December 21, 2006.
Oregon has only one National Park and it surrounds Crater Lake. Located in Klamath County in southern Oregon, Crater Lake is the deepest in the country. It is famous for beautiful blue water and immense snowfall totals in the winter (average of over 530 inches per year).
At 9am on this mild, wet winter morning, I set out for Crater Lake along miles of winding, forested roads. As I approached the lake, snow piled higher and higher and eventually I was driving on the snow. There were hardly any people out so I could drive as slowly as I wanted, and I arrived at Rim Village unscathed some 45 minutes later. This is as far into the park as you can drive, because most of the roadways are unplowed in the winter and remain buried until June. I didn’t have a map, so I wouldn’t be adventurous today. I decided to hug the rim of the lake as best I could and turn back around noon so I’d have plenty of time to drive to clear roads and maybe make another stop. I find it’s a really good idea to stick to turnaround times, especially when alone, in iffy weather and/or in an unfamiliar place. Since I had all three of these elements today, my turnaround time was set in stone.
The upper layers of snow were fluffy and deep, so my snowshoes punched in a few inches before getting some purchase. There were no people tracks and barely any animal tracks so all I had in front of me was a gloomy lake, lots of white, and dark green trees. The cloudy skies above cast a gray hue over everything below. This wasn’t exactly the picture-perfect winter scene I had in mind, but it would do. I was just excited to get to play in the snow.
As I slogged along the edge of the lake, I stopped often to catch some views and brush off the interpretive signs. Occasionally I even came across pieces of the rim road, blown free of snow by the wind. There were always reminders in the woods that humans have been here.
I followed the landscape’s ups and downs. The ups sometimes led to views of dramatic cornices and steep drops to the lake. The downs were fun to blast through in snowshoes. There were many wide open tracts of snow so white it was nearly impossible to perceive the lay of the land. This led to some jarring steps down and surprisingly close hills. I was working up a sweat, yet I knew I’d hardly gone far. I think there’s a fire lookout just a couple of miles from the village, yet I didn’t catch sight of it at all. Around 11:30 I reached the top of a rock face that was impossible to downclimb and would take some time to navigate around, so I decided I’d gone far enough today.
As I wandered back, I started making new tracks in the snow just because that’s much more fun. But walking in old tracks is so much easier…I admit I cut back to my old path a few times just to catch my breath. The clouds at times looked like they would burst into a blizzard so I kept an eye on the sky as I moved back to the car.
Just up the road from the lot I ran into a couple of goofballs postholing in jeans and taking pictures of the lake. Didn’t look like fun to me!
I made a quick stop in the visitor’s center to pick up some maps and try to get some info on what is and is not closed in Central Oregon this time of year. The guy behind the desk didn’t have much of a clue so I planned on driving straight to Bend.
On the way out of the park I passed a big pickup truck stopped in the road. The driver was putting chains on the tires while his useless wife stood around taking pictures of him. Ugh. I blew by those folks in my little Scion, and the traction on the road was just fine! I guess it is true that Oregonians just don’t know how to drive in the snow 🙂 Along the way I got a wicked view of Mt. Thielsen, which must be spectacular to climb. This is definitely an area to return to someday.