This past weekend, Taylor and I drove the 4.5 hours down to Southern Oregon (or “So. O.” as she calls it) to take advantage of some good-looking weather. We had in mind a ski circumnavigation of Crater Lake, and with the Grand Traverse looming, getting in some long horizontal miles seemed like a prudent plan.
I lived in Chicago for 18 years, and never once did I visit the Sears Tower. As big changes in my life loom ahead, I’m becoming conscious of the chance that I might be pulled away from Oregon before I know what’s happened. Oregon is an amazing state, with lots to offer, and I didn’t want Crater Lake to be Oregon’s Sears Tower for me.
The route around Crater Lake follows a paved road which permits driving around the entire lake in Summer. In Winter, there is road access to the rim, but the Rim Drive remains unplowed, and so provides an excellent means for circumnavigation. At 33 miles and with a total elevation gain and loss of around 8000′, it’s long but mellow.
We opted for a two-day ski, going slow and heavier, rather than light and fast. While that’s a change for me this season, it was nice to really simmer in the setting rather than focus on speed for the whole effort.
While almost any other trip report I found cites 8 hours as the record around the lake, the visitor center has clear records of Olympic XC skiers making the loop in around 6.5 hours. Most records were set with a snowmobile running ahead to lay track, so there remains a lot of room for improvement in style. Whether AT or XC gear would be better is hard to say.
The first seven miles of the ski the Lao Rock disappeared with incredible ease. The sun was shining, the wind was still, and 2″ of fresh snow over a consolidated base made the conditions fast and easy.
The snow was deepest on the West side of the lake, and from the parking lot, the North Side looked bare. With low snow conditions this year, we wondered if we might not have to do some pavement walking on the backside.
Our plan was to ski the lake in two halves. The first day would take us 3/4 of the way around the lake as the clock turns, while the second would take us through the remaining 1/4 by a meandering path containing more of the vertical gain.
As we reached the North side of the lake, we found the road to be largely covered thanks to wind-drifting. We were glad to have skin wax handy as the day warmed up and the snow tried to glop onto our skins. Without that little purple bar of glop stopper, the day would have been over there.
Stepping over the occasional bare spot on the road, we began the climb towards Mt Scott, the circa-9000′ peak that marked the end of our day. We started to run into some foot pain that neither of us had felt before– forefoot blisters and heel bruising– but that’s why you do these tours before big races.
We continued to tough it out through the last few miles, thinking about pushing camp further to make day 2 easier, but ultimately settling for camping beneath Mt Scott.
There beneath Mt Scott, in the frigid evening, we were treated to an amazing sunset playing across the face of the mountain and out onto the dry plains a few thousand feet below us.
This is why we walk for miles and sleep in the cold. Irreplaceable.
As the first day had been challenging, we woke with concerns that the second more-vertical day might whup us. As it turns out, a more up-down course made for easier travel. Skinning moderately up isn’t much harder than skiing across the flat, and skiing down the road sans-skins made half of the mileage fly by.
We had expected another 7-hour day, but quickly found ourselves back by the park visitor center in about four hours. We stashed our skis and stubbornly marched 3 miles up the plowed road to retrieve the car. In retrospect, we could have skinned up the shoulder.
The weather started to turn just as we reached the car and wrapped up another amazing adventure. I’m always glad to have partners as dumb as I am who will agree to my silly plans, and this trip was no exception.
Our total moving time was around 12 hours. Intuitively for some, and counterintuitively for others, I’m pretty sure that skiing the loop as a day trip would be considerably easier than carrying camping gear for 2 days. Certainly light gear or patterned BC skis would make this considerably easier.
Additionally, other reports seem to indicate than going counter-clockwise is prudent, getting the “difficult travel” out of the way first. I disagree wholeheartedly. Better to start with the slogging and end with intermittent skiing breaks. Thought he mileage of our days was equal, the second day took only about half as much time.
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