brim of this mysterious mountain, and wanted to live close to the source. You’ll be happy to know I made it to the car. We stopped for margaritas in Lakeport around 2:00 p.m., I don’t know why but my eyes search the mountain for Mary’s signal. All I see is Mt. Konocti reflected on the glassy surface of the lake.