View from above
Few vantages of Crater Lake are more spectacular than from Garfield Peak, where the view from the top looks down nearly 2,000 feet to the lake's azure waters.
While several spots along Crater Lake National Park's Rim Drive offer tantalizing views of America's deepest lake, the views along the Garfield Peak Trail and from its 8,054-foot summit are among the most dazzling.
It's a hike than can done be anytime, but twice a week — Tuesdays and Fridays — Crater Lake National Park rangers lead guided hikes that offer a different perspective. Fascinating tidbits about the geological events that created Mount Mazama, the 12,000-foot mountain that erupted and collapsed about 7,700 years ago to create the caldera that contains Crater Lake, were divulged by Ranger Madeline Rose, who leads the Tuesday-afternoon hikes.
Rose, who lives in Medford, delivered a talk called “What Different Life Forms Need to do with Adaptation to Survive.”
The hike, a roundtrip distance of 3.4 miles, is regarded as strenuous because it gains 1,010 feet in elevation. Rose made the uphill walk easier with frequent stops to discuss geology, plant life, park history, a succession of plant communities and eye-popping views of Crater Lake Lodge, Union Peak, the layered road that connects park headquarters with Rim Village, Mount Scott and, of course, the cobalt-blue lake.
Snow usually lingers along portions of the trail until mid-August — Rose told about the time she yielded to a lingering desire and, hollering with joy, slid down a semi-steep snowfield — but the ongoing drought has kept it snow-free this year since June.
The lack of snow means flowers that typically don't bloom until weeks later are coloring the trailside — scarlet paintbrush, penstemon, Western pasque flower (Rose laughingly called them Dr. Seuss flowers), Lewis monkeyflowers, lupine, phlox and more.
We viewed squadrons of dragonflies, a favorite among park staff because they devour nasty mosquitoes, heard occasional whistles of pikas and watched — and were studied by — marmots.
Rose told how trees form in huddles, a way adult trees can protect younger trees. The trail passes whitebark pines, high-elevation trees easily identified by their bleached trunks and branches and, unfortunately, dying from a combination of white pine blister rust disease and pine beetles. But the trailside sightings also include healthier stands of mountain hemlock, Shasta red fir and Ponderosa pine.
Her talk wasn't only about natural history. One stop was atop a large, well disguised cistern that holds a million gallons of water, which is pumped from Annie Creek near the park's south entrance and then used for park residences, concession buildings and other uses.
Because she makes weekly Garfield hikes, Rose usually stops at an overlook with a rock bench below Garfield's peak.
The hike's genuine attraction is the lake. From several vantages, it appears close enough that one long step could end at the lake. While the sights are always eye-popping, as the trail climbs the most alluring sight is Phantom Ship, the remains of a 400,000-year-old dike.
Rose, who settled back to sip water and devour a chocolate chip cookie at an overlook below Garfield's peak, encouraged the group to walk the final 7 or 8 minutes to Garfield's 8,054-foot summit and soak in the 360-degree view. Everyone, including a couple from Connecticut not used to the park's high elevation, took her advice.
And, from Garfield's summit, we took a peek from the peak.