Spending a night on Crater Lake’s Wizard Island
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
September 04, 2005
By LEE JUILLERAT
knew there was an Old Man of the Lake, but not a Lady.
And I didn’t know about Bikini Top and Bottom, or an ice cave that burrows 150 feet through year-long snow fields, or that annual fish populations possibly range from a low of several thousand to a high of more than a million.
The things you can learn about Crater Lake.
For more than 30 years I’ve experienced Crater Lake National Park from many perspectives – as a writer, photographer, father of a park ranger, recreationalist and continually bedazzled tourist. My most recently learned lessons in Crater Lake trivia came as a member of the park’s Natural History Association board of directors, during our group’s annual summer outing.
The prime lure was a night on Wizard Island.
We boated to the island from the trail’s end at Cleetwood Cove. Following a twilight hike to the top of the island’s crater, which is ringed with incredibly tormented whitebark pines, most of us placed cots on the boat docks and slept in sleeping bags. Through the night, I periodically awakened to watch constellations – Lyra shortly after sundown, Orion closer to morning – rotate across the cloudless sky.
It was quite a change from two years ago, when more than 2 inches of rain kept everyone huddled inside the boat house.
“The people staying at the (Crater Lake) lodge and sitting on the deck have one of the finest views of one of the most beautiful places in the world. But it’s not as good as what we’re experiencing,” said Mark Buktenica, after we munched trays of fresh veggies, nibbled cheese and sausage, and devoured barbecued burgers and freshly caught lake trout.
Buktenica, the park’s aquatic biologist, spends much of the summer working on the lake and staying on the island. He began work as a park seasonal in 1985, became a permanent four years later, and has no plans to leave.
He commands the “Newston,” the park’s research vessel, while performing such tasks as taking acoustic soundings that provide estimates of rainbow trout and kokanee populations. Kokanee populations widely vary over 10-year cycles, from 6,000 to 600,000, although Buktenica believes those numbers could actually range from 28,000 to more than a million.
Fish aren’t native to the lake. William Steel, the “Father of Crater Lake,” began toting buckets of minnows to the lake in 1888, a practice he continued and the National Park Service adopted until the mid-1900s.
In helping to rid the lake of the non-native fish, Buktenica and others use Panther Martins and yellow roostertail lures. There are no limits and fishing licenses aren’t required. During our trip, a trio of fishermen landed two 15-inch plus trout and dozens of tiny kokanee.
Other surprises came during a lazy morning boat tour.
In Chaski Bay, just west of the Phantom Ship, Buktenica drove the Newston close enough to shore so that several of us could jump out and explore. Lee Webb and I climbed into the little known ice cave. Its ceiling is rilled with geodesic arches that dribble water. At its far end, the collapsed roof reveals the cliffs behind.
Back on the lake, we probed the ragged cliffs of the Phantom Ship. We spent time appreciating and, for good luck, touching the Old Man of the Lake, a wind-blown log that has been seen floating upright since people first traveled the lake. Years ago, rangers let me climb on the wobbly, knobby-topped log, then motored far enough away to create a low-level sense of panic.
But I had never known about a rock island near Skell Head called “Lady of the Lake.” Using some imagination, it does look like a woman wearing a bushy bustle.
New to me, too, were Bikini Top and Bottom, two side-by-side massive protruding rock formations under the Palisades in the lake’s northeast corner. And, sure enough, the moniker is appropriate.
When we reached the buoy that marks the lake’s deepest point, 1,932 feet, I stripped to my shorts and dove in. An annual swim in Crater Lake is part of a personal tradition that dates back more than 20 years.
I paddled around, rolled on my back and, before the lake’s cool waters numbed me, savored my unique lake-level view of the world’s most mysteriously beautiful lake.
The things you can learn, and experience, at Crater Lake.