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Nature Notes From Crater Lake

Vol. 11, No. 3, September 1938


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Wind Currents in Crater Lake as Revealed by The Old Man of the Lake
By John E. Doerr, Jr., Park Naturalist

The Old Man of the Lake is the name given to a tall stump of tree which has been floating around in Crater Lake for a number of years. During the period July 1 and September 30 of this year eighty-four observations were made of its location. The record of observations indicates that "The Old Man" travels extensively, and at times with surprising rapidity. The record of its travels, reproduced on the accompanying sketch maps, indicates some interesting facts relative to the wind currents on Crater Lake.

The Old Man of the Lake is mute evidence of a rock slide which occurred on the crater wall years ago, the slide breaking off a tree and carrying down the stump in the roots of which rocks remained wedged. For years the barkless stump has floated in an up-right position. Its top, bleached and splintered, stands four and one half feet out of water. Thirty feet, including the root system, is below water. At water-line the stump, probably hemlock, is two feet three inches in diameter. On one side of the stump and just above water-line there is a clump of moss.

For a number of years The Old Man of the Lake has been observed by visitors at Crater Lake. Not infrequently it has been mistaken for a boat, and occasionally for a white pelican. The earliest accurate date of its existence is 19292. The following quotation taken from William Gladstone Steel's Crater Lake Scrapbook suggests that "The Old Man" was observed many years before 1929.

"In the early days of Crater Lake, when there was not a nail or sliver of board there, Fred h. Kiser, now a well known scenic photographer, accompanied me to that wonderful place and was infatuated with it. Joaquin Miller was with us and wrote his poem, "The Silent Sea", on a box in from of his tent. Fred Kiser found a boat and pulled out to search for llao which he saw near the Phantom Ship. It was a great tree, broken squarely off and floating up-right."

While movements of "The Old Man" have been observed for several years, not date has been recorded relative to its location from day to day. As the result of an inquiry relative to its location from Washington, D. C. in regard to the log floating in Crater Lake, the project of recording "The Old Man's location was undertaken during the summer of 1938. Observations began on July 1 and were continued until October 1. During that time 84 location records were made. On some days two observations were made. There were a few periods of from two to five days when no locations were recorded, the object not being visible from the launch making the daily trip around the lake, and conditions being unfavorable for observation from the crater rim. There were several periods when the stump was lodged near shore for several days.

The outstanding feature of the travels of "The Old Man", as shown by the accompanying sketches, is that during July and August and the first half of September it traveled almost entirely within the north half of the lake. This certainly indicates that during that time there was a prevailing southerly wind which was deflected locally by the crater walls to the extent that numerous eddys and cross currents were created, thus accounting for the continuous back and forth movement of the floating stump. It is interesting to note that long the northern shore of Crater Lake there are noticeable wave terraces of gravel and debris. The terraces, not present on the southern shore, are additional evidence of prevailing southerly winds.

During the period of observation "The Old Man" traveled a total minimum of 62.1 miles, the distance between locations being measured in straight lines as indicated on the sketches. The actual distance was no doubt greater than 62.1 miles. The average daily travel was 0.67 of a mile, the maximum distance accomplished was 3.8 miles on August 6 when two observations were made, one early in the morning, the other late in the evening. The days when the greatest movement occurred were days of high wind and waves.

Time will tell how long The Old Man of the Lake can withstand wind and wave, and the battering to which its base is subjected when it approaches shore. Until it does succumb to the elements it will remain as evidence of the changing winds that stir Crater Lake. On the evening of September 30, when the last recorded observation was made, "The Old Man" was riding the waves about a half mile from the south shore, directly below Sinnott Memorial.

Note: From July 1 to September 12 observations of the location of The Old Man of the lake were recorded by Ranger Naturalist Kartchner. During the remainder of September observations were recorded by the Park Naturalist. -- Editor







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