Hike of the Week: enjoy solitude, panorama on top of Crater Peak – September 2, 2005

Hike of the Week: enjoy solitude, panorama on top of Crater Peak

Mail Tribune

Medford, Oregon
September 2, 2005

There’s more than one crater at Crater Lake National Park.

People come from all over the world to see the big crater that filled with water after Mount Mazama blew its lid. Few visitors know about, or care to visit, a smaller crater — a scaled-down cinder cone on the south flank of what’s left of Mazama.

The trail to Crater Peak is a good choice if you want both solitude and mountain vistas. From the 7,263-foot summit of this minor cinder cone, you can see all the major peaks in Southern Oregon and Northern California: Mount Thielsen, Mount Scott, Mount Shasta, Mount McLoughlin, Mount Ashland and Mount Bailey, and a number of lesser lights, such as Union Peak.

To reach the trail from Medford, take Highway 62 to Crater Lake National Park. Don’t be surprised if you’re held up for a few minutes by road construction. The National Park Service is rebuilding several sections of the park highway, including a pair of old switchbacks that were particularly exciting in snow.

Just before the road reaches park headquarters, turn right where signs point to Rim Drive East. Follow the Rim Drive about 2.25 miles to the sign for the Crater Peak trailhead.

The 2.5-mile trail begins on the south side of the Rim Drive, on an old abandoned gravel road, at 6,655 feet. As mountain trails go, that’s pretty gentle, but at that altitude you may find yourself breathing hard even if you hold to a leisurely pace.

The old road soon shrinks to a footpath as it moves through stands of mountain hemlocks, known by the droopy tip-top of their trunks and their slender purple-brown cones. Mountain hemlock is one of the few trees that can thrive under the prolonged bitter cold and November-to-June snowpack that’s typical at 7,000 feet.

Most of the trail’s elevation gain happens during the last half mile as it scales the Crater Peak cinder cone. Most of the little cone filled with debris from Mount Mazama’s giant eruption, but a shallow depression with a clear rim still remains. Long after most snow has vanished at the park, a tiny patch remains in the crater.

If you have the time and the energy, walk around the rim. It adds less than half a mile to the five-mile round trip, but you can see half a dozen summits along the way. Bring along a map so you can pick out some of the minor summits you might not already know. For a map, directions and trail description, see William Sullivan’s “100 Hikes in Southern Oregon.”

Reach reporter Bill Kettlerat 776-4492, or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

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