Crater Lake Circumnavigation
April 5-7, 1997
This year I was thrilled to have seven people sign up for this challenging ski backpacking trip. Of course, by the morning of the trip the numbers had dwindled down to four (Steve Goins, Josh "cricket man" Ladau, Mike Landes and Rebecca Ries), but that was still the biggest group I had ever had on this trip.
We left Eugene at a little after 5 a.m. Saturday the 5th and arrived at Park HQ at precisely the moment the ranger was opening the doors for business. We followed her in, answered her extensive equipment checklist and received our permit. We then shuttled up to the Crater Lake rim, leaving one car down below at Park HQ and one at the rim. If you ski around the lake clockwise (the usual way), this makes the trip a little easier because you avoid a difficult two-mile uphill from headquarters to the rim, leaving a mere 30 miles to cover. Fifteen miles a day for two days with fairly heavy packs. No problem. Most sane people spread this out over three days, but I was trying to accommodate weekend warriors who can’t take a weekend off. (By the way, whatever happened to the age of leisure that computers were supposed to bring about?) One ideal weekend two years ago, three of us did finish in two days — with a few hours of daylight to spare. However, this year I immediately recognized that conditions were not quite as favorable. For one thing, although partly sunny, it was colder and windier, making the snow somewhat crusty and treacherous. Another possible impediment would be the conditions of the avalanche prone areas — which could mean taking the longer, harder bypass routes.
The weather stayed cool but pleasant for all of Saturday and we covered 11 miles, which was good progress given the fact that we were even breaking trail in some places. However, I knew that Sunday would be difficult with another 19 miles to cover. We worked well together as a team, melting snow for our next day’s water, etc. The night was surprisingly mild and we enjoyed great views of the Hale-Bopp comet (we could clearly see the two tails). There was no moon, however, and I missed seeing the snow-covered rim lit up by moonlight.
Sunday morning was mild and we got an early start and made good progress until Kerr Notch, which is about 21½ miles around the lake. I could see that the avalanche prone area beyond Kerr Notch was not safe to traverse and so we had to take the very exhausting bypass route which is longer, and much more strenuous. When we reached the road again we noticed that the one ski track that had led up the avalanche prone section had not emerged on the upper side, so either someone turned back or disappeared in an avalanche! With about seven miles to go and a snowstorm quickly moving in, we tried to maintain our good pace, but I managed to get us off track a couple of times, wasting probably an hour or so. By 5 p.m. I knew we had to plan on a second night out and we decided that we should stop at Sun Notch. We camped in a little old growth forest below the trail and were very comfortable despite the four inches of snowfall that night. Though tired, we all felt quite safe and confident that we could easily cover the remaining 4½ miles on Monday morning. Nobody seemed too distressed about missing work or school!
Visibility on Monday was much improved and the ski out only took us a couple of hours. After numerous phone calls reassuring concerned relatives and employers, the five of us headed down the road where we found the nearest greasy spoon breakfast-place and ate like animals! We all agreed that it had been a real adventure. — Bill Montgomery.