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:

 

CA – Shasta-Trinity and Lassen National Forests . . . falling into winter

Not only did I spend time this fall in Lassen Volcanic National Park (link), but I also found a few other favorite places in far Northern California to jaunt. 

Hike #1 – Castle Lake Trailhead

Castle Lake 

Little Castle Lake 

Mt Shasta Views 

Castle Crags and Lassen Views (on a smoky day) 

Hiking Date: October 21, 2018

 

 

 

 

Hike #2 – Trinity Alps, Stuart Fork Trailhead 

Hiking Date: October 28, 2018

 

Hike #3 – Lassen, Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center 

Ridge Lakes 

Date Hiked: November 30, 2018

Hike #4 – Mt Shasta, Bunny Flat Trailhead 

Black Butte 

Date Hiked: December 2, 2018

Hike #5 – Castle Lake Trailhead 

Date Hiked: December 6, 2018 (no stats on this date)

Hike #6 – Mt Shasta, Bunny Flat Trailhead 

Sierra Club Horse Camp Cabin 

Date Hiked: December 10, 2018

 

 

Hike #7 – PCT, Dog Trailhead 

Date Hiked: December 13, 2018

Hike #8 – PCT, Twin Bridges Trailhead 

Date Hiked: December 19, 2018

 

Hike #9 – Mt Shasta, Southeast Wanderings 

The bears were still wandering around. 

Date Hiked: December 22, 2018

Hike #10 – PCT, Cache 22 Trailhead

Final sunset of 2018

Date Hiked: December 31, 2018 (no stats)

Instead here’s my cheer to you for a fantastic 2019 filled with adventure, good health and plenty of smiles.

And that my friends is a wrap for 2018. Below is my year in review video.

Links:

UT – Cedar Breaks National Monument . . . it’s a snowshoe adventure

Since I was in winter mode after experiencing a bit of snow the previous day in Cedar City and Parowan Gap, how could I resist the opportunity to snowshoe in fresh beautiful powder? 

I was super excited as I’d never been to Cedar Breaks previously. I knew I wouldn’t get the full experience with both the Park and road closed, but I didn’t really care. 

I was the first to snowshoe, so up to me to break trail. I love being first on a fresh white canvas.

Evidence of the temperatures. It was 19 when I arrived and not much warmer when I left.

I was hoping to make it to an overlook, but this was as far as I could make it in the foot or so of fresh powder. Of course the warming hut is only open on weekends. 

How could I not stop to take photos even in these frigid temps? 

Looks like another storm is a brewing. 

As I returned to my car I was thanked by several other snowshoers who were grateful for my trail. 

Red plus white equals ahhhhh so beautiful. 

Was I happy? 

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 16, 2018

Resources:

Links:

CO – Wolf Creek Pass, Snowshoe to Lobo Overlook

After a day spent in reverie while visiting the Ancestral Puebloans at Chimney Rock National Monument (link to related post), I found myself traveling northeast on CO-160 though Pagosa Springs and onward to Wolf Creek Pass where an opportunity for snowshoeing with views awaited.

Although the winter season was ending, there was still plenty of snow for me. 

I was happy to find someone had broke trail. It had a crusty top with deep powder below. 

Well that didn’t last long. Less than 1o minutes later my trail breaking buddy gave up. Breaking trail is quite a workout; I found the road grade plenty challenging.

I almost gave up before reaching the tower. Powder conditions and elevation of over 11,000′ was wearing me down. 

The views from the Continental Divide were outstanding. 

There’s my car! In the above photo you can see the pull out whereas the below photo is on zoom. So sad to see so many dead trees.

It’ll be a while before you can use this restroom. 

Hello little friend. You make such cute toe prints. 

I love shadow art. 

There were a few places with wind slab avalanche danger. I’m grateful for my avalanche awareness training and experience. 

I gave up on the road as I neared the top, then took the fast way down.

Snowshoe Details:

  • Date: April 7, 2017
  • Mileage: 4 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,100’/1,100′

My Snowshoe Gear:

Links:

CA – Lassen Volcanic NP, Chaos Crags . . . and so begins my Spring 2017 Jaunt

Where to start when you are missing a chapter of posts? How about at the beginning? Yes I may be nearly a year late, but as they say better late than never, plus who doesn’t like reliving adventures especially on a wet dreary winter day? Lassen has a north and south entrance, surprisingly the south end gets more snow. The road between the two is closed during the winter. For the past three years, I’ve begun my spring jaunt at one end or the other. This year, it was from the north side with a fun snowshoe in 1-2 feet of fresh powder. It was a spectacular day! 

My timing was such I FINALLY had the opportunity to meet PCT trail angel legend, Georgi aka Firefly. We had a hard time grabbing a selfie when her little buddy wanted to steal the limelight.

My fortune cookie message seemed a good omen. 

It was only fitting to take a few steps on the PCT. 

My feet are bigger than yours . . . 

You know you’re in Nevada when . . . 

Room with a view, somewhere along Nevada Highway 50. 

Adventure Dates:

  • February 27-28, 2017

Links:

Resources:

CA – McCloud Falls . . . a Trio and Trail Worthy of Four-Season Love

My Facebook post about a McCloud Falls snowshoe trek on January 5, 2017.

“This was the least fun day of snowshoeing I can ever recall. There was a 4-6″ crust that I busted through with each step then sunk into the foot plus of powder. After taking a few steps I wanted to quit, but I’d just driven 75 miles and didn’t have a good Plan B. Avalanche danger was high in the mountains, and I wasn’t confident of better conditions elsewhere. It took me 4 hours to hike less than 3 miles. It was 20F when I arrived at 11am and 26F when I finished at 3pm. Oh but the reward? icy waterfalls! (and a kickass workout).”

In the winter, the road to the falls trailhead is not plowed. Typically a berm exists where the plow has created a parking area off the highway. My first snowshoe to the falls was with a group who thought we’d be able to drive over the berm. Ha . . . lesson learned! 

In the summer you can make short jaunts to the three waterfalls by driving to nearby parking areas, or you can hike the connecting trail of 1.2 miles from Lower McCloud Falls to Middle McCloud Falls and another .5 miles to Upper McCloud Falls. The McCloud River Trail continues another 13.4 miles to Algoma Campground. In the winter you might need to hike/snowshoe another 1.3 miles on the road depending on snow conditions. 

Lower McCloud Falls.

Middle McCloud Falls.

Upper McCloud Falls.  

McCloud River Trail. 

If I had to list my favorite river, it would probably be the McCloud River. 

The nearly 15 mile McCloud River Trail provides more to enjoy besides the highlighted waterfalls. 

Mt Shasta! 

Links:

Resources:

CA – Mt Shasta Snowshoe, Celebrating Early Season SNOW!

November 11, 2017, that’s a date I won’t soon forget. It’s the earliest I’ve ever strapped on my snowshoes. My friend Steve lives in the Mt Shasta area and knows how to read the weather and snow conditions. So when he invited me on this adventure and said now’s the time, I said YES! 

Sierra Club Horse Camp Cabin 

Lunch with a view. 

The view I was looking at wasn’t quite as nice as the one behind me. 

Plenty cold. 

Links:

Snowshoe Gear:

Snow Travel Skills – Living to Adventure Another Day

Snow in October, it’s a rare treat in far Northern California. It has many of us excited about early season play.

I was introduced to snow hiking and snowshoeing about six years ago, and fell in love.

On several occasions my naivety could have left me severely injured or dead, but I think this incident was my wake-up call. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” My right foot punched through the snow and got trapped, snowshoe and all. Meanwhile my left leg was at this very awkward position. I felt helpless and would have had a difficult time digging myself out. Thankfully I had a partner this day, who lent a helpful hand. 

It seems every year about this time, hikers on long-trails find themselves racing the clock of Old Man Winter.  In the Northern Cascades, hikers play Russian Roulette. Some have the skills, most do not. Alternates exist, but border fever rages strong. Is it worth the risk? With permission from the photographer, I’m sharing these images as a way to further discussion about skills needed for snow travel.

What do you know about avalanche risk and survival rates? This is a route I like to snowshoe annually. I’d always been nervous about sliding down the steep slope but until I learned about avalanche risk, I had no idea of the gamble I was taking. (Note: minimal danger on this date)

The slope above our path.

What about cornices? I was hiking Section P of the PCT in California early season one year. It snowed while I was camped on the ridge above Castle Crags. The next morning as I hiked north, there was snow on the trail. When I reached the ridge above the Deadfall Basin, I was confronted with this cornice. 

As now a seasoned winter traveler, I knew about cornice danger. Below are a couple of photos that illustrate the risk. Step on the edge and down, down, down you go.

Getting back to my PCT experience, I took time exploring the slope hoping for a safe route. The trail is on the left below the peak, which if you look closely has a snow fracture, a slab avalanche biding it’s time. 

What did I do? I retreated. I wanted to live to hike another day. As a side note, I met a thru-hiker the next day who was following me (he’d jumped the Sierra). He saw my footsteps stop at the ridge, and thought maybe I was a day hiker. Having minimal snow travel skills, he plunged over the cornice. Thankfully he survived, but the experience scared him so badly he wanted nothing further to do with snow and got off trail. “I’ve been lucky many times, but I’d rather be prepared through education and experience, than rely on luck.

Are you prepared to cross snow bridges?

How are your navigation skills? 

Are you hypothermia aware and prepared?

Do you have the right equipment, training and experience for terrain and conditions? 

Do you have the skills to read snow conditions? 

As my friend Steve, an experienced mountaineer, said “the snow does not care if you are novice or have experience. Anyone entering the backcountry and traveling up and down or traversing moderate to steep slopes, especially north facing slopes should take a basic mountaineering course (ice axe clinic). The combination of an avalanche safety awareness and training course along with a basic mountaineering course plus rockfall awareness and some common sense may just be enough to save someone’s life as long as they follow safe procedures.”

And John, an experienced mountaineer and avalanche forecaster, had these thoughts “How long ago did the snow fall? What was the old snow surface layer? What is the old snow stratigraphy? What is the new snow stratigraphy? What was the wind like during and after the storm? What is the temp history?

Ned, another experienced mountaineer and lifelong mountain educator, shared this “Here’s the concern regarding deep powder snow on dry ground, early season (vs. on old consolidated snow): Rocks, logs, little trees, boulders, etc. keep snow from moving downhill (as in a powder sluff), but when the new snow is deeper than those low retainers, there’s nothing to hold the snow above them and they can slide if there is enough weight, steepness, poor bonding, or triggers (like the traversing tracks of hikers or skiers). An indicator of a really hazardous condition caused by deep, wet snow are those ‘pinwheels’ or little snowballs spontaneously created by the weight of the snowpack and its steepness.” Mountain Education, Inc. provides classes specific to PCT hikers.

Carolyn (aka Ravensong), not only an experienced mountaineer but one who lives and plays in the north cascades and who is playing a key role in trying to keep late season PCT hiker’s alive, shares her words of wisdom, “PCTers late in the season on early snow years are unfortunately at high risk for tragedy, which is significantly heightened by having no education or experience in winter conditions of the North Cascades- ‘Alps of America.’ PCTers may be entering the field of winter mountaineering in late September and October. When a base layer covers the rock of an avalanche zone and there is 6+ inches of new snow the avalanche risk enters the ‘red’ zone. No one one can be entirely accurate on when one will occur, even with years of experience. Most PCTers believe they know about traveling across snow from the Sierras ‘old snow’. They do not have the basic knowledge of ‘new snow’, key factors in choice of route and alternates, methods used by mountaineers in winter conditions, rescue process, risk to rescuers and most important understanding their level of knowledge and experience in winter mountaineering. Key factors can be found in Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, Chapter 22: Key Factors How to Stay Alive.”

Scott, a facebook friend, had these very helpful tips. “First rule of thumb is to stay off of new snow for 48 hours (in the Northwest anyway. Really cold places like Rockies present their own problems with slope instability at any time.) Second rule of thumb is to stay off of slopes between 45-60 degrees as much as you can. Third rule is to spread out so only one person crosses at a time. If one person sets off a slide, the other can watch and hopefully see where they end up so they can dig them out. MY rule is to know where not to stick your neck (or other body parts) while in avalanche country.

Take the Avy 1 Course.  “At the end of the course the student should be able to plan and prepare for travel in avalanche terrain, recognize avalanche terrain, describe a basic framework for making decisions in avalanche terrain, learn and apply effective companion rescue.”

What’s in your pack? Do you have adequate gear for emergencies? I carry a lot more during the winter than the summer as conditions just aren’t very forgiving (link to my list). Yes, that’s my blood!

Ready to make new friends?

Are you prepared for group think?  As Otter said, “Group mentality with humans is strange. People do stuff in groups they never would do alone.”

“Once the first person goes thru the others see this and follow. Sometimes they go places they shouldn’t and wouldn’t go by themselves, but they just go. It’s so hard to turn back after over 2500 miles. Imagine the difficulty in turning back…, let’s say you hiked 40 of the 60 and reached a place where you were too scared to go. You would have to not only hike back the forty over tough terrain. You would have to tell everyone you did not make it because you could not get past a spot that maybe they made it over. Because of these factors thru hikers don’t turn back as often as they should. Generally as a group I’m surprised we have had so few bad accidents. One person’s danger ceiling is another person’s danger floor depending on their expertise, experience and nerves. So you got to do what’s right for you and your group and not worry about what others are doing.”

There is a ton of information available on the internet, and through local resources such as gear shops, to help you gain the skills needed to become an experienced and competent snow traveler. The purpose of this post is to stimulate thought, action and responsibility. Please don’t become a statistic because of laziness or ignorance. 

It’s all fun and games until it isn’t. Knowledge is power!

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.