Sunday, August 11, 2019

Crater Peak

This hike was done on August 11, 2019 and it seems like a whole other lifetime ago. So much change, chaos, and strife has come to torment us all, pretty much like a mosquito swarm devouring a hiker upon the trail, and just about as welcome too. Because I took a year-long writing hiatus in 2019, there is a pile of 2019 hikes sitting on my desk, each patiently waiting to have their story lovingly told. My catch-up plan for the backlog has been to salt the old hikes in here and there in between the 2020 hikes, which are mostly current. As I write about this particular hike in Crater Lake National Park, the date is September 16, 2020 and the entire planet is aflame, or so it seems.  

An early morning rain left the forest damp

I've been regularly hiking for more than two decades, ever since I moved to Oregon. Firsthand, I've seen and experienced changes directly attributable to climate change, everything from retreating glaciers to forests stressed by a burgeoning population of lodgepole beetles. Each year, the snow seasons become shorter and the snow depth shallower. Because of the decrease in snow amounts, the forests dry out by summer and increasingly, I've had to schedule backpack trips and campouts around what is becoming a seasonal near-certainty: apocalyptic wildfires late August or September. 

Cloud, sky, sun, and tree sums up the weather for the day

The year 2020 has been a figurative donkey kick in the nuts for me, both on a personal and collective level. The year started with my daughter Aislinn unexpectedly passing away and has continued with a close relative becoming ill with cancer. Not to mention, this awful Covid-19 pandemic raging against a dreadful backdrop of election noise and cacophony, and now we are being assaulted by massive and abundant wildfires consuming millions of acres of forest and dumping an oppressive layer of smoke on pretty much the entire western United States. Hiking is my refuge from all this and now I'm stuck at home coughing because all the forests are closed and/or on fire, the air is too dangerous to hike in, and who knows when the trails caught up in the fire zones (like the North Umpqua Trail) will be cleaned up and open for hiking again. Sigh, let's go back to happier times, like August 11, 2019, shall we? 

The trail climbed up to rocky Tututni Pass

Crater Lake is the crown jewel in its namesake national park. Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors the world over come to visit, beginning in July. From personal experience, it is possible to hear the phrase "effin' mosquitoes!" uttered in at least 4,000 languages, only they don't really say "effin'", that's just my way of sanitizing the actual invective. However, there are some backcountry quiet places in the park that do not receive as much adulation from other than the hiking and backpacking crowd.

Shade is never overrated on a warm day

In the park, everybody hikes to the top of Mount Scott, Garfield Peak, and The Watchman to ooh and aah at the splendor that is Crater Lake. However, a small volcanic subsidiary of Mount Mazama (the mountain that created Crater Lake) resides directly south of Garfield Peak and you guessed it, that small cone is Crater Peak, the topic of today’s blog post.

Little Sun Creek created a massive canyon

Beginning near Vidae Falls, a picturesque cascade on Crater Lake’s rim, the trail quickly entered a dry forest and angled to the top of Vidae Ridge. Because of the soft volcanic soil, any moving water like say, a creek, tends to cut a deep canyon and Sun Creek was no exception to that rule as flanking ridges Vidae and Greyback escorted the small creek with a large canyon off of the national park property. Since the trail contoured around the headwaters of Sun Creek, a nice view was had of the massive canyon dutifully executing its assigned task of delivering the creek into the Wood River. 

A pinesap gets ready to start its day

The trail spent most of its time in the forest so there wasn’t a lot to see in particular, other than tall trees. Pinesap, looking all the world like a yellow fungus, was sprouting forth from the forest floor and a Great Crater Peak Reef of coral fungus was likewise emerging from the duff. One other observation was that the trail was really steep, something I had forgotten about. On the way back, I ran into another hiker and his first words to me were “Man, this is a steep trail!” 

A trail perambulates around the crater's meadowed rim

After several miles of grumbling to myself about the steep grade, the trail exited the forest and entered the large green meadow that is the summit of Crater Peak. Apparently, if you hike here in late spring, the wildflower blooms are spectacular. However, on this day the blooms were so last season, so the main focus for me were the views. 

Agency Lake glimmers in the distance

Peaks and valleys abounded and to the north, Mount Scott, Applegate Peak, and Dutton Cliff were most prominent, all sited on Crater Lake’s Rim. To the east sprawled the broad valley of Klamath Marsh underneath a sky full of puffy white clouds. To the south were Agency Lake and Union Peak. Trees were growing on the rim of Crater Peak so you couldn’t quite take in a full 360-degree panorama but a walk around the rim visually delivered the landmarks enumerated above. After a nice lollygag and lunch in the shade of a conifer, I packed up and headed back the way I came, and that was it for the hike.

Coral fungus emerges from its long nap

Sorry about making the hike description so terse but that’s what happens when you take up space ranting about everything 2020 has given us to rant about. At the time of this writing, Crater Lake National Park has been spared from the nearby Thielsen Fire but that could easily change. 
Let’s all hope the coming year will be better. 

Nature's recycler works on decomposing a fallen tree

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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