Despite what some people might like to
think, bubbles coming from the surface do not usually signify arrival of
the Crater Lake Monster. What you are probably seeing is a group of
SCUBA divers. In choosing from among all the other recreational
activities available in the park, they prefer to dive in the crystal
clear (but cold!) water. Crater Lake has attracted people from all over
the world for almost a century, including divers from as far away as
Florida. If you are considering diving below the deep blue surface of
this famous lake, there are a few things you need to know.
It is important that you understand the
lake surface is just over 6,100 feet above sea level. Since Rim Drive
(from where Crater Lake is reached) climbs to an altitude of 8,000 feet,
you need to use high elevation dive tables. At these heights an average
60 foot dive has an equivalent adjusted depth of 81 feet, a distance
considered risky when the nearest full service decompression chamber is
over 400 miles away! The water can be very cold with below surface
temperatures hovering around 37 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why National
Park Service staff recommend a full wet suit, (or even better, a leak
proof dry suit) be used.
Allen Cherry and unidentified ranger, first recorded
dive in Crater Lake, August 1956. Photo by Life photographer A.
The trip to the lake surface can be
quite an adventure for a diver with full equipment. You must descend 700
feet on a trail and return without mechanized or wheeled assistance.
Once at the lakeshore, you may want to explore Cleetwood Cove since it
is the closest area for diving and has several enjoyable features. One
is a relatively shallow place just east of the boat dock, where depths
are around 10 to 20 feet, before dropping beyond the range of sport
divers. In this long but narrow area, one can find large boulders that
provide habitat for two types of fish in Crater Lake -- rainbow trout
and kokanee salmon. Another interesting feature is the steep wall that
suddenly drops away from the narrow shoreline. With the sharp angle of
this precipice and crystal clear visibility, one may feel a sensation of
floating across a distant cosmic landscape.
Wizard Island is the other main area
for diving, though access to it is only by concession tour boat. Be sure
to call ahead for current prices and boat schedules. The waters
surrounding the island offer similar precipices to Cleetwood Cove, but a
wide and somewhat shallow area called Skell Channel is also close at
hand. Shallow water makes diving safer and the area around Wizard Island
has more than a few interesting features. One is the sharp volcanic rock
that dots subsurface terrain and is close enough to the surface to be
examined without air tanks. Fumarole Bay is also accessible from the
island and provides a view of the submerged geological features for
which it received its name. The fumaroles were once vents for gases
released while Crater Lake formed and many of them can be seen at a
depth of 50 to 60 feet.
It is hard to describe the feeling of
swimming along a great precipice which drops to great depths, while
suddenly encountering a curious trout who approaches from a deep blue
background and then quickly darts beyond your reach. Please remember,
however, that collecting indigenous rocks and native biota in Crater
Lake is not permitted. These items should be left in place so that they
may be enjoyed by this and future generations. Also note that spear
fishing is prohibited in the lake, but fishing with rod and reel is
allowed (since rainbow and kokanee were introduced) and a good way to
pass the time between dives.
Prospective divers need to arrange for
a special use permit before coming to the park. These can be obtain by
writing to the Chief Ranger and should be done several weeks in advance
so that park staff have a chance to inform you of restrictions and
regulations which may be in effect at the time of your dive. These rules
are intended to protect the diver, other park visitors, and the lake's
ecosystem. The required permit is $50.00, which is used to cover
administrative costs associated with the dive. All permits must be
obtained in person, a stipulation that allows park staff to notify the
diver of any changes in restrictions affecting the dive, while also
providing a chance in verify diving certification and review safety
procedures. All members of the dive group need to attend this briefing.
As you prepare, remember one of the first rules of diving: plan your
dive and dive your plan. If you do, and are prepared for a variety of
challenging circumstances, then a fascinating adventure in diving may
John Broward is a backcountry
ranger stationed at Crater Lake National Park.
Allen Cherry and Phil Bayouth with unidentified
child, first recorded dive in Crater Lake, August 1956. Photo by
Life photographer A. Y. Owen.