Crater Lake – April 2016
It’s a bright, sunny day! A great day to go hiking, but as I learned last week, there is still deep snow blocking many trails. Maybe this is the weekend I should ski around Crater Lake (which I have wanted to do for a long time) or traverse Sky Lakes Wilderness (which I have also wanted to do for a long time). Well, let’s go check conditions.
I put my backpack, skis, and this and that in the car, in case I actually go hiking. I take off for Crater Lake because they should have an updated forecast for the mountains and they have the jump off point for both trips. Along the way I stop for a perspective shot of Mt. Scott with my Nikon P610 with polarizer. Not pro by any means, but I like it for birds, it’s better than my camera phone, and it’s pretty light.
Driving in, it is obvious the snow is melting–fast! There will be plenty of snow two and three thousand feet higher, but might be getting gloppy. And that is not skiing anymore. It’s sasquatch stomping, and it’s tiring.
I stop in the visitor center to get info and a permit. The cooler, and possibly wetter, forecast for the next day makes my decision. I will do the higher, 7000′ circuit of Crater Lake first. The couple next to me plans on starting their trip in the morning and offer to give me a ride to the rim. Perfect! I won’t need to hitch when I get back.
It’s 3:30 on Friday when I put on my skis and take off west to do a clockwise circuit of the rim. The snow is packed with a slushy top that does not stick. I easily cruise at 3mph or more on the level. That should put me back at the visitors center about this same time tomorrow.
It feels so good to move. It feels so good to be on top of the world with mountains and hills rolling away beneath me. Look! There is Union Peak. (7709′)
Almost everyone is on snowshoes except for two older guys with enormous packs. They are the last ones I meet for the day. They decided they could not make it the whole way and are heading back to headquarters. For the rest of the day it feels like the rim is all mine. I take pictures of everything.
The eastern side of the lake with Mt. Scott. (8929′)
The well-traveled snow with the bumpy surface making it hard to keep my 140/140 Altai Hoks straight.
A view south overlooking Sky Lakes Wilderness. That is Union Peak on the right and Mt. McLoughlin (9000’+) in the far back center.
The lookout on top of the Watchman (8013′). I would really like to camp up there, but it looks boarded up. (Try getting this shot with a camera phone!)
After a couple hours I am now on the far west side of the rim near Watchman Overlook headed to Llao Rock. I thought this shot gave a better perspective of Wizard Island which rises almost 800′ above the 6173′ surface of the lake.
Looks like we have a Mountain Bluebird from over 50 yards away. Took that picture as soon as I could, then tried to get closer, but it flew away–as usual. Hence, my purchase of a zoom camera. Again, not pro, but it is part of my collection now!
Another hour found me on the northwest corner of the lake behind Llao Rock. It was late evening, about an hour or more before sundown. I don’t know what it is about that time of day, but I find it almost as interesting as sunrise. It seems like the day slowly exhales itself into the coming silence of the night. Activities have not stopped, but they are slowing down, calming down. I can begin looking back and reflecting on the progress of the day even while I continue to move forward.
Another feature of the early evening is the richness of the colors. I really like pine green and sky blue together, especially at high altitudes where the colors are deep.
My tracks now turned east as I began looking for a place to camp.
Before ending for the day, I got one last look at Mt. Thielsen (9000’+) to the hazy north.
My day ended somewhere between Llao Rock and Cleetwood Cove. I found a spot of pavement made bare by the wind and took the easy way out. I have camped on snow before, but I thought this would be unique. It was not hard to imagine that the gusts of wind through the trees were faraway cars speeding my way!
Sabbath descended peacefully in the darkening twilight and I thanked God for a wonderful trip so far.
Morning broke calm and clear. I expected clouds, but who is complaining?! I missed the sunrise colors by a minute, but still captured some of the freshness of the dawn.
All morning long, reflections were not hard to capture.
Whenever I go backpacking alone, I go to be with God. He is my Father and Savior and my Problem Solver par excellence. This time was no exception because I was stuck due to lack of insight on some other writing. While I am gazing at far away places and experiencing the wide open freshness of the backcountry, my mind is holding a quiet background conversation with Christ. About lunchtime, I was brought around to the perspective I needed. I was now ready to return to my car and my laptop, but not before a few more pictures before my last battery died.
I found this raised gate a bit amusing knowing that no cars would be passing by.
Kind of looks like a fire is beginning on the back side of Scott, but it is a building storm.
Dramatic clouds always interest me.
I ate lunch on a bare spot of the road leading from Mt. Scott up to Cloudcap.
Finally, my last picture is of Cloudcap itself.
I am now generally headed south and west on the long twisty section back to the visitor center and my car. A glance on the map makes it look like 1/4 of the total distance, but this section of road is as twisted as DNA. Stretch it out and it is probably close to half of the total mileage. I think it also contains at least half of the elevation gain and drop. I was not going to make my goal of returning by 4pm. Far from it.
There is a lesson I still need to learn because this is now the third time of three when I have hit really tough conditions (compared to my expectations and preparations) and all have happened on Sabbath afternoon. Special time for relaxation and meditation becomes overturned into gut-it-out mode.
At the bottom of Dutton Cliff one can continue up the road or take the left fork on an avalanche bypass sloped downward. I am headed down to the visitors center so surely I will avoid both danger and climb, right? Right?! Wrong.
I avoid the danger, but at the end of the bypass, one must climb about 500′ following tree markers obviously placed for snowshoers. Also, the sun has long disappeared from this east facing slope and the slush is mostly crusted over. My rabbit trail slog back up to the road was exhausting. Then, to pile the frosting still higher on the cake, the road continued to climb into Alaska-like alpine heights. Every knoll was followed by yet another knoll!
The summit of Dutton Ridge was wearily attained and I began the slow north downhill into Sun Notch. I say slow, but the snow was piled at a 30 to 45 degree angle and slipped footing would send you down hundreds of feet into the trees. With the now thunderstorm piling up at my back, I was more than eager to get to the car, rather than try camping at this exposed height.
I drank about half a liter of silty snowmelt and continued on my way down and around and south into the off and on rain and even hail. I put my layers on, but I was struggling with energy. The one big mistake I think I made was ignoring that little voice that told me to fill my water bottle at the second rock face near Vidae Falls. I figured I was only a few miles from the end and I wanted to race the storm and not add any weight. I ate the chocolate and raisins out of my trail mix instead.
Half a mile later I dropped on the snow under a pine tree, too tired to move. Elijah under the juniper tree came vividly to mind and although I did not wish I would die, I wished God would miraculously transport me to the end. I know, we are supposed to learn wisdom instead. I want to learn wisdom instead, but just this once…?
I did not realize how dehydrated I was because I did not realize how sun-exposed I was. Below my shorts and past my elbows where my sleeves had been rolled up and even below my chin and on my lower face below my hat and sunglasses would all turn red the next day. Snow is a free and powerful tanning salon!
I had hit the wall before and knew I had hit it again. I just had to keep going because I was ridiculously too close to the car to quit. Five minutes of exhausted self pity gave me the energy to stand, then I tromped off one foot in front of another, uphill. But my feet got into a rhythm which gradually increased. I was by no means flying, but I was in a tiny second wind.
Finally, the long straight downhill approach into visitor stretched out before me in the twilight. A bit of adrenalin kicked in and put my skis on the bare pavement in the gathering darkness. I retrieved my car, packed my equipment, and headed home.
Except for the extra 4 grueling hours tacked on to my expected trip, I really did have fun! I want to do it again–a little smarter.