Snorkeling the deep blue at Crater Lake – September 22, 2001

Snorkeling the deep blue at Crater Lake

Herald and News

Klamath Falls, Oregon
September 22, 2001

By LEE JUILLERAT

Hikers on Wizard Island spot the ‘human’ seals

Seals in Crater Lake? From atop Wizard Island that’s what they looked like, happy seals cavorting in the waters of Fumerole Bay.

“I wish I had some binoculars,” uttered Mary.

Like an uncorked genie, Tim handed her a pair.

Through those lenses we counted four black forms flippering around bay, the body of water between the island’s west side and the caldera’s steep-walled rim. The distant figures leisurely meandered, shifting directions like watery mammals probing for food.

On the boat ride to the island, the ranger had told us about a black bear that in 1965 scuttled down the caldera walls, paddled to the island and, after finding the food selection too lean, retraced his swim and climbed back up to the rim.

We were taking our bearings from atop Wizard Island. We had hiked up to the island’s crater. At an elevation of 6,940 feet, it’s more than 750 feet above Crater Lake’s surface water level. We shared lunch with some pesky-friendly squirrels, made the short loop around the top, dropped into the crater and just started the downhill walk when we spied the unlikely lake creatures.

Fumerole Bay was our next stop, but it seemed unlikely the whatever-they-weres would still be there. Any time of year, Crater Lake’s deep blue waters are notoriously cool.

At least a half-hour later, after hiking across the lava strewn, stumbly, often-difficult-to-follow trail to Fumerole Bay, we spotted them.

Two heads popped up.

“Do you have the time?” asked one.

He and the others were outfitted in full body wet suits, including boots, gloves and hoods along with fins and goggles. They had been trolling the bay for nearly two hours and wanted to be sure they caught the last tour boat of the day, and the last of the summer.

Tim and I, without wet suits, took quick swims. We looked more like anxious dogs than graceful seals as we paddled the searingly chilly waters.

Later, while waiting at the boat dock, Stephen and Shara Paisley and Julian and Melody Dobbie, all of Salem, shared tales of their excitement.

The Dobbies, experienced snorkelers who also are certified scuba divers, and the Paisleys saw Crater Lake in a way few people have, with fins, goggles and body-warming wet suits. They had planned to test the waters, literally, a day earlier at Cleetwood Cove, where the only trail from the rim to the lake ends. All four had packed down bags stuffed with 30 pounds of gear.

But a “really cool” lightning storm, which had electrified the park a night earlier, continued that morning. When the tour boats shortened their trips and returned to Cleetwood Cove, the Dobbies and Paisleys likewise retreated.

When they learned they could take a boat tour and be dropped off at Wizard Island to snorkel the waters of little visited Fumerole Bay, they changed their plans. Hikers, like us, routinely catch an early boat and spend the day on the island, but outfitted snorkelers are less common.

That morning, after hiking the 1.1 miles from the rim to Cleetwood Cove, the two couples unloaded at Wizard Island’s dock, hiked to Fumerole Bay, tugged on their gear and jumped in.

“We were warm as could be. The Pacific is colder than this,” said Julian, relishing an upcoming triumphant report to a diving friend. “He’s going to be green with envy when I tell him we snorkeled off Wizard Island.”

“I wondered how many hundreds of people on the rim were watching us,” said Stephen, who experienced another sense of wonder while gazing into Crater Lake’s mysteriously blue waters. “When you look down it’s so surreal. This is a volcano. You’re in it. We called it ?Artificial Blue 13′ because it’s so incredibly blue.”

Until the hike to the lake, Stephen had only seen Crater Lake from the rim.

“Now it’s a lake. It looks really fascinating from above, but to be at the water level. Amazing.”

* * *

Concession boat tours have ended for the season, but the trail to Cleetwood Cove and Rim Drive will remain open until closed by snow, typically in October or November. Visitor services are available year-around at the Steel Center. The Rim Village visitor center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Sunday, Sept. 30.

The Rim Village gift shop is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily while the adjacent cafeteria is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Facilities at Mazama Village are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Oct. 7. Crater Lake Lodge will close at noon on Oct. 21. Rooms are available most nights or updated information call the park at (541) 594-2211 or the park concessionaire at 594-2511.

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