Thursday, February 12

only vehicles with chains may continue

That was a warning displayed with increasing frequency as the Vibe climbed into the higher reaches of the Cascades. I have neither chains nor four wheel drive, but aside from a few fish tails and miles of white-knuckle driving, I made it through the first inclement weather of the trip without any hiccups.

Crater Lake is a caldera lake that has the distinction of being the deepest lake in the United States and the ninth deepest lake in the world (1,949 feet). Situated in the Oregon Cascades at about 6,100 feet, the lake formed after centuries of snow melt filled a massive caldera left by the collapse of the volcano Mount Mazama about 7,700 years ago. The lake's most distinctive feature, Wizard Island, is one of many volcanic cinder cones within the lake and the only one to have risen above the water's surface.

When we arrived at the parking lot near the south rim of the caldera, a thick layer of clouds sat over the lake making it impossible to see a thing. The snow banks were over ten feet high and I was forced to strap on snow shoes in order to approach the rim for a magnificent view of nothing but a gray featureless abyss. For a brief moment, the clouds over the lake cleared, the sun bored a small hole in the foreboding storm clouds overhead and the entire lake was visible. The scene was painted in shades of gray, but even the doleful artist, whose perspective created this picture, managed to capture the beauty that was mostly hidden on this dreary day.

The clouds returned to fill the caldera and I decided to keep on the snow shoes and trek to Discovery Point. During the summer, Discovery Point is a drive-up vista that marks where the first European saw the lake. In the winter it is a 1.3 mile one-way hike through what had now become a white-out. As I trudged through the blistering winds and stinging snow, my friend stayed in the cafe, which, considering my current situation, can only be described as toasty warm.

I reached Discovery Point in thirty minutes and it was a ghostly scene. I had been hiking over mountains of snow and suddenly part of the road was uncovered and a plaque commemorating the site lay half buried in snow. To my right was the gray abyss that hid the lake and a dense forest was to my left. I glanced behind to see my lone set of snow shoe tracks trail off into the storm and for a moment I thought I was the last person on Earth wandering through a nuclear winter.

I was also standing near the spot where, a few days earlier, two guys from the air force base in Klamath Falls had been hiking. Somehow managing to make the hike without snow shoes, their luck ran out when one of the guys, in an attempt to find a dropped camera, slipped and fell a hundred feet down the side of caldera. He stopped a mere ten feet from the edge of a 500-foot drop into the lake and it took rescuers four hours to bring him up to safety and treat him for mild hypothermia. Winter hiking isn't for the faint of heart.

After a hot lunch in the cafe, the Vibe and I fought through the driving snow until reaching 3,000 feet where the snow promptly began rain, the roads cleared and it was smooth sailing, relatively speaking, to Portland.

Updated pictures here.

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