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Sun on the Crater

It was a sun-enriched day, but because it’s still winter, temperatures were chilly enough to require a down-filled puffy jacket atop a covering of fleece layered atop a long-sleeved wool T-shirt.

It was cold enough that sky-soaring fir trees were disguised with their own jackets of snow. But it was also warm enough that some discharged their snowy burdens in sudden cascades of noise and fury, like the roar of high-powered pickup trucks rocketing off at a stop sign.

But the focus, of course, was the lake itself — Crater Lake — its waters accented under tones of blue, some sections of the lake surface with hues of deep indigo, other sections shimmering under light coating of fragile ice, some in all shades in between. Seemingly floating atop the lake was Wizard Island, its snow-laden slopes acupunctured with a ring of needle-like trees. And behind the island, Llao Rock, its massive snout of hardened lava rising prominently above and over the caldera’s snow-rimmed walls.

Especially during winter, any day that Crater Lake is visible it amazes. And every day that the road from park headquarters to Rim Village is open, visitors bundle up and climb the snow-packed, boot-stomped path to lake overviews to marvel at the lake’s changing moods.

Far fewer strap on snowshoes or cross-country skis to reach more distant, less-visited lake viewpoints. Those with the luxury of work-free weekdays often find solitude just a short hike or ski away along West Rim Drive, the summertime highway that disappears under snow loads from October through May or June.

A mile-plus trek from Rim Village is Discovery Point, the place where would-be gold seeker John Hillman unknowingly struck it rich in 1853 when he became the first non-Native American to view the lake. Another mile-plus farther is the Wizard Island Overlook, where an opening reveals an up-close view of the island given its name because William Steel, the “Father of Crater Lake,” decreed it looks like a wizard’s hat.

Farther on are more viewpoints. Three miles from Rim Village the view shifts from the lake to Union Peak and Mount McLoughlin. It’s nearly four miles to the Watchman Overlook, which requires a sometimes dicey crossing of a steep, avalanche-prone slope before reaching “The Corrals,” Rim Drive’s popular summertime parking area. And, on days when skiers are willing to stretch their outing, the trail goes past the Diamond Peak Overlook to the North Junction, six miles from Rim Village, and more amazing lake views.

But it’s not necessary to ski or snowshoe extreme or moderate distances to experience Crater Lake’s winter magic. On this sunny day the rewards included the near-complete isolation of skiing with a friend past rows of snow-robed trees, many standing side-by-side like guardian sentinels. On some trees ravens perched on snow-free branches like lookouts, loudly announcing the presence of intruders with lusty, low gurgling croaks and shrill alarm calls. More welcoming were “camp robbers,” gray jays, which ambitiously flew in ever-tightened circles or hopped ever-closer on the snow hoping for tasty handouts.

And on this day another non-natural surprise on the return ski near Rim Village — a three-decker snowman, complete with a bowtie, outstretched arms, eyebrows, button eyes and a happy, warming smile.

Not every winter visitor needs wool hats and gloves or down-filled jackets to enjoy their Crater Lake visit.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

A cross-country skier traverses a snow-clogged section of Rim Drive in Crater Lake National Park. Photo by Lee Juillerat