An island in the sky – December 18, 2001

An island in the sky

Herald and News

Klamath Falls, Oregon
December 18, 2001



Return with us now to the days of yesteryear, when ‘relentless weather’ so often made Crater Lake ‘an island in the sky’

It’s back in time at Crater Lake National Park.

One hundred years ago, just before it became a national park, Crater Lake was a remote outpost high atop the Oregon Cascades.

A century later, relentless winter weather has again made Crater Lake an “island in the sky,” an isolated region cut off from usual 21st Century amenities like the Internet, fax machines, telephone service and plowed roads.

“So many things are failing it’s like we are reverting back to the way it was a hundred years ago,” says Chuck Lundy, the park’s superintendent, referring to this winter’s ongoing problems that have hampered park operations.

Travel to and from, and inside the park, has been complicated by persistent heavy snowfall that has been falling at record levels. The park’s record seasonal snowfall is 850 inches. So far this year, with the heaviest snowfall months of the winter ahead, the snow total is nearing 200 inches.

“We’ve definitely got it in spades,” says Lundy, who has no desire to see the park set a record. “That would be more than anybody needs or wants.”

Heavy snow fell at the park Tuesday and Tuesday night and more was forecast today.

Clearing the snow has been a problem because two of the park’s three rotary plows, which help blow snow up and over roadways, have been out of commission. The third is being treated gingerly because it’s showing signs of wear and tear. A plow recently loaned to the park was damaged while it was unloaded, but could be operable by Friday or Saturday.

Two of the three push plows are also out of commission.

The road from park headquarters to the rim has mostly remained closed over the past month while crews have concentrated on keeping Highway 62, which connects the park with outside communities, open.

The Highway 62 south route provides access with Chiloquin and Klamath Falls, where many of the park staff live, while Highway 62 west route provides access to Prospect and Medford. Earlier this month, unrelenting snowfall forced the closure of both highways for two days.

On one of those days, freshly fallen powder snow was so deep that park staff living in the park could not make the short walk from their residences to their offices.

Over the past week, other woes have complicated life and work.

The park has been without telephone service since last Thursday. Lundy says telephone company personnel believe severe winter weather conditions have disrupted the park’s microwave relay system. Crews are attempting to diagnose and repair the problems ? whatever they are. On Tuesday, technicians said the tower was layered with 6 to 8 inches of ice. Ice has likewise encased trees and buildings in Rim Village, according to a park staff member who struggled to reach that area on Tuesday.

With the National Weather Service forecasting more subfreezing temperatures, heavy snowfall and gusting winds, Lundy says it’s unknown when telephone service will be restored.

Because of the telephone outage, park staff cannot send or receive electronic mail, including email and faxes. The park, however, has established an interim emergency community plan that uses radios and cell phones.

Although cellular phone service has not been affected, the coverage and quality of cell phone service in the park is marginal because of its mountainous setting.

Visitors have been uncommon, partly because of the snow-covered roads, partly because the unrelenting weather storms have made snow conditions poor for limited cross country skiing, sledding and other winter recreation.

The park is open, but Lundy cautions visitors to be prepared for severe winter conditions and no telephone communications. Because of the ongoing storms and limited snow plowing, he likewise cautions that park roads are subject to temporary closures at any time.