A six-mile out-and-back cross-country ski usually is no big deal.
But when we parked at the trailhead for Crater Lake National Park's East Rim Road, we knew this wouldn't be a usual trip.
Several inches of fresh snow had fallen overnight. But the first real challenge was the wall of snow, more than 10 feet high, that we had to climb to top the snow berm. Then, once we completed the awkward, sloggy, uphill trudge, we collectively gulped — there were no visible tracks, only some mild depressions where snowshoers and skiers had gone days earlier. We'd be making first tracks, something that's always a challenge with a combination of new and untouched deep snow.
East Rim Drive, which begins near park headquarters in Munson Valley, passes park residences and, farther on, the entrance to the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden. There weren't any visible flowers, just four blooming idiots enjoying a day outside.
The enjoyment factor dropped slightly on the long uphill, about 1½ miles of steady grade that seems even steeper in fresh, soft snow. We — Mike Reeder, Charlie McGonigle, Mark Kelley and I — rotated taking turns in the lead.
Some of my friends despise the East Rim route because, no matter the snow conditions, the immediate uphill is always a workout. And unless you're willing to ski seven one-way miles to Sun Notch, there are no lake views.
But the East Rim has its advantages. It's skiable when the heavily used West Rim Drive trail that begins at Rim Village and goes to Discovery Point and The Watchman is made miserable because of gusting winds or blustery days when clouds shroud views of the lake.
The West Rim route is also often made difficult, and sometimes even hazardous, for cross-country skiing because many snowshoers, despite signs posted near trailheads, walk in and obliterate ski tracks. And because winter visitation continues to increase, on many days, even weekdays, finding a parking space in Rim Village is often challenging. That's not generally a concern on the East Rim.
The ski to Vidae Falls has a history. For several years — the late 1970s to about 10 years ago — the out-and-back to Vidae Falls was the shortest of the Crater Lake Cross-Country Ski Races held by the now defunct Alla Mage Ski Club. Longer races with distances of 9, 15 and 24 miles went to Sun Notch, Lost Creek Campground and, some years, Kerr Notch and beyond.
We definitely weren't racing. While grunting on the uphill up the East Rim Road, Mike focused on the fun that would had on the return trip, mostly downhill on fast, fresh tracks. But we also savored the views looking south and, farther along, the large hump that is Crater Peak. But after nearly two miles, the others decided to turn back. Wanting to see whether Vidae Falls was visible or snowed over, I continued on, breaking trail while eventually passing the junction to Crater Peak and hitting the downhill stretch to the falls.
Oops. No falls. Just a trickle near the top of what in warmer months is a 100-foot waterfall.
Vidae Falls is fed by springs atop Vidae Ridge, where accumulations of snow — the park averages 525 inches of snow during the winter season — create seeps that form Vidae Creek. Instead of dropping into the lake, the creek tumbles downhill as Vidae Falls. Because the falls are located just off Rim Drive, Vidae Falls is the park's most viewed waterfall.
This year the park has experienced about average snowfall, which seems snowier than usual because of several years of very low snowfall, including an appalling 198 inches two winters ago. As I learned, mid-April isn't the best time for viewing Vidae Falls, but it's impossible to discount the beauty of a blue sky day that reveals sights of Dutton Ridge and a panorama of snowcapped trees and distant meadows.
Surprisingly, the uphill ski back up Vidae Ridge and past the Crater Peak junction was made easier than expected by my newly set tracks. Crossing over the summit was welcome — especially anticipating the speedy downhill glide to the wildflower garden and parking area.
Mike, Charlie and Mark were waiting at the trailhead, back after a drive up to Rim Village to see Crater Lake, a not common sight this cloudy, snowy winter, and snap cellphone photos of the buried restrooms. With this winter's persisting snowpack, the rim and East Rim Drive will still be snow-burdened until summer, possibly June or later in some sections.
There's still lots of time to ski to snowy Vidae Falls.
— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-880-4139.