Crater Lake offers a compelling glimpse of the changing seasons
October 04, 2007
By BILL KETTLER
If you want an early taste of winter, this is the time to visit Crater Lake National Park.
October brings sudden changes in the weather, especially in the high country. At 7,000 feet, the rim of Crater Lake had a dusting of snow Wednesday, and forecasters were predicting snow showers through Friday.
If you’ve never ventured farther than the Crater Lake parking lot or the visitors center (and thousands never do), you owe it to yourself to get the perspective that only foot travel gives you. The lake gets infinitely larger when you start walking around it.
The contrasts at this time of year are striking along the rim. The high places often get a thin coat of snow that vanishes over the course of a day, except in places where the sun can’t reach.
Hunters are still out in force looking for the perfect buck, so Crater Lake is a good place to visit right now if you don’t want to hear gunfire. Hunting isn’t allowed in Oregon’s only national park.
You can walk a section of the Pacific Crest Trail that follows the rim and feel winter coming on. The trail follows the rim along the west side for several miles, near the scenic Rim Road. There are several pullouts along the road, so your hike can be as long or as short as you choose.
The trail passes “Discovery Point,” near the spot where Europeans are believed to have first glimpsed the lake in 1853, when a prospecting party led by John Wesley Hillman stumbled upon one of North America’s most remarkable natural features.
Hillman’s name is memorialized in Hillman Peak, one of the promontories along the west side of the rim.
About 2.5 miles from Rim Village, the PCT intersects a trail that follows the course of an old abandoned road down to a scenic camp site at Lightning Spring .8 miles downhill. The soil here is so full of pumice and ash that few plants have colonized it, going on 7,700 years since Mount Mazama exploded.
The spring is one of those high-country wonders, a stream of cold, clear, pure water that emerges from the slope.
If you’re looking for a longer walk, you can follow the trail down the slope about a mile farther to a lovely 15-foot waterfall. This would make a good place to turn around for most people.
Avid hikers can continue their descent for another two miles. The trail leaves Lightning Creek, drops over into the headwaters of Bybee Creek, and follows Bybee Creek downstream to an old section of the Pacific Crest Trail that’s now used as an equestrian bypass. (Horses are allowed in the park, but not on the rim.) From the junction with the equestrian trail, it’s about 4 miles back up to the rim, and an elevation gain of about 1,300 feet.
Check conditions before you go to avoid unpleasant surprises. There’s usually a staff person to pick up the phone if you call the visitor center at 594-3100. A trail map and description can be found in William Sullivan’s “100 Hikes in Southern Oregon.”
Reach Bill Kettler at 776-4492 ore-mail: email@example.com