OR – Crater Lake NP . . . a January spring tease

With the government shutdown, Crater Lake closed it’s doors from December 23, 2018 through January 27, 2019. When they welcomed back visitors on the 28th, I wanted to be there to not only support our rangers but to experience the beauty under pristine conditions. 

With a late start after four hours of traveling, I didn’t quite get the pristine conditions I’d hoped to experience. The area near parking tends to become a mine field of deep boot holes created by those not wearing snowshoes or skis. My plan was to camp on the rim, something that is only allowed during the winter when the roads are closed. Well as is typical for me Plan A becomes Plan B or C or  . . . The park changed their parking policy for backcountry campers. They now require parking two miles away which then meant either a hitch or a hike up an ungroomed trail through avalanche territory to reach the rim. I was not prepared for those options so I’d have to settle for day visits. 

It was an overcast day with very little breeze and perfect temperatures. I’d been excited to overnight as conditions were forecast to be about as perfect as they can be in late January. 

While the area around Rim Village is trampled and there is usually a well stomped path to Discovery Point, once beyond that point, there is plenty of virgin snow. 

One of the reasons I wanted to overnight on the rim was to enjoy sunset and sunrise. Sunset was a bit of a disappointment, but it kept me focused on Mt Thielsen and thoughts of my PCT journey six months earlier.

It’s a 20 mile drive to a snowpark at Annie Springs to legally overnight camp. With winter road conditions, it took me an hour to drive those miles. After a restless night’s sleep I was up before dawn to make my way back to the rim for sunrise. 

I had high hopes of making it to Watchman Peak. Crusty conditions made for slow travel and considerable effort. 

Watchman Peak with it’s tower was my objective. 

I was near the bend when I was confronted with crumbling snow, rock fall and avalanche danger. I probably should have veered from the road at Lightning Springs as the transition from the road to the ridge looked challenging. Regardless I was tuckered and knew it was unlikely I’d make it to the top, so not feeling too defeated this was good motivation to reverse direction. 

This day will be remembered for the icy reflections on the lake. There was a thin veil of ice covering most of the lake but there were also open water areas which reflected the snow on the mountains. It was a 360-degree phenomenon. Incredible! I wasn’t able to capture the magic through photos, but this gives you an idea.

Adventure Date(s):

  • January 28-29, 2019

Tips:

  • Permits are required to camp on or near the rim. They can be obtained from the wilderness office near the Steel Visitor Center. Plan your timing to hitch the two miles to Rim Village. Had I known about the policy change I would have arrived much earlier in the day so I could have driven to the rim to check on conditions before returning for permit and parking.
  • Car camping is not allowed in the park. There are snow parks on 62 north and south. To be legal you need an Oregon snow parking pass.
  • Download a copy of the winter newspaper for details on closures, trails, etc.
  • Check weather forecast.

Resources:

Links:

 

OR – PCT Sections C, D and E . . . as in Crater Lake to SOS

While visiting friends in Oregon, I found I had an open 3-week window on my calendar. It wasn’t on my summer itinerary, but then again neither was Oregon. With fires preventing me from hiking the Colorado Trail, alternative plans were the word of the day. 

Step 1 – Prep

What is Oregon known for? That’s right lots of mosquitoes! I’ve found spraying my outside clothes, shoes and gear with Sawyers Permethrin minimizes the amount of bug repellent I need to apply to my body. For those times you need a little extra, I use Sawyers Picaridin. It worked fine for me through Oregon.

Having on-trail resupply locations meant no hitching required. I spent a few days getting my resupply boxes ready for shipment to Shelter Cove, Big Lake Youth Camp and Timberline Lodge.

Step 2 – Transportation

I was on the Oregon Coast and wanted to start from Crater Lake. Friends and family stepped up and made it happen, even if it meant a few puppy kisses in exchange. 

Step 3 – Time to HIKE! 

I started north from the Rim Visitor Center on the popular PCT alternate trail. This wasn’t my first visit to Crater Lake but it was my first time to walk the rim. By the way, wildfires were the cause of the hazy views and photographs.

I expected the rim to be fairly flat. I was caught a bit by surprise by it’s lumpiness, especially after being fairly sedentary for the past few weeks.

I was very concerned about the 26-mile dry stretch between Rim Village and Thielsen Creek. I knew there was potential for water caches maintained by trail angels but I didn’t want to depend on them, especially as a friend was driving by on her way to Crater Lake and was able to drop off a gallon in a couple locations. 

Diamond Lake 

Mt Thielsen 

Thielsen Creek 

No summit, no views at this high point. 

You frequently hear about the green tunnel in Oregon, but I found some exceptions. 

And sometimes you even have views. 

Flowers and bees are a good combination. 

There were plenty of campsites without views. 

This was my favorite for catching the morning glow. 

This is what they call the green tunnel. 

I’ll take it over burn any day. 

I took the Oregon Skyline Trail (OST) alternate between Windigo Pass and Shelter Cove. 

I made a wrong turn getting into Crescent Lake and ended up hiking an extra 4 miles. 

I’d planned to spend time soaking in the lake and basking on the beach but instead wasted a couple hours walking those extra miles.

Even in late July, temperatures were quite chilly during the night. 

The collision of warm and cold made for these steamy views.

Diamond View Lake was one of the more picturesque lakes along the trail.

The food at Shelter Cove Resort was great. The staff at the store and cafe were friendly. They’ve created a nice covered area for hikers with recharging station, hiker boxes, picnic table, etc. While I was there campers in the vicinity brought treats to the area. 

Shelter Cove is on Odell Lake. During my time, swimming was discouraged. Shower and laundry facilities were adequate.

Looking back at Odell Lake. 

Rosary Lake and Pulpit Rock 

Yes bears roam these woods.

Sunrise at Charlton Lake. 

Oregon makes it easy to obtain permits in most areas. Self registration is available at major trailheads and road crossings. This is my friend Ron, a long time section hiker, who joined me for a few days.  

This was my third visit to Three Sisters Wilderness and I was excited to see the mountains up close and personal from the west side. After spending three weeks on the Oregon Coast my body wasn’t acclimated to heat, thus I used my umbrella to help reduce the affects.

I knew Anish was on trail and that there was a tiny chance we would cross paths. We came so close to missing each other but as it happened her and Adam were going to grab water at the same lake Ron and I had stopped at to camp. If you haven’t heard Anish completed her goal of hiking the AT, PCT and CDT in 2018, that’s about 8,000 miles. Here’s the link to her story, “Heather Anderson Completed a Calendar-Year Triple Crown.”

I took time to photograph the few flowers I found along the trail. 

I also love finding the older signs that have been eaten by the trees. 

The rumor is that Oregon is flat. Well they may be fibbing a little. This was my most challenging climb, partially because I was hiking it in the afternoon heat. I believe this was Koosah Mountain, north of the Elk Lake Trail junction.

This one was hiking north out from Bobby Lake.

I was beyond excited to finally get a view of South Sister. 

And this one of Mt Bachelor.

And this one of Broken Top. 

Wickiup Plains ended up being my favorite part of the trail thus far (besides Crater Lake). 

Although the lighting was bad, it was magical seeing South Sister, wildflowers and the glacial moraine. 

Could I have asked for a better place to spend my last few hours on trail? 

It was just me and my shadow soaking in this amazing early morning beauty. 

Just when I didn’t think things could get much better I found this meadow filled with blooming lupine. 

And another with monkey flowers. 

With so much happiness in my heart I found myself weaving through burned forests. 

Mesa Creek was a wonderful oasis, with water so much nicer than that gathered from the lakes. I took a break here at 8am and as I was about to leave I saw my trail friends, Hot Lips and Caveman, who I’d had a nice conversation with at camp the previous night. I briefly met them at Shelter Cove but didn’t see them again until that arduous climb up Koosah Mountain.

Hot Lips and I visited for a while at the creek while Caveman went ahead. We hiked together through this burn area. 

As we said our goodbyes and she rushed up the trail to catch her husband, I got into my rhythm and suddenly found myself looking down a slope with my upper body propelling myself into a fall. These things happen. No big deal . . . until I found my wrist contorted and yelled HELP in hopes Hot Lips was still within ear shot. As luck would have it she heard me and rushed back to my aid.

Here’s the link to the rest of the story, “Life Interrupted . . . Forever Grateful for the SOS Button

Adventure Date(s):

  • June 17-25, 2018

Hike Details:

  • Section C: 17.8 miles
    • Guthook Mile 1839.2-1847.9 +9.4 miles for Crater Lake Rim alternate
  • Section D: 54.3 miles +4 bonus miles
    • Guthook Mile 1847.9-1878.2; 1906.6-1907.9 +22.7 miles for OST alternate to Shelter Cove/Odell Lake
  • Section E: 57.8 miles
    • Guthook Mile 1907.9 – 1965.7

Resources:

Links:

Crater Lake – Winter Lust Dream Come True

I first visited Crater Lake as a child with this photo serving as my only memory.1963-123

I’ll never forget the sight when I returned as an adult a few years ago. Seeing photos of this gem in the winter had me adding this to my must do list, and now this dream is a reality!

Winter access to the park is a bit challenging due to weather, road closures, lack of nearby accommodations, and the overnight parking prohibition (except for backcountry campers). Furthermore, unless you have an annual pass, you need to arrive after 10am when the Visitor’s Center opens (no self-pay option).

There were over 100″ of snow accumulation when I was there in early February 2016.

The Disneyland vista tour follows the West Rim Road. Unless you arrive to fresh snow, be prepared to find lots of semi-hard packed terrain near the parking area as well as lots of post holing due to boot use.

On gorgeous days, you can expect WOW views!

Wizard Island holds special memories for me. One summer I took the boat tour which slowly travels the circumference of the lake with a ranger sharing many interesting geologic factoids. You can spend a few hours on the island and hike up and into the volcano. Then you too can say you were in a volcano, on a volcano, in a volcano, on a volcano. Pretty amazing! Do you see the boat docks?

Progressing toward Watchman Peak, the road may hold surprises for which you need to be prepared. 

This icy steep ledge turned me around. Would it have you?

I found safe passage to the rim south of The Watchman to obtain these views. Yep those are my snowshoe prints!

Watchman Lookout Tower

Llao Rock is a very obvious reference point along the rim edge.

Wizard Island, Llao Rock and Mt Thielsen at sunset

Unlike Disneyland, there are no safety police standing along the unsafe ledges and cornices circling the lake. 

Would you walk out on this nose? A couple days after I took this photo, I returned and found snowshoe prints.

A great example of a cornice that should not be walked upon.

Slip sliding away . . . are you ready to be a mermaid?

Phantom Ship is barely visible from the West Rim, seen here in the shadows of Mount Scott (the highest point in the park at 8,929 feet). Another highlight of the boat tour is an up close and personal look at this chunk of rock. It’s much larger than it appears in this photo with plenty of space for a boat to travel though the channel.

Reaching the East Rim for these views is much more challenging and a significantly less traveled option. It’s a 5+ mile hike with few views and 2,000’+ of elevation gain. It’s a great option on a windy day.

There are two avalanche paths that must either be crossed or detoured. The largest is Applegate. 

Sunsets and sunrises are something special and should not be missed.

Nature’s art is one of the treasures I love discovering. The first two images look like whipped cream.

Views to the southeast along the East Rim Road include the Klamath basin.

Views to the southwest along West Rim Road include a panorama of the Cascade volcanoes.

On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mt Shasta, more than 100 miles to the south. I could see her with my naked eye, but she’s barely visible in this photo.

I even successfully found Vidae Falls, where the surprising sound of water awakened my senses.

Who walks there?

Notice the slab avalanche caused by this creature.

With snow melt it was hard to determine. Any ideas? I’m guessing lynx.

A bird? LOL

I met photographer Matthew Newman near Discovery Point earlier in the day. The previous night he’d taken time-lapse images of the milky way and was contemplating building an igloo for another evening shoot. When I returned, he had obviously decided to give it a go and had made good progress. 

Jan’s Tips & Resources:

  • Crater Lake National Park Web Site
  • Current Conditions Report
  • Winter Safety at the Park
  • Winter Visitor Newsletter
  • Winter Backcountry Camping Information
  • Allow plenty of time for the drive. The last 17 miles took me about 45 minutes.
  • The Visitors Center and Gift Shop are open limited hours.
  • Parking areas are patrolled for use without permit or unauthorized overnight parking.
  • Restrooms are open at the Rim 24/7.
  • The West Rim Road trail begins at the Rim Village parking area.

    My trip to The Watchman was about 7 miles round trip with 800 feet of elevation gain.

  • The East Rim Road trail begins near the Visitor Center (there is an unmarked pullout on the road).

    My trip to Sun Notch was nearly 12 miles round trip with 2000+ feet of elevation gain.