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Crater Lake. March 29, 2013.

Crater Lake. March 29, 2013.

Walking on snowshoes, the snow held us seven feet above the ground and we looked down a thousand feet at Crater Lake, the lake mirroring a sky full of puffy clouds.

The hard-packed trail veered away from the rim into the trees, tall evergreens, hemlocks mostly. A skier stopped. He wore a backpack and red-and-white ski patrol patch on his jacket. He asked how far we were going, looking like he might wish we were heading back rather than out so near the end of the day. He said, “it’s a mile to Discovery Point, the next good overlook.” We continued on but soon turned back, already tired from the effort of snowshoeing at 7100 feet where the air is thinner than we’re used to.

The Friends of Crater Lake National Park staffs the visitors center at the south rim during the winter. Chuck and I volunteered at the visitors center for the last three days in March. We learned stories and information about Crater Lake and talked to visitors about the lake and the Park.

Seven thousand years ago (approximately), Mount Mazama, a twelve thousand foot tall volcano, erupted. The eruption—a hundred times worse than Mount St. Helens’ eruption in 1980—caused a massive collapse and formation of the crater we call Crater Lake.

The lake is 1,943 feet deep. No rivers flow into or out of Crater Lake so the water level is maintained by precipitation—rain, snow, and snowmelt—and the porosity in certain layers keeps the lake from overfilling. Crater Lake is remarkably clear and there are fish, Rainbow trout and land-locked salmon called Kokanee, that were first introduced in 1888, having been carried up the mountain in buckets.

mountains of OR_Steel_p13

William Gladstone Steel. “The Mountains of Oregon” (1890).

Crater Lake, South Rim parking lot.

Crater Lake, South Rim parking lot.

From my journal, three days at Crater Lake in 2013:

March 29:

Clear skies and layers of puffy clouds to the north—
a desert sky over a snowy landscape at least two months ahead of summer.

March 30:

Thin ice on Crater Lake. March 30, 2013

Thin ice on Crater Lake. March 30, 2013

Blue skies. The “bluebird day” we desired. Early morning scrim of ice is rare, even after the coldest winter nights. The temperature was 33 degrees and we speculated the lake was colder and that the lack of wind let ice form.

March 31:

Clouds, even though we hoped for clearing. Wind riffled the lake. At the opposite rim, four or five miles away, the water was a steely matte. Without reflections, the walls appeared only half as high as before.

Still a clear view of craggy Mount Thielsen.

Mountains west of Crater Lake. March 31, 2013.

Mountains west of Crater Lake. March 31, 2013.

As an elbow of clouds draped the peaks to the west, I went outside the Visitors Center, to the rim, to photograph the lake and cloud front. There was an aura of pilgrimage, that an out-of-the-way destination had been reached. Visitors clambered up the snowy ramp and marveled at the caldera-contained lake. They took pictures of the lake and themselves, their family and friends. There were no food carts or coffee kiosks (although you could buy lunch in the cafe) and regarding the ubiquity of towers—wind turbines, telecomm antennas—there were no towers.

Evening, south rim of Crater Lake.  March 31, 2013.

Evening, south rim of Crater Lake. March 31, 2013.

A short time later, inside the third-floor visitor center with snow accumulated nearly to the windows, I looked out and saw nothing but the creamy opacity of clouds. All afternoon, a dense fog lingered and disappointed visitors asked, “which way is the lake?”

. . .

Later in the evening, I checked the web cam which dimly showed the lake. We again drove three miles up the winding road, hoping for one more view of the lake. The parking lot was empty and the silence profound. Tromping to the rope line that marked the edge overlooking Crater Lake, I suspected the web cam could “see” better than we could through the clouds.

Wizard Island in fog. March 31, 2013.

Wizard Island in fog. March 31, 2013.

We waited, in silence and mist, figuring we’d been fooled by the web cam picture, but then the clouds shifted, exposing Wizard Island’s snowy cinder cone and, for a moment, a soft view of the far rim.


More info & links:

Most of the five hundred thousand visitors each year come to Crater Lake National Park in the summer when the Rim Drive and the North Entrance are open. In winter, you’ll see fewer people and a lot of snow but you can only drive to the south rim Visitors Center. To travel farther you’ll need skis or snowshoes. The gift shop rents snowshoes (or bring your own), or sign up ahead of time for a ranger-led snowshoe hike (in which case the snowshoes are provided). In the winter, no park entrance fee is charged.

. . .

US Geological Service: Mount Mazama Volcano and Crater Lake Caldera, Oregon.

Wikipedia: Mount Mazama

Crater Lake National Park: Frequently Asked Questions

Friends of Crater Lake National Park

More on the fish in Crater Lake: The Crater Lake Institute

“Crater Lake” (pages 12-72) in The Mountains of OregonWilliam Gladstone Steel. 1890.