Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ryan == Adventure

When I sent out 3-day backcountry ski around Crater Lake leoralore, one of my long-time friends wrote to me to tell me how jealous he was, as he had always wanted to snowshoe around Crater Lake.  I asked him (Ryan) when he was free, as I was willing to go around again, and I was quite curious to compare my cross country ski experience with a snow shoe experience.  After his initial self-reaction of “I’m too busy”, he realized that he could, in fact, do it, and we compared calendars, and came up with going 4/22-28, to allow plenty of time.  When I told others that we were going to do this, we got some more takers.  Ryan started to get worried that the group was getting too big, and after a while I told him “watch – in the end, it will just be the two of us.”  I don’t know if I should be delighted that I was right, or sorry that the others bowed out (they told us that the timing didn’t work for them and they’d do it the following week), but since I tend to think of things in the positive sense, I was happy that I turned out to be right. 

Ryan obtained train tickets to go from Seattle to Portland on Sunday, 4/21, and with no one else’s schedule to have to work with, we chose to drive down on Sunday.  The weather forecast was perfect for when we planned on being out there, and what’s more, a spectacular meteor shower was forecast for the first night, as well.  

I expected adventure on the trail, but didn’t realize that getting there would also turn out to be an adventure.  When Rita had driven down there the previous month, we’d seen a shortcut on the map from the Highway 97 route to the Highway 62 route that leads into Crater Lake.  Since there was a lot of snow at the higher elevations, and we knew that the shortcut road was frequently closed in winter, we chose to do the long 97 to 62 route, then.  But, hey – this was a whole month later, and the first time, we didn’t even SEE the shortcut road on the way down there.  This time, I wanted to try it.  On the map that we were using this time, we didn’t see any “closed during winter” signs for that road (but did for others), but we did notice a difference in colors used for the roads.  Ryan checked the key, and we realized that we were looking for an 18-mile (29 km) dirt road short cut.  That wasn’t as appealing, but, gosh, I still wanted to try it.  We decided that if it were a good dirt road, we’d go for it.  If it was not, we’d do the 32 mile (51.5km) black top route.  We missed the entrance to the short cut road, but noticed that there was another road that would take us to it.  We found that one, and it was a nice dirt road.  3 miles down that, and we got to the short cut road. 

Now, I’m sure that anyone who has done a lot of hiking or climbing has already been cringing when seeing the word “shortcut.”  It usually means hours more work for everyone when someone takes a “shortcut”. . .  Why make an exception here?  The short cut road wasn’t in quite as nice shape as the connector road, but it was still pretty decent.  Another 5 miles down, we started seeing trees down over the road.  We started to worry that we’d get really close to the end, and a tree too big to move, would be lying across the road.  However, mile after mile, we were able to get around all of the obstacles, and things were looking good, even though the road was deteriorating.  Finally, we got to the pass, and saw the snow:

This is a still picture that I grabbed from the video that we took after we got stuck many times in the snow.  In general, the car would only go as far as we shoveled, so we wound up doing a lot of shoveling.   Fortunately, this was pretty close to getting through all of the snow.  In the end, it probably took about ½ hour or so to get through this section.   We’d already walked beyond this point about ¼ mile (.4km) or so, just to see if we could expect more of the same before we chose to try to drive through this, and thought that we’d probably be ok, so we risked it.  We hoped that a downed tree wouldn’t be further down the road, since having to turn around and go back through that snow pack, up hill, would likely have been even more work. . . Fortunately, the rest of the road was clear, and when we saw that we could get all the way to Highway 62, we turned around and looked for a good camping place. We’d not even gotten to Crater Lake, and we already had our first adventure!!! 

We found a nice campsite.  It turns out that Ryan is quite similar to me when it comes to camping, although, since he doesn’t get as cold as I do when he sleeps, he can be even more Spartan than I am.  He only had one insulating mat, and no bivvy sack nor tent.  We made dinner, and then went to bed, leaving the rest of the drive to the headquarters, where we would pick up our backcountry permits, for the next day.

Since last month, the headquarter hours expanded from 10am-4pm to 9am-5pm, and so we were able to pick up our permit as soon as we arrived, which was a pleasant surprise.  This time, we started the trip from the headquarters, taking the 1.5 mile (2.5km) Raven’s trail to the Rim Village, so that we could boast of doing the entire circumference, not that anyone *really* cares, but, hey, why not?   Here is Ryan’s picture of me as we started off:

I was shocked at how much more parking lot there was at the Rim Village compared to a month ago.  As well, the road crews had started working on clearing the Rim road, so we had to walk the next 3 miles (5 kilometers) of the road – we could have snowshoed along the side of the road, but it would have been silly.  Several bikers were on that road, and a couple of hikers.  There were nowhere near as many people as the prior month, but this was a Monday, compared to getting there on a Sunday, the previous month.  After 3 miles, we saw 2 snow plows, and one snow thrower working.  When they saw us, they made a ramp for us, and allowed us to pass.  The snow thrower was absolutely amazing – not only were they big beasts (Ryan being gobbled up by one):

But they were very impressive in the snow that they could throw:

The snow in the middle of this picture is being thrown up some 30-50 ft (9-15m).  We were scared for the guys operating the equipment because they would get soooooo close to these cliff edges.  They told us that in that section they worked very slowly because of the danger, and could only clear .2 or .3 miles (.3 or .5km) per day.

The rim of the lake looked vastly different, with the northern side almost completely devoid of snow:

Llao Rock is on the left (I had a picture of that in last month’s leoralore).  This is looking from the western side of the rim toward the north of the lake. 

Fortunately, the southern part of the rim still looked pretty, and I realized that I should take a picture of the Cure JM (Cure Juvenile Myositis) banner, here, as well:

This also was pretty much the view that I had from my campsite (which was at the junction to the north entrance road).

I was a tad worried about where Ryan had chosen to camp, and went around to get a view of where he was versus the underlying ground:

He was safe, but the cornice was definitely hanging out significantly over the edge of the underlying rock.

This first night was absolutely miserable for me, as the winds were horrible, here.  I *knew* that they would be, and wasn’t at all interested in camping near here, but Ryan loved the wide open space.  I consented after finding a gully protected by trees, but the wind was rather fierce, and battered my tent all night long, sucking any warm that it afforded, away.  I hardly slept at all.  And even though I’d been looking forward to the meteor shower that was supposed to be at the height in the wee hours of that morning, and I was getting up to pee, regularly, I saw nary a shooting star.  Ryan saw a bunch just as the moon was setting, so he was happy.  He told me that he was on the edge of warmth.  I was a heck of a lot happier the rest of our nights, as they were all much more sheltered, and although I looked each night for meteors, I saw none.  And the moon was so bright that I never used a headlamp at night.

I should note that the last people we saw on our trip were two people who were also camped on the rim at the north entrance road junction, and we saw no more until three days later when we arrived back at the park headquarters building! 

Since neither of us had any pressing time constraints, we were able to take a leisurely walk around the lake, and take in some side trails as well.  One of them was the Cleetwood Cove Trail down to the lake (where the boat tours to Wizard Island and other parts of the lake commence).  Much of the snow was melted completely away.  Where it still existed, it was pretty easy to negotiate.  There were a few trees that had fallen, and an amazing rock avalanche, which definitely served as a reminder that the rock faces all presented considerable rock danger during this freeze/thaw time of year.  The water looked pristine:

The above was taken right at the water’s edge.  I was very amazed at the clarity of the water – how I could see every rock so very clearly.  Mt. Scott is the snow mountain in the background.

The below picture had the water measurement building, with the water having just a hint of the turquoise color in the water that we saw so prevalently while there:

Another side trip was going up to the top of Cloudcap at 8065ft (2458m) and looking down upon the lake:

We also did an attempt on Mt. Scott.  While we could have made our own way, had we been dedicated, we couldn’t find any sign of the designated trail, the snow at that hour was quite mushy, and the terrain was steep:

so we elected to return to our packs and find our last night’s accommodation. 

My memory on the previous trip was a little mixed up, so we did a slight back and forth, but ended up camping out at the Phantom Ship overlook which gave these two spectacular views in the morning:

The above is of the “Phantom Ship” island, and the below is of Wizard Island across the lake:

And that funny-looking surface?  Ice, on the lake that (almost) never freezes!!!

Our final views of the lake were at Sun Notch, which was also our final side trip:

The above is the other side of Phantom Ship Island, and the below is of the northern side of the crater, with Mt. Thielsen rising above it:

Yet another spectacular trip.

But that wasn’t the end of the adventure.  No, to top it all off, the following day, we went exploring the eastern ridge of King’s Mountain, and while I’d explained to Ryan that this would be off-trail, exploratory, rigorous, and steep, he re-interpreted what I was saying given his prior experience of what others consider rigorous, steep, and off-trail.  He decided that I was trying to kill him when we got to this upper section of the trail, and he found a way around this type of area which he described as a place where you can die if you slip. . .:

The drop-off to my left is a mere 1000 ft (300m) or so. . .  Some people refer to that as “exposure.”

We went at a leisurely pace stopping to enjoy the incredible views that this side of the mountain afforded us (and which the regular southern route does not), and it took us 5 hours to get up.  We were able to get down the southern route in less than an hour.

A most satisfying ending to a week of the outdoors and spectacular views.

Ryan assures me that he’ll be incorporating our photos on his website,, where one can do one’s own “virtual walk” of the trails he has already hiked and photographed, so, if you want, you’ll be able to experience a bit of what we enjoyed, by “walking” that trail on his website.  I’ll have to give a shout out when it’s ready.

May your days be filled with great adventures!