PCT 2019: Day 107, Grouse Hill Camp to Mazama Village

A crater for an outdoor pool

It’s difficult for me to picture the cataclysmic explosion that occurred on Mt. Mazama, an 11,000-foot volcano in Oregon. I can’t imagine the force involved but I’ve read it was like a large hydrogen bomb. The top 5,000 feet of the mountain was blown away. The force of this explosion was 42 times greater than the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

Geologists say the eruption of Mt. Mazama happened about 7,700 years ago. Although archeologists and historians don’t think Native Americans lived at Mt. Mazama permanently, they lived in the area at the time of its eruption and must have witnessed it.

The Klamath tribe lived south of here then. In their telling of the legend of the mountain, the eruption was the result of a great battle between two gods, Llao, of the underworld, and Skell, from the sky.

DateThursday, August 22, 2019
WeatherIncreasing cloudiness; light showers in the morning and steady rain in the late afternoon through evening
Trail ConditionsEasy and smooth for the first five miles, then rough and steep ups and downs before becoming easy again
Today's Miles13.1
Trip Miles1563.1

I had not heard of Mt. Mazama by that name, but I knew of it by its other name, Crater Lake. And now I was here to see it.

Crater Lake was one of the reasons I wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I had not been here before, but from photos I had seen, I knew it would be a highlight of a thru-hike.

It did not disappoint.

Sunkist and Bluejay said they wanted to wake up at 4:00 this morning so they could watch the sunrise at the crater’s rim. The appeal of this was understandable, but Dave and I decided we valued sleep more than that.

We set our alarms for 5 a.m and left camp at 6:45.

The alternate trail we would hike for most of today began with an easy, 2.5-mile climb to the crater’s rim. The ascent was on the slope of Llao Rock.

According to the Klamath Indian legend, this served as Llao’s throne.

Just before reaching the rim, the trail crossed Rim Drive. The terrain here was devoid of trees.

Approaching the rim felt much like walking to the rim of the Grand Canyon. I felt the same anticipation of seeing remarkable and inspiring beauty.

A lookout point was just a few yards from the trail. The first thing I noticed when I reached the edge was how far the distance was from the top of the rim to the water. The sides of the crater dropped steeply to the water’s surface.

Even though this was late August, some small patches of snow remained near the water.

It didn’t occur to me until I saw the crater that this was unlike most lakes. It was filled only with rainwater. There wasn't a stream or spring to feed it.

The trail followed the rim for about 6.5 miles. If there was a disappointment about this, it was that I didn’t get a continuous view of the lake as I walked.

After leaving the first viewpoint, the trail dropped below the ridgeline and the lake couldn’t be seen for more than a half mile.

When the trail turned back to the rim’s edge, it reached a viewing platform that was provided for tourists. This vantage point offered a sweeping view of the entire lake.

The crater is about five miles in diameter and is 1,949 feet deep.

Thankfully, the time was still early, so there were only a few tourists at the viewing platform. Crater Lake is a popular national park and the trails around the rim can get crowded in the summer.

A second volcanic cone rises from within the crater. It is called Wizard Island and it has its own small lake in the crater, which is known as Witches Cauldron.

The trail again turned away from the lake but returned at a couple more spots where I was able to enjoy the views. As it more-or-less followed the rim, the trail curved to the east and headed toward a tourist area called Rim Village.

Part of this section of trail had steep but short ups and downs.

The closer I got there to Rim Village, the more I crossed paths with day hikers. The sky was now darkening and the temperature was dropping, but the tourists didn’t seem to be deterred.

By the time I arrived at Rim Village, shortly before 11 a.m., a few drops of rain began to fall.

I headed to the café and gift shop because I knew I would find Dave, Bluejay, and Sunkist there.

We didn’t have much farther to walk to where we would camp tonight, so we took our time at the café. I bought a hot dog, then decided I should have something a little more healthy to make up for my usual trail junk food, so I added some fruit and yogurt.

By noon, Sunkist, Bluejay, Dave, and I were ready to walk to Mazama Village. This was another tourist area in the national park and where a campground, restaurant, and camp store were located. We had resupply boxes to pick up there.

After continuing on the PCT alternate trail for a little more than two miles, we returned to the regular PCT footpath. We reached a shortcut trail leading to the campground after another 1.3 miles.

The others turned to take the shortcut, but I elected to keep going for eight-tenths of a mile more. I chose to walk on a road that led to the campground instead of the shortcut because I knew we’d be walking back the same way tomorrow. This way, I would not be skipping that short section of the PCT.

I’m not an absolute purist, but that eight-tenths of a mile seemed a little too much to skip if I didn’t have to.

By the time I reached the road, however, I was regretting my decision. Rain began to fall much harder. The road didn’t have much of a shoulder, which made it difficult to avoid getting sprayed by passing cars.

When I arrived at Mazama Village, I checked to see if Dave, Bluejay, and Sunkist were in the restaurant. Though it had only been a couple hours since we last ate, they were there and had already ordered food. I joined them and ordered a hamburger and fries.

While waiting for our food, we discussed the possibility of renting a cabin. This seemed like a good idea to me because of the rain, but Dave said he wasn’t interested in doing that.

After eating, we walked to the campground store and office to pick up our resupply boxes and pay for a campsite. We learned, however, that no sites were available.

A section is normally reserved for PCT hikers, but that was closed because dead trees were being removed there.

Before we had a chance to reconsider our options, we learned there had been a reservation cancellation. Thanks to the rain, we were able to get a campsite.

The rain lessened to just a light mist by the time we found our site and set up our tents. Once that chore was done, Dave and I returned to the camp store to do laundry.

For dinner, we shared a pizza. If you weren’t keeping score, that was my fourth meal in less than eight hours.

Yes, hiker hunger is real.

I opened up my eyes to see
A land of sunny rocks and funny trees
I guess (Yes, ) I'm on the moon again
A heavy earth exchange a lighter breeze
Got no coat and got no money
A pair of tennis shoes to last through May
A crater for an outdoor pool
A few good cats to help me pass the day

Havin' a good time, here today
Watching the sun shine, matinee
Never the wrong time, time we stay
Living the moon time, time we play

From “Porch Song” by John Bell, Michael Houser, Todd Nance, Domingo Sunny Ortiz and Dave Schools (Widespread Panic)

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