You don’t know until you go, right?

Reid and I had toured a couple high points a Crater Lake last spring (Garfield and Applegate = corn town!), and then ridden our bikes around it in September. There’s some neat terrain out there, so we decided to go around it on skis this spring.

Applegate hippy corn, seen from Garfield. (May 2016)

Theresa, always game for an adventure, joined us on our mission. Obliviously overconfident, we thought we’d have time to make it over halfway around on day 1, then ski Mt. Scott and get back to the car on day 2. Big, fat, buckets of nope.

We got to the visitor center a few minutes before it opened on Tuesday (May 2). We expected to get our permit and be on our way, but 2 hours and a very thorough (but useful!) ranger briefing later, it was 11am and we were finally skinning, bearing clockwise around the lake.

Looking at Hillman and Wizard Island from the SW.

The merriment and wonder of the first couple hours slowly wore off, and we gradually recognized that we weren’t as fast as we’d expected. Deflation quickly turned to a committed onward push, as a storm rolled in on our water-making break.We figured we’d see how far we could get by 7pm. If it wasn’t to Cleetwood Cove, then we’d consider heading back the way we’d come.

By 7, everyone was in pain. 12 miles of mostly flat but undulating skinning on AT gear is not good for you – physically or spiritually. Also by 7, we hadn’t made it to a scenic campsite. It was unspoken, but generally understood that there was NO GODDAMN WAY way we’d come all the way out here to camp with a view of trees. Theresa went ahead in search of noteworthy vistas, while Reid squeegied water off of his misbehaving skins.


Theresa’s extra minutes of scouting were not in vain. Thanks be to the mountain gods, who took pity on our silly trip and granted us 2 flat spots with a glorious view of Crater Lake. By sunset, we were merrily pouring boiling water into miscellaneous dehydrated meals, and enjoying our wonderful decision to be out communing with nature and sharing dinner with friends in such a beautiful place.

Chef Reid.

Morning was a similarly peaceful time. Overnight, the clouds had slithered from the sky into the lake, and lingered there until morning’s first light began to melt them away.

That morning time alpenglow though.

Morning was chilly. Then the sun hit. By 8am all of our condensation-soaked overnight gear was dry. As things heated up, Reid led the sun protection  game by example.

By 8:30 it was go time. We’d only made it 12.5 miles on day 1, and knew that the road route was 33 miles total. We calculated that if we booked it, we could make those 20 miles to the car in 10-11 hours. With a mission to accomplish, we began the endless hours of flat trudging. Each waypoint always seemed to be 1 or 2 miles away, the sun beat down mercilessly, and the hours flew by while we moved at a steady snail’s pace.

Some strategic route finding took us off the road, into the blessed shade of the trees, and we managed to shave off almost 4 miles of road skinning. We even got what might have counted as a green circle descent. Unless you’re a split-skiing snowboarder, in which case it was at least a black diamond.

By hour 4 or 5, Theresa and I had adopted Reid’s strategy of free-heeled skinless scootching. It almost made it seem as though we were moving quickly, especially when the road was a -0.5% grade.

On we slogged, until we were finally only ONE valley away from the parking lot. We descended into the Sun Notch valley to find a VERY well marked avy detour/cross country route, and blue diamonds became our home stretch runway. “Home stretch” is relative when you’ve been skinning/ski scootching for 10 hours, but at long last, and after a final agonizing +0.5% grade to the road, we’d made it. 11.5 hours after leaving camp that morning, for a total moving time of 20 hours, with almost 29 miles and around 5k ft of vert.

Safely back at the car, we could finally acknowledge that we’d left the car only to approach it again.  The experience had included all of the brutality of a long alpine approach, without any payoff in the form of a descent. I would NEVER do that again…. **activate goldfish memory** …. unless it was on XC skis… or fish scaled freeride skis… it’s really pretty out there…

If anything, I’m grateful to have shared that sufferfest with these two. And I’m glad it’s over so that we can say we’ve done it, and then laugh at how terrible it was.

No sufferfest can (permanently) bring this crew down!


Trip stats

  • 28.7 miles
  • 9-10k ft vert? (this seems suspicious; I’d estimate more like 5k ft, but the gpx calculator I used said twice that)
  • 98% Type II fun
  • 8lbs unused gear because we didn’t climb Scott
  • 2 exhausted skiers
  • 1 REALLY exhausted splitboarder
  • infinite desire to go UP something then ski DOWN it

2 comments on “Crater Lake Circumnavigation

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