Sunday, September 27, 2015

Black Crater

Here it is, late November, and it's quite obvious to anybody living in Oregon that winter has come. Of course, a couple of months ago it was not so obvious and yes, I really am a couple of months behind in my blog postings. At any rate, Anjuli, Daweson, Issiah, Coral Rae, and I enjoyed a beautiful sunny day on a hike to Little Belknap Crater in late September. And while sunny, the air did have a little nip to it and we wore jackets and sweaters as we enjoyed the view from the top of the small crater. Flash forward another week and the weather gods were not as kind.

Little Belknap Crater
Little Belknap Crater is surrounded by taller peaks and cones, one of which is prominent Black Crater. Since I'd never been, it was about time for a Black Crater visit. The weather forecast called for partial sun but it was mostly clouds when I arrived at the Black Crater trailhead. In fact, it was all clouds. mist, and sun at all, darn it. It was frigid c-c-cold too and I quickly donned a few extra layers as teeth chattered in my skull. I daresay it was cold enough to snow but fortunately, there was no precipitation while I was there.

Entering the wilderness

The trail wasted no time charging uphill and that was the pattern for the first mile or so. The forest was fairly homogenous with identical looking trees draped with old man's beard swaying in a soft breeze. It was like hiking through the ZZ Top Tabernacle Choir. There were a couple of open spots offering views of the McKenzie Pass lava flows. Sparse meadows, all gone brown in advance of winter's arrival, flanked the path. I should have been able to get a magnificent look at Mount Washington but there was a large cloud bank where the mountain should have been.

The Black Crater summit is up there somewhere
The trail started out on the north side of Black Crater and would eventually wind its way over to the east side. Fortunately, the grade eased up a bit after the first mile and there actually was a downhill stretch of trail. The crater summit was hidden by the cloud bank camped on the rim but it was a fast moving cloud bank. Obviously, it was windy at the top but the cone was blocking the wind and call me grateful.

Awesome panorama toward Sisters
The route began switchbacking as the forest thinned out, transitioning from tall trees to gnarled and stunted whitebark pines. Despite the cloud cover, there were still some fantastic views to be had. It was kind of like peering under a table because of the cloud cover, but it was an awesome panorama to the towns of Sisters and Redmond with the crags of Smith Rock being faintly visible in the misty distance. Black Butte was mottled with cloud shadows dancing on the perfectly symmetrical cone. It sort of cheesed me off to see sunny patches everywhere else than where I was standing at.

"Crunch, crunch, crunch" go the boots on pumice
By this time, I was hiking in a world of red and brown pumice with stunted windblown trees for company. Because of the mist and clouds, all was quiet and still except for the crunching of pumice underneath my boots. One last switchback delivered me to the crater rim and I quickly took off my pack and retrieved a stocking cap, mittens, and another fleece jacket. Dang, it was cold! The wind was moving the clouds quickly along, biting through multiple layers of clothing.

Awesome view (not!)from the crater rim
The trail wove its way along the rim and I was slightly amused to see a couple arrive on the rim, about 100 yards behind me. Mimicking perfectly my movements from a few minutes prior, they dug through their packs and frantically donned extra layers, mittens, and stocking caps. 

The actual summit of Black Crater
A rocky crag, barely visible in the fog, was the actual summit of Black Crater and I scrambled up to the top just to say I reached the summit. There were no views at all and it was cold, so I didn't tarry and made my way down in haste. 

The lava flows at McKenzie Pass
On the way down, the trail dropped below the cloud cover and I enjoyed the same partial views that I enjoyed on the way up. On a clear day, this has just got to be a truly spectacular hike. The clouds thinned out some and several times on the descent, my shadow made brief appearances. I ran into a couple backpacking up, the dude was taking his wife on her first backpack trip. Hope their marriage survives!

Black Butte
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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