Summer in the park

Crater lake has an unusual visitor this season, feet and feet of snow
Crater Lake National Park has a lot more snow than usual this year, which is providing unique opportunities such as free, guided snowshoe hikes that normally arenít available past April. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch

Crater Lake National Park ranger Brian Ettling knows what tourists typically expect when they make a summer trip to Crater Lake National Park.

"When photos of Crater Lake are taken and put up on the Web, it's in August and it will show all the paths clear and boats are out on the lake," Ettling said. "If I was coming from say, St. Louis, I wouldn't expect so much snow."

But if Ettling's Missouri traveler arrived at Crater Lake this week, snow is exactly what he'd find — and lots of it.

Many areas of the park are covered with a blanket 35 inches deep — remnants of a winter that saw 672 inches of snowfall since last October. Last year at this time, the park had less than 2 inches. East Rim Drive from North Junction to Sun Notch and Pinnacles Road are still closed, and most hiking trails are under 1 to 3 feet of snow.

Park officials aren't sure whether the unusual snowpack is scaring people away, but attendance at Oregon's only national park is down this year. The park received 62,567 visitors last June, but just 44,118 made the trek last month.

The deep, late-season snowpack can lead to new recreational opportunities, Ettling says. The park is still offering free, guided snowshoe hikes, complete with the snowshoes, three times a day. Ettling led one of those hikes late Thursday morning over parts of what would normally be a park road. Notable sites along the path included partially buried street signs and trees.

Ettling, who has worked at Crater Lake on and off for 19 years, said he couldn't remember a time where there was so much snow so late in the year.

The white stuff isn't keeping everyone away, however.

As he engaged in a snowball fight with his wife and children Thursday morning, Coloradan Jason Stuchlik said the snow caught him off guard.

"I knew there would be snow, but this is a lot more than we expected," Stuchlik said before being hit by a snowball.

Both children and adults seemed to be enjoying some of the perks of snow play. Part of Ettling's snowshoe tour allowed participants to body sled down some of the snow drifts.


Eight-year-old Sharan Bal of Saratoga, Calif., said that for her the experience was cool — both figuratively and literally.

"My hands felt really numb," Sharan said. "It was really cool."

Sharan's mother, Sunita, said she had visited the park before, but not when there was this much snow.

"I didn't think that there could be so much snow. I couldn't believe it," she said.

Mike and Vanessa Garrant from Syracuse, N.Y., who traveled to the park as part of a trip celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, said they knew to expect snow after checking out the park's webcam.

Visitor Richard Schwieren, who traveled with his children and grandchildren from Utah, said he knew to expect snow at Crater Lake, so it didn't bother him. But he wished he had brought his skis.

"I'm sorry I didn't bring skis," Schwieren said. "I could've skied all the way down to the coast."

Mat Wolf is a reporting intern from the University of Oregon. Reach him at 541-232-4687 or matyaswolf@gmail.com.



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