I don’t even know where to begin.
We spent the weekend at Crater Lake National Park. If you haven’t been, you need to go. Like, now.
First, a few facts for you: Crater Lake is Oregon’s only national park. The lake was created around 7,700 years ago, following 12,000-foot-tall Mt. Mazama’s eruption (and explosion). I read that if you spread all of the mountain’s ash evenly across the state of Oregon, it would form a layer 8-inches thick. The mountain completely collapsed, leaving a crater that was eventually filled with rain and snowfall. The park gets around 40 feet of snowfall each year. And Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States at 1,943 feet.
We headed down to the park after work on Friday. The drive from Eugene to Crater Lake was absolutely beautiful. It’s about a 3-hour drive through a few national forests and the foothills of the Cascades. I brought a ton of books for entertainment in the car, but I didn’t read a single one because the view was way too beautiful. If you plan on making this trip in an afternoon, make sure you give yourself plenty of time before sunset, as the roads are windy and you are likely to get caught behind some slow-moving semis.
Once we made it to the park, we paid our $10 entry fee (it gives you a pass good for 7 days) and made our way uphill to Rim Drive, which is a 33-mile drive around the rim of Crater Lake. A lot of people come to the park and just do this drive, which can take half of a day if you stop at all of the overlooks. Somehow, snowplows make their way around the rim (which is a slightly terrifying drive even without snow, as one side drops off to the cliffs below) and keep part of the road open all year. We came pretty early in the tourist season, so the East Rim Drive was still closed. The whole park doesn’t open until July, depending on the weather conditions, and it generally closes by October, when the snow starts falling again.
Anywho, I’m getting ahead of myself. After a few minutes driving along the rim, we got our first view of Crater Lake. Holy cow.
The lake is incredibly serene. And it is such an intense blue. Plus, it has enormous cliffs all around. Absolutely breathtaking. There aren’t words to do it justice. After we picked our jaws up off the ground, we continued on around the lake.
We wanted to make it to our campsite at Mazama Village before sunset in order to avoid pitching a tent in the dark, so we headed downhill a bit to the campground near the edge of the park boundary. (We passed a sign warning that bears like to visit the campground, which brought about a familiar terror from our camping trip in the Grand Tetons.) The campground has 7 different loops of campsites to choose from, and in an effort to find the best spot, we ended up driving through the same loop 4 times, passing the same elderly couple and forcing them to move off the path each time. We were covering our faces in shame by the fourth lap.
Eventually, we found a nice spot and got to work setting up camp. Eric brought his new hatchet along and had a great time chopping wood for our campfire. I think it was around 45 degrees at this point, so the fire was becoming increasingly necessary. Plus, the absolute best part of camping is eating s’mores. I’ll be honest and tell you that I’ve never been a big fan of the Hershey bar on s’mores. I usually eat mine with just a marshmallow. Eric found this idea appalling, and insisted that we bring chocolate of some sort. So we went all out and made s’mores with Reese’s cups and Nutella (Eric rejected my original suggestion of s’mores with brownies, which I have had and would absolutely recommend). Still, these s’mores were awesome. And during our research period (the professional term that makes consuming 3 or more s’mores in one sitting acceptable), we discovered that the Reese’s s’mores work best if you put a graham cracker and the Reese’s cup in a skillet over the fire while you roast the marshmallow. It makes the Reese’s cup melt just enough to smoosh nicely in a s’more.
It’s a good thing that calories don’t count when you’re camping. Right?
We decided we wanted to wake up in time to view the sunrise over Crater Lake, so we soon headed to bed. Now, let me say that we thought we were prepared for a chilly night of camping. Our last camping experience was last August in the Grand Tetons, where the temperature dropped to around 40 degrees at night. Keeping that trip in mind, we brought lots of layers, warm sleeping bags, and a blanket (just in case). Unfortunately for us, the temperature at Crater Lake dropped down to 30 (or below, since that was the temperature the next morning around sunrise). My sleeping bag claims to be a 20-degree bag, but at this point, I am certain that’s not true. I’m pretty sure this was the most miserable night’s sleep either of us have ever gotten. Despite my 20-degree bag, wool socks, multiple layers, and winter jacket, my teeth were chattering all night long. I shoved extra clothes and towels in my sleeping bag to keep warm, but it was still freezing. At one point, Eric and I tried sleeping in one sleeping bag to share body heat (plus, the idea of sharing a sleeping bag seems somewhat romantic), but that just resulted in Eric’s arms falling asleep. So we had a very cold, sleepless night. As we were attempting to sleep, my mind kept wandering to warmer places, like our super sweaty camping trip in Charleston last July, or even the sweaty evenings in our apartment during the unusual heat wave a few months ago. I couldn’t help but think of the irony that on this, the first night of official summer, I was colder than I had been all winter long in Oregon. I started thinking about the bears that could be wandering for food in our campground, and I wasn’t even afraid of the bears. I would welcome that bear inside our tent to share its body heat. Eric said that he dreamed (or as he claimed, hallucinated) he was at Doodle’s (our favorite breakfast spot back in Lexington), sipping warm coffee and ordering warm biscuits. Sounds much better than shivering in a tent.
Somehow, we survived until the morning. I’m not sure how long we were both laying there awake in our tent before I finally asked what time it was, hoping it was almost time to wake up. Finally, 4:30 am came along, and we hopped in the car, cranked up the heat, and drove to a lookout near Discovery Point to watch the sunrise over Crater Lake. We made it just in time (a little before 5 am) to see the colors developing in the sky. It was absolutely gorgeous.
After watching an incredible sunrise, we went back to the campground to build a fire and make some breakfast. We picked up some cinnamon raisin bagels and marionberry cream cheese at Humble Bagel in Eugene before leaving town, which made a perfect camp breakfast. We toasted the bagels on our cast iron skillet (an impulse purchase a few years ago that has turned out to be awesome), and boiled some water for instant coffee.
Eric felt the need to follow up breakfast with another s’more (once again, calories don’t count when you’re camping). That’s when we discovered that our Nutella completely froze overnight in the bear safe box. And since I’m 90% Nutella at this point in life, I’m pretty sure my body was frozen too.
We had a full day of hiking ahead, which I’ll share in the next post! Go ahead and mentally prepare yourself for way too many photos of Crater Lake. It’s going to be awesome.