Sunday, May 5, 2013

Day 4: Avalanches!

When I woke in the morning, I sat up and looked out over Crater Lake. The lake was a bit blurry, and I rubbed my eyes trying to get that sleep out of them, and looked at the lake again… and I was a little slow to realize that the blurriness of the lake wasn’t my eyes, but rather the lake itself. Ice had formed on it during the night! This was a genuine shock to me since I had read that Crater Lake had only frozen over twice in recorded history, and the last time was 1949. Deep bodies of water with a relatively small surface area tend not to freeze very easily.

Is that what it appears to be? The waters of Crater Lake… with ice forming on it?!


Ice formed all over Crater Lake, all the way out to the other size near Wizard Island,
even if there were pockets that hadn’t frozen over in places that reflected the
mountains behind it like a mirror.


But here I was, looking at Crater Lake frozen over! Now, to be fair, there were clearly spots that had not frozen over which reflected the mountains behind it perfectly as a mirror. And I very much doubted the ice was thick enough to actually walk on had one been so inclined. So somehow, I doubt this is going to count as a new “freeze over.”


The other reason I found this surprising was that according to my little weather forecast, the low overnight was supposed to be 36 degrees—not only the warmest low of our trip, but not even below freezing! And yet… the lake froze during the night but not the other two nights. Very surprising…


But it was a delight to see, regardless! Another shade of Crater Lake that few people ever get to see. I suspected what little ice there was on the lake likely wouldn’t last long and melt in the morning sun.


Loera and I packed up camp, and made a special point of checking our avalanche transceivers since we’d be going through three, yes, three particularly problematic avalanche zones according to our maps. We went through two small areas on our first day, and none on our second or third days. But today we would not only pass through three different avalanche zones, but they’d also be the longest avalanche zones.

The sign marking the avalanche bypass—which kind of looks like it’s already been hit by an avalanche! We ignored it, though, and continued directly through the avalanche zone. =)


Dutton Cliffs marks the first of the day’s avalanche zones.


And immediately upon leaving camp, we would hit the first avalanche zone by Dutton Cliffs where the Rim Road was blasted out of near-vertical cliff. Leora didn’t think that avalanches would be problematic today for several reasons—no new snow, it was early in the morning when avalanche dangers were at their least, and no unusually high temperatures after following some cold ones. But you can never be too careful, so Leora suggested that we should cross the avalanche paths separately so in the unlikely event that there was one, it wouldn’t sweep both of us off our feet at the same time.


Leora took the lead, and I held back to watch. When she reached a safe location, I followed. The towering cliffs on my right were intimidating, and evidence of rock slides were readily apparent. In fact, I could hear small ones happening even as I crossed the avalanche zone. They were rocks the size of a finger—hardly lethal projectiles. But I didn’t like what they represented—the tip of the proverbial iceberg.


But the biggest mistake I did was to look down the cliffs! Far down below, I could see an avalanche bypass, which was partially covered with an avalanche. Even the bypasses weren’t immune from avalanches! And in a couple of small sections of the road that were covered with heaps of snow, I felt that the biggest danger of all was slipping on the snow and sliding off the Rim Road down the cliffs on my left. So I ended up walking a lot slower than I thought I would through the avalanche zone, taking each step carefully, and making sure my MicroSpikes had a good, solid grip in the snow before taking the next step. At least I had the MicroSpikes, though. Leora didn’t even have those!

Leora passes under Dutton Cliffs, where the risk from falling rocks can be as great as the risk from avalanches!




Not exactly an avalanche, but falling snow could be a danger too!


This particular section probably scared me more than any other.
Although you can’t really see it in the photo, there’s a very
large drop-off on the right side, and the old avalanche I’m
crossing over did not make for even, steady footsteps!


Don’t worry, though—I do make is across safely! =)


I called this the Icicle Cliffs, which is essentially a frozen waterfall.


Looking down, you can see the edge of the Rim Road lined with stone.
Below that, you can see an old avalanche. Which, if you notice,
actually runs right over one of the avalanche bypasses!


The end of the avalanche zone—SAFE!


Yep, nothing to see here…. Keep moving! =)


We safely made it to the far side of the avalanche zone, though, and continued onward.


Crater Lake itself we couldn’t see, but as we neared a summit, I wanted to head up to it to see the view again. Leora gamely followed me, and we pushed to the top of the ridge where a view that seemed to stretch out for a hundred miles in every direction opened up… and there was absolutely no sign of Crater Lake.


I got a little ahead of Leora, and when Leora caught up, I asked, “Okay, so what happened to the lake? I was sure the lake would be right below us!”


She pointed down the ridge, to a bunch of trees in a valley. “It should be right there!” she exclaimed with equal surprise.


“Well,” I told her, “that’s one place where we definitely know it’s not located!” =)


We took a closer look at the terrain around us, and it looked like there could have been a rim for Crater Lake off to the right, perhaps a mile away, and perhaps the lake itself was hidden behind it. But it was a little unnerving to get up on that ridge and realize we had misplaced the entire lake!


We looked at our maps to get our bearings, and decided that that was definitely where Crater Lake must have been located, and that we were overlooking the valley that led up to Sun Notch.

What am I doing, you ask? I’m taking a photo! This is Leora’s photo taking a picture of me taking the next photo….


I just love these V-shaped ski tracks as skiers scramble to get up even the smallest of slopes. =)


Leora follows me up to what we believe is Crater Lake’s rim….


It certainly looks like a rim, don’t you think?


But this is what we actually saw from the “rim.” Where the heck did Crater Lake go?!


We continued onward… or rather, we backtracked back to the road that we left to head up to the top of the ridge where we now stood. We passed some old ski tracks along the way, also heading up to the ridge, and we were in a relatively flat area with few trees making the road difficult to find. Usually, the road was obvious since it left an obvious cut through the trees or it would largely follow the contours of the ground, but there were no trees and no contours to follow.


We walked to the far side of the clearing having never found any trace of the road. We might not be able to see the road in the clearing, but surely we’ll see it where it cuts through the trees on the edge of the clearing, so we followed our way around the parameter of the clearing looking for signs of a road.


While the clearing was mostly flat, that wasn’t the same as completely flat, and I stopped and studied the terrain carefully. If I were building a road, where would I put it through? And I saw an ever so slight dip between two barely discernable hills, and I thought, “That’s it. That’s gotta be it. Right through that gap. They wouldn’t build a road over those five-foot-tall hills on each side, they’d build a road right through that gap.”


So I started heading towards that point, encouraging Leora to follow me. Perhaps suggesting that I was more confident than I really felt about my gut instinct. =) If the road really wasn’t over there, though, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. We’d just have to continue the “perimeter sweep” that we had started and I was now short-cutting. The road had to exit this clearing somewhere!


We once again crossed over the old ski tracks we had seen earlier—ski tracks I dismissed as people who wanted to see the “crater rim” like we did—but in hindsight, I now realized that they were actually following the road.


And we saw a cut through the trees. We found the exit!

We’ve finally found the Rim Road again… if only we followed the ski tracks, we’d have found it a lot quicker than we otherwise did! Leora looks out in the direction of Sun Notch. We can’t actually see the lake from this viewpoint, but the rim of the caldera is quite obvious.


Rockslides were prevalent on this stretch of the Rim Road, even if avalanches were not!


Then it was a relatively quick march down to Sun Notch. This section didn’t show any danger from avalanches on our map, but the road was littered with countless road slides from the broken rocks above the road. Several times I heard rocks careening down the cliffs, and I’d look up for them to judge their size and location and if I needed to dodge them, but I didn’t. I veered over to the left side of the road, staying away from the cliffs on the right.


At Sun Notch, we got off the road again, climbing perhaps a 1/10th of a mile to Crater Lake’s rim with yet another view of Crater Lake. I also noticed a snow structure near the rim and headed towards it to check it out. It looks like someone camped here at some point, but it was abandoned now.


Between the sun and reflected snow, it was growing surprisingly warm, so we found a place to rest in the shade and eat lunch.

I veered towards this snow structure I saw on the rim.


Somebody certainly put some effort into creating this structure at Sun Notch!


Phantom Ship, as seen from Sun Notch.


Much of the ice in the lake has already melted, but there’s still quite a bit in places!


And after that quick break, we finally put on our snowshoes for the day. The snow was growing too mushy in the morning sun to keep walking without them. And almost immediately, we were in avalanche zone #2 for the day—the slopes of Applegate Peak. This zone didn’t scare me quite so much because I didn’t get that sense of vertigo from a steep cliff on the left side of the road and the slope on the right just above us wasn’t raining down rocks like that first zone was doing. And this zone was probably half as long as that first one. That first avalanche zone did seem like the worst of the bunch, so this one went quickly.

Leora heads towards the second avalanche zone of the day—the slopes under Applegate Peak.


More avalanche bypasses that we decide to ignore. =)


And a half hour after that, we reached the third avalanche zone by Vidae Ridge—even shorter and less scary than the second one. By this point, Leora and I were both eager to reach the end of the trail, which was now just a few miles away. Leora seemed to be having a tougher time of things today, though, getting tired a lot easier than before. The sun seemed warmer and reflected off the large expanses of snow without any tree cover, and it was taking its toll on me as well. Today was positively hot compared to previous days, even if the expected high was only 49 degrees. If felt a heck of a lot warmer than that! The highs for the previous two days were actually higher, but we had a wind chill factor the last two days helping us keep our cool. The wind today was absolutely breathless, though, and it felt so much warmer.


After a couple of short rest breaks, we finally reached the first sign of civilization we’d seen since the day we started our trek—and shortly thereafter arrived back at the park’s visitor center from where we started. Woo-who!

Civilization! We’re getting close to the end of our journey! =)


We left our packs at her car, and I took our permit inside to let the rangers know we made it back. I walked into the empty visitor center where two rangers were at the counter, and I exclaimed, “Good news! You can call off the search and rescue parties! We made it out alive!” as I waved the permit around in the air. =) They thanked me but didn’t seem to have much else to say, so I bought a few postcards, purchased some stamps at the post office next door, and made liberal use of the restrooms because, hey, flushing toilets! AWESOME! =)


Once all that was settled, we started the long drive back towards Portland…


Is that the end of this adventure? Not quite…. there’s a postscript I’ll be writing soon which explains the title of my first post about Leora—the woman who tried to kill me. =) She waited until after we were safe and sound and off Crater Lake before she tried pulling that stunt. ;o)

We can see the administration building now! Which is right next to the visitor center and the end of our hike!


Our first plowed road since leaving the road plows behind us on our first day.


Back at the Visitor Center, where the snow doesn’t
look like it’s melted at all since we left three days earlier!

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