Nov 3, 2013

Crater Lake Rim Ski Shut-out

We have intended to ski the rim of Crater Lake several times over the past few years, but the weather often has other ideas. Perhaps that is part of the allure. The feat, while not overly technical, can be thwarted by not enough snow, too much snow, high winds, ice, avalanche conditions and even visibility. Why ski around the rim of the deepest lake in North America if you can't see it?

Photo from Wikipedia
The ski route circumnavigates the 1,949 foot-deep-lake by following the rim road approximately 30 miles.

I'm incredibly fascinated about the lake's origins. The 12,000 foot Mount Mazama once existed where the lake is today, almost 6,000 feet higher than the rim!

6,000 - 8,000 years ago the mountain erupted with so much power that the ash and pumice from the event can be found covering nearly all of Oregon, Washington, Northern California, Idaho, Western Montana, and parts of Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan.

Mount Mazama collapsed into itself and created the 5 x 6 mile wide caldera. The lake has no inlets or tributaries, so is incredibly pure.

Needless to say, your mind has a lot of incredible beauty and history to chew on while traveling around the rim.

An unseasonably warm and dry November and December had the rim snow at about 9" (with dirt patches showing) when we arrived the day after Christmas. An ice storm the week before had blanketed Oregon with an unsavory icy layer, but I had been monitoring the weather reports a few weeks before the trip and saw that temps were reaching the 50s up there. Maybe we would encounter a slushy mess instead of ice? Anyway, we decided to drive down and attempt the trip.

Crater Lake is about a two hour drive from Bend, and as we pulled up mid-afternoon we were still encountering ice on the road...hmmm, not a great sign!

Winter trips to the lake are free: no entry fees, no parking fees, no backcountry permit fees, but the park rangers do have you get a backcountry permit. While at the ranger office we were strongly advised against our trip. Apparently two rangers had gone out on x-country skis a few days before and made it less than 6 miles before turning around; the rim was bullet ice.

Grrr, would we be unable to make our trip? Kirk and I decided to ski out and try a night on the rim, we admitted we probably wouldn't make it the whole way around, but there was no way we would turn around, and they didn't say we couldn't go...

Wizard Island
Besides, we would have touring skis with metal edges, and skins if things got dicy.

Most tourists had been walking around in snow shoes, and about a mile of the trail from parking lot on the Southern edge of the rim was quite trampled.

We loaded up our packs and started sans skins, however before we even got 100 feet from the car we realized skins were necessary if we weren't going to plow over the tourists; we didn't want to stay in the narrow snow shoe trail with so many people coming and going, and once we stepped onto the ice there was no digging in with edges or easy stopping.

Ok. Skins on, we skiied.

Kirk adjusting the skins on his new Voile Charger BC skis

I'm wearing Kirk's Karhu XCD Guide Skis, and yep, that's the road showing through!

Hmmm, the ice is so thick we can't even make tracks.
We skied far enough to make camp before the sun set...and it was pretty obvious we wouldn't be skiing around the rim. The ice was much much to thick and it really wasn't fun! Even with skins on the going was dicy at times.

We found a scenic spot to set up our tent.

And enjoyed a beer on the rim for the sunset.

The next morning we drank our hot coffee while packing up, having decided to drive to the coast for the rest of our days off.

The clouds had moved in over night

Crater Lake, we will meet again.

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