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Not skiing at Crater Lake

CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK — Things didn’t go as planned. We’d hoped to take advantage of a sunny day and cross-country ski from Crater Lake National Park’s Rim Village out West Rim Drive, maybe to The Watchman, or, if we were feeling strong, toward the north entrance.

Didn’t happen.

At Rim Village, where — surprisingly — finding a parking space was a challenge because of the surge of visitors, we joined the mob but, unlike them, carried our cross-country skis up to the rim overlook. Many were speaking a variety of languages. Most were obviously making their first Crater Lake visits, as evidenced by the many variations of “Wow!” and “Whaaa!” as the lake came into view.

We clicked into our skis and left, filled with high hopes, navigating a field of rumpy-lumpy snow between the Rim Village Gift Shop-Cafeteria and lake overlooks on our way toward the beginning of Rim Drive. We weaved between a seemingly endless stream of people, many of them posing for selfies. Who could blame them?

Even after hundreds of visits, Crater Lake remains otherworldly majestic with its dazzlingly blue waters, an island shaped like a wizard’s hat, fractured walls that encircle the massive tea-cup shaped caldera with peaks — The Watchman, Llao Rock, Mount Scott, Cloudcap — seemingly wearing regal snow-white robes.

As always, the lake and its surroundings were breathtakingly beautiful.

But the skiing, in a word, sucked.

Near the Rim Drive intersection, the short downhill was, even in late morning with full sun, slick and quick, packed and frozen solid. Instead of zipping down the icy downhill, we tried switch-backing, choosing snow not compacted or made lumpy by snowshoers. Still too crazy. It didn’t help that I’d grabbed the wrong skis, ones that are long and narrow and difficult to turn.

After a series of out-of-control tumbles on the rock-hard snow, we headed to a large tree, dropped into its well and stashed our skis, shielding them with low hanging branches — and started walking — deciding to rediscover Discovery Point.

Walking atop 100-plus inches of snow on a sunny day without snowshoes normally means a lot of sinking into thigh-deep and even waist-high pockets. Normally.

Still wearing our cross-country ski boots, we stayed in firmly packed tracks made by snowshoers. Carrying our poles for balance, we rarely punched through the snow. The early afternoon temperatures were warm enough for us shed our outer layers but not warm enough to soften the snow.

Discovery Point is a mile-plus from Rim Village. The overlook gets its name because it’s the place where John Wesley Hillman became the first non-Native person to view Crater Lake.

We chatted with two other skiers on their way to Rim Village after a two-day counter-clockwise around the lake loop. One told of the challenges created by the ice-like snowpack, explaining, “We’re both experienced alpine climbers, and there were several times we wished we had ice axes and crampons.”

The happiest skier was on exceptionally wide, stable skis. The most unnerving was a very unstable looking, plodding skier who said he was making only his third ever cross-country ski outing. Unnerving because he was awkwardly toting an unbalanced, obviously very heavily stuffed backpack and hoping to do the 26-mile lake circuit in five days.

We lightened the loads in our daypacks at Discovery Point, savoring the sights while devouring energy bars, tangerines and other snacks. It wasn’t the outing we’d planned or hoped for. It was my shortest, briefest cross-country ski ever.

But savoring the solitude and the snowy setting, it was impossible not to appreciate the wonder that is Crater Lake.

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

A visitor enjoys the view of Crater Lake from the Discovery Point area. Photo by Lee Juillerat
A pair of cross-country skiers on their way to Rim Village after a two-day, counter-clockwise ski around the lake. Photo by Lee Juillerat