CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK — Call it a trick-and-treat hike.
Last Saturday’s forecast predicted a sunny day at Crater Lake National Park, so we were tricked and surprised when, driving into the park, the gathering clouds eventually eclipsed the sun and — uh, oh — it began to lightly drizzle.
But we were there and prepared to go. So we continued on, following East Rim Drive to the trailhead for Mount Scott. At an elevation of 8,929 feet, it’s the tallest peak in the park and 10th tallest in Oregon. The mountaintop, named for pioneer explorer Levi Scott, was playing its own game of peek-a-boo as it remained hidden in the clouds.
It’s about 2-1/2 uphill miles to Scott, with an elevation gain of about 1,280 feet. The trail begins across a cirque, a glacially carved depression, before angling up through stands of lodgepole pine and twisted, tormented whitebark pines. As it continues uphill, the increasingly dense forest features droopy tipped mountain hemlock.
Up higher, where the trail weaves into a series of switchbacks, we searched for views of the lake. No such luck.
“Could you see anything?” we asked a descending hiker. His reply — “Not a thing.”
Nearing the exposed ridge that crosses over to Scott’s summit, the winds erupted, blowing hard and cold, immersing us in swirling, view-obscuring fog. Normally the sights along the ridge are spectacular, with panoramic views of the lake, Wizard Island and the distant summits of Union Peak, Thielsen, McLoughlin and Shasta. Not this day.
We huddled side-by-side on the lee side of Scott’s lookout tower to escape the wind, trying to keep warm while munching sandwiches and snacks. The muffled sun occasionally threatened to peek through the clouds, but never succeeded. Eventually, tricked into falsely hoping the thick mist would clear, we made our way back down. At bends in the trail some of us slithered to overlooks, hoping to see what we hadn’t seen. Hoping, but not succeeding.
But back at the trailhead, no one was visibly disappointed. It had been a hike made memorable by what we did see and, even on a less-than-perfect day weather-wise, the pleasure of being outdoors. And for those of us who have seen the lake from atop Scott, there was a renewed sense of appreciation for those never-take-them-for-granted blue-sky days.
Because it was only early afternoon, we agreed to add a hike to Plaikni Falls on the drive out.
But the Crater Lake trickster had a surprise treat.
On the drive along East Rim Drive, the sky magically cleared. Although Scott’s summit was never fully revealed, the bulk of the mountain exposed itself as the clouds whispered past. Dazzled and enticed, the first car in a small caravan stopped at Pumice Castle Overlook, where its four passengers, including one person who had never seen the lake and another who last viewed it as a young boy, were treated to sights they hadn’t seen or only faintly remembered. The rest of us did the same, gawking with a new sense of appreciation of Crater Lake’s incomparable beauty.
Seeing is believing, and seeing Crater Lake, whether for the first or the 537th time, is always a treat.
Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com or 541-880-4139.