Crater Lake Cool (PCT Days 120-125)

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Some days are just perfect, and when you get one of those days, you have to savor every minute of it.

I had been to Crater Lake once, years before, to go on a snowshoe backpacking trip… The snow was absolutely beautiful, but the blizzard that moved in (and stayed for the duration of the trip), meant that I never got a clear view of the legendary water of the lake, or of Wizard’s Island. I was determined that this time, not only was I going to see Wizard’s Island, I was going to climb to the top of it!

Unfortunately, it can be really hard to get tickets for the boat trips to Wizard’s Island… You either need to reserve tickets way in advance of your trip (they sell out fast), or you need to get one of the limited first-come-first-served day of tickets, which you actually have to get 24 hours in advance of your trip. That meant that I was going to have to get to the ticket reservation desk by 9:30 in the morning the day before my trip to Wizard’s Island, and then wait until the next day for my boat ride and hike… Even if it meant two or three days without any trail miles (zeroes), and having to hike an extra seven miles each way to get to Cleetwood Cove, it would be worth it! I was going to go to Wizard’s Island this time!

A week before I got to Crater Lake I met Lobo’s mom (the mom of a section hiker I’d met back in the high Sierra) on her first backpacking trip in decades! It was exciting to see how much her comfort zone in the woods was expanding. I spent the night on trail with her and her husband and talked about my plan’s for Crater Lake.

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“You should definitely do it,” Lobo’s mom told me. “Lots of the thru-hikers say that they’re going to at least go down to the water for a swim, but they never do!” She lamented. I certainly understood why that happens… A 7 mile road walk each way can be rather daunting, especially in a 28 mile waterless stretch. “It was so wonderful when we did it last year that we would go back, wouldn’t we hon?” Her husband nodded and said he would.

“You guys should totally come out to the Island with me! It would be lots of fun!” I exclaimed. Lobo’s dad smirked and said, “I figured you guys already had that in the works!”

If it hadn’t been in the works before, it definitely was now… Lobo’s mom decided that she was going to go stand in line and get tickets the day before I got to Crater Lake, and then she and her husband would come pick me up and be my adopted parents for a day trip to Wizard’s Island. I couldn’t believe that my dream of visiting Wizard’s Island was going to come true and that I was going to be sharing it with these amazing trail angels!

As Lobo’s parents drove me around Crater Lake to Cleetwood Cove a week later I couldn’t stop smiling. I couldn’t believe that it was actually happening, I was headed to Wizard’s Island! From the car I marveled at the blueness of the water and the reflections of the clouds on the lake, it was truly an amazing sight!

As we pulled into the parking lot Lobo’s mom explained that she had made chicken pesto sandwiches for everybody, and that her mom had baked a strawberry rhubarb pie just for me. A whole pie, just for me?! I love strawberry rhubarb pie! I impulsively decided that I was going to carry the entire pie up to the summit of Wizard’s Island and eat it there!

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The climb down to the boat dock was steep, but the views of the lake along the way were absolutely stunning! Before we knew it we were on the boat and cruising around the lake on our way to the island. It felt strange being a regular tourist for the day and not a thru-hiker… I was just there to do what everyone else was there to do… To explore Wizard’s Island!

Once we reached the shore of Wizard’s Island Lobo’s mom and I headed for the summit of the cinder cone, while Lobo’s dad headed to one of the secret coves to spend the afternoon fishing. It was eerily beautiful climbing up the cone with smoke wafting through the air. We were lucky that the smoke from the forest fires was thin, and didn’t obscure our view of the lake, but smelling fire while climbing in a volcano (even a dormant one) was a little disconcerting.

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After exploring the crater, I picked the perfect spot to sit down and eat my strawberry rhubarb pie. It was like opening a Christmas present as I peeled back the layers of tinfoil that it was wrapped in to display the pie in all of its glory. It even had a perfectly in tact lattice top. I pulled out a fork and dug in! Savoring every bite of the pie, just as I savored the view and the company. The pie was delicious :) After eating 3/4 of the pie I decided to take a pause in pie eating. I wanted to save some of it for after my swim!

We descended the cone, and I headed for my second destination of the day, the dock. I had heard of the legendary waters of Crater Lake, and now I’d seen them, but I was looking forward to the fully immersive experience… It was time for a swim!

“Watch out, the water is really cold,” warned one of my fellow tourists… How cold is cold? I was about to find out. I’d learned that the trick to dealing with cold water was not to think about it too much, and to submerge myself quickly… If I tried to ease my way in, it just wouldn’t work. The dock would be the perfect aid for me for for this venture though, I could just take a running leap off of the end of the dock and into the frigid blue water below…

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“Oh my gosh, what am I doing?!” I shouted as a ran down the dock and… Splash!!! Into the water. It was so cold it took my breath away for a moment, but I was used to swimming in cold water… I cut my teeth swimming at Sand Beach in Acadia, Maine when I was a kid (water temps may hit 50 degrees there, if you’re lucky), I could handle this water (somewhere between 50 and 60 degrees for the top 3 or 4 feet).

It was definitely refreshing! After swimming for a while I got out of the water, lounged in the sun, and finished off the rest of the strawberry rhubarb pie… What a perfect day!!

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Just before the boat arrived to finish our tour of the lake Lobo’s dad returned from his fishing trip… He’d managed to catch a 22 inch rainbow trout (no fishing license required at Crater Lake)! We were certainly all very happy as we headed back to the rim!

Our timing was also impeccable, we climbed back up to the rim and got to the car right before the skies opened up and the pending thunderstorms manifested with tons of rain. It’s always nice to be in an insulated metal box when the thunderstorms hit.

As the rain poured down and lightening ricocheted all around us, I decided that I didn’t want to pitch my tent and sleep outside that night. Luckily some section hikers that I’d met the day before had offered to let me join them in their room at the lodge at Crater Lake that night… I didn’t want to impose on them if the weather was good, but with the news of dozens of new lightening strike fires in and around Crater Lake I was extremely grateful to run into the section hikers in the lobby of the lodge and to take them up on their offer. The kindness of all of these complete strangers was overwhelming!

Since they wouldn’t let me help pay for the room, I decided to splurge and join them for a fancy dinner in the main dining room of the lodge. Per usual, I ordered desert first, a wild berry creme brûlée. Mmmm… I love creme brûlée. I then followed it up with a dinner of fresh oregon lamb chops. The food was absolutely amazing! I had a full belly, a warm, safe place to stay for the night, and the sun was finally setting on my perfect day when the server delivered the check and said, “you guys are missing out on a phenomenal double rainbow!”

What?! We were watching the cloudy sunset to the west and were completely missing out on the phenomenal rainbows to the east. I dashed outside into the rain for one of the most phenomenal views I’ve ever seen. The low angle light from the sunset had given the crater lake landscape a golden glow, turning it into an unearthly place, and creating some of the most brilliant rainbows I’ve seen.

I could have stood in the rain soaking it all in for hours… Crater Lake to my left, lightening storms to my right, and the most amazing rainbows I’d ever seen dead ahead. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day!

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P.S. Thank you to all of the people that helped make my day at Crater Lake so amazing!!

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