Start it off with a bang: Crater Lake
Well, with the 7,700-year-old aftermath of a bang, anyway.
After spending a couple days in Portland, my brother, his wife, and I went to Crater Lake. It was just as impressive (and blue) as it looks in photos.
Well, perhaps not my photos. But professional photos.
In some ways, the park reminded me of Yellowstone—very much set up so you can drive from viewpoint to viewpoint. However, there are some trails available for hiking. Even better, from my perspective, is that some of the trails had some elevation to them.
I decided I wanted to hike up Mount Scott, which is the highest peak in the park. Because we had brought their dog along, and dogs are not allowed on most trails in the park, my sister-in-law stayed with the dog while my brother and I tackled the trail. Going up about 1,500 feet over 2.5 miles seemed doable to me.
We headed off. Or I headed off while my brother hung back to give me a head start.
The first half of the trail is pretty straightforward, as the trail wraps around the back of the mountain and is a reasonable grade. Then it gets much steeper as it switches to some decent switchbacks. As I huffed and puffed my way along the first switchback, I started to get really worried. If I was having this many problems on a less difficult trail than the Chilkoot Pass…
Fortunately, the views at the end of each switchback were pretty spectacular:
As I stood there gasping for air, I realized my legs felt fine. And that’s when I finally realized that even though we were only climbing up about 1,500 feet, we had started around 7,700 feet and were headed up to about 8,900 feet.
[Note: this is why you can’t trust Wikipedia for anything. Those numbers are totally not adding up.]
Allow me to rephrase. We were starting many thousand feet above sea level and going up even further. I don’t know at what point altitude is supposed to officially start bothering sea-level-acclimated people, but for me, it appears to be somewhere between “many thousand feet above” and “even further.”
Once I realized that, the hike got easier. I slowed down, gave myself time to breathe, and enjoyed the view.
Every once in a while, I would catch up to my brother (who, despite letting me get a head start, had passed me early on). Usually this involved passing him while he sat quietly on a rock, and then doing a huge double-take when I finally caught him out of the corner of my eye. It’s a good thing he wasn’t a hungry bear ready to pounce on unwary hikers.
Eventually we made it to the top. There is an old watch tower on the mountain, previously used to spot and triangulate forest fires. I’m not sure if it’s used for anything now, other than some shade for hikers to stand in while they enjoy the view and rest a little before starting their hike back down the mountain.
Over the course of the weekend, we also checked out some of the standard viewpoints, like the Castle:
And the Pinnacles:
Both of which were made by lava flows doing something to the the ground and then the soil around them eroding. There were signs explaining the process, but I forget the details.
During our stay, we also saw the Phantom Ship and hiked to Plaikni Falls. We stopped by the visitor’s center and split up a bit. I took the dog on the Lady of the Woods trail—one of the few trails that does allow dogs. Since it was close to the visitor’s center and short, I mistakenly assumed that it would be easy. It certainly started out easy. And then switchbacks suddenly appeared. Not as bad as the ones on Mount Scott, of course, but when you’re expecting a pleasant walk in the woods, hills are not necessarily welcome.
As we headed back to Portland, I was on the one hand celebrating—other than the altitude, the hike up Mount Scott had not been particularly challenging. I was beginning to have faith that I could make it up the Chilkoot Pass. On the other hand, I had some blisters on my feet from my hiking boots. I had been wearing them on practice hikes in Texas, but they were not as broken in as I thought. I knew I was going to have to work on that over the next two weeks.
After we returned to Portland, I had a few days before my next big adventure. My brother and his wife have more camping gear than I would know what to do with, and I was beginning to feel horribly unprepared for a real backpacking adventure. I spent a couple days going through my gear and recalculating what I needed to buy.
My credit card company started sending me text messages, asking if I was actually spending that much money at REI.
And then it was time. I went and picked up the rental car, which was promptly dubbed the Pimpmobile (alias the Gangsta Car) and headed to the airport. A friend from grad school was flying in, and the next day we were going to head on our roadtrip down the Oregon/California coasts and through the Redwoods.
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