Little Crater Lake, an Unusual Overnight (Day 1)

March 28-29, 2007.

Day 1: Frog Lake to Timothy Lake | Approx. 9 miles | 7.5 hrs.

Not much went according to plan on this adventure into the Mt. Hood National Forest. It all began on a cold, sunny Wednesday morning. I’d hoped to backpack around Timothy Lake, a popular summer destination with stunning views of Mt. Hood. I failed to realize that the winter snowpack was far from melted and I’d be dealing with varying depths of snow for the entire trip. Most of the forest roads were still snowbound, so I had to start the hike from the Frog Lake Sno-Park, 8 miles from Little Crater Lake, a hop skip and a jump away from my final destination.

8 miles, no problem.

The snow seemed to hold my weight ok without snowshoes so I decided to proceed as planned. Not 5 minutes after crossing the road and hitting the trail, I looked around and said…WHAT TRAIL?? This is the PCT, after all, so I didn’t anticipate routefinding issues. But when the forest is blanketed with snow, a trail can be deceptively hard to find. Within earshot of traffic, I felt totally lost.

I took out my compass, scrutinized the map, and started walking. Soon, I stumbled back upon the trail. For a short section, the trail obviously followed the contour of the land, and I walked peacefully along. Occasionally the trees on my right would part and provide minimal views of the valley floor and the rolling bumps beyond. It was quite serene.

At about 2.5 miles into the woods, the landscape flattened out and the trees spread themselves wide apart. The trail dissapeared again; it seemed as if a straight path between any two trees could be the trail. Damn. Again the compass came out and, after aligning it with the map, I set a bearing to follow for the next mile and a half. At that distance, the trail crossed FR 240 and I could re-assess the situation from there.

I proceeded cautiously, looking for signs of trail maintenance and any reassurance that I was following a trail. At one point I gave up on that and put full faith in my compass. This was a risky decision given my routefinding track record, but I was equipped with overnight gear so I knew I was not putting myself into a dangerous situation.Upon finding the forest road, I let out a huge sigh of relief. According to the map, I had another half mile of walking SSW until hitting the next road. Here we go again. It took close to 45 minutes to bushwhack to FR 58.

I walked east along this road until I regained the PCT. I stayed on the trail as long as I could, then followed my compass again until the next forest road crossing a mile later. Walking for a mile in untracked, unsigned woods alone is a bit nerve-wracking. Every large, glistening swath of snow looks at first like a road and feels victorious. But usually it’s just a meadow or clearing. Progress is slow, as every step must be carefully plotted. I checked my compass very frequently, looked forward and backward, and scanned my environment for any topographical feature that could aid navigation. Aside from the forest roads there wasn’t much in between to help.

The remainder of the day’s hike involved more bushwhacking, lots of postholing, and occasional beautiful stretches of visible trail. Beautiful because that meant safety and security, of course! I don’t like feeling lost.

The only sight worth mentioning today was Little Crater Lake. I dropped my pack and stood here, basking in the sun, and gazing into the crystal clear depths of the lake. I laughed thinking that a hole filled with water could bring such overwhelming feelings of joy…

It was really cool because you could see all the trees that were submerged in the lake. It had a very small diameter but the lake’s edge dropped almost immediately. In the summer you can drive here, cutting the walk down to about 0.2 miles. I highly recommend a visit in the summer.

There was one more lake on the agenda: Timothy Lake. It was nearly 4pm and I wanted to camp soon. I followed the Timothy Lake trail for another 45 minutes before selecting a “dry” spot just off the trail and pitched my new tent. Soon later I was happily devouring some gourmet backpacking food (just add water, thanks Allison!) I intended to try out some of the emergency and survival gear I always take and never used. So, I tried starting a fire with my homemade tinder and magnesium firestarter. Shaving off bits of magnesium was hard work and I gave up quickly. But the sparking bit worked well and I set my tinder ablaze easily. However, everything in the woods was so wet that I couldn’t get anything to catch. I wouldn’t be able to dry my boots out, bummer.

Then I attempted to craft a pair of snowshoes out of branches and cord (as seen on TV, of course!). After much toil, I found they would not be very effective so I tossed them aside to dismantle tomorrow.

I hung my food, arranged the rest of my gear, and crawled into my bag for the night. Looking at my maps, I decided a sure bet to get back to the car sans bushwhacking and postholing would involve a few extra miles but it would be an easy hike along closed forest roads. Bingo, I have a plan! I managed about one chapter of reading “A Walk in the Woods” before my eyes refused to stay open and all that was left to do was dream about tomorrow’s adventures…

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