Day 22: Crater Lake National Park, OR by Wookie Kim

Yesterday's arrival in Crater Lake was a disappointment. I put faith in the law of averages that today would be different. It was.

I'd set my alarm for 5:30 a.m the night before. I was going all in. I'd either see the most beautiful sunrise from the rim of the crater, or I'd stand on that rim and shiver while the cold fog covered everything in sight.

I'd slept awfully. It was sub-freezing, and I just wasn't prepared for that. I woke up twice in the middle of the night, with my toes so cold and numb that I thought I might've gotten frostbite in my sleep. The second time, I went to my car and found all of my towels and fleeces and stuffed the bottom of my sleeping bag with them. It didn't help much.

5:30 rolled around, and I was up and out of my tent immediately. I wanted to see whether the early alarm had been worth it. I looked straight up into the sky. I saw the Milky Way. There were no clouds. I was stoked.

I broke camp faster than I've ever broken camp. Partly, I was excited to finally get to see Crater Lake. More importantly, it was that cold. I was also racing against time. The weather report had noted that official sunrise was 6:50 a.m. Even so, I had to drive the 20 minutes up to Rim Drive and around to the Watchman Overlook, a spectacular viewpoint on the west side of the rim. And, even if sunrise was officially 6:50, I knew from experience that most of the awe-inspiring colors came earlier than that.

I made it up to the rim at 6:18. This was my first view of Crater Lake. I could tell that this was an impressive sunrise in the making.

I made it to the Watchman Overlook and stood on the lookout point, staring out over the lake and to the sun rising over the hills to the east of Crater Lake. The lake looked serene--just like how I felt in that moment.

Other people had the same idea, and soon arrived where I'd been standing alone. I figured I'd get a shot with me in it. I was just a silhouette.

As the sun continued creeping up into the sky, the colors changed ever so slightly, but ever so beautifully. In fact, looking west, outside of the crater and over my car, the sky showed an incredible range of purplish-blue colors.

But the beauty shot was when the sun actually poked out from behind the hills and begin shining its rays into the crater.

This sunrise was incredible, one of the highlights of my trip so far, for sure. The colors continued to morph, both the lake's and the sky's. What was also awesome to see was how the area outside the crater's rim was covered with low-lying clouds. The crater was above all of that--thank goodness!

As the sun continued rising, the lake became bluer and bluer. Wizard Island--which is a volcano that formed within Crater Lake (which itself is a water-filled crater formed by the collapse of Mount Mazama roughly 7,700 years ago)--provided a mesmerizing silhouette in the middle of the blue. 

For fun, I took a photo of my favorite water bottle--I'd gotten it a year and a half ago, on my last visit to Portland, from Powell's, the best book store on earth.

Eventually, the sun had risen enough that the first rays began hitting the surface of the lake. That was cool.

It was now 7:15, and the best of the sunrise had passed. Because I was so cold, and didn't want to cook pancakes outdoors, I headed to the Crater Lake Lodge for hot breakfast. I then headed the trailhead for Mount Scott, the highest point in the park. I wanted to see the view from the summit.

On paper, the route wasn't particularly challenging. It was 5 miles out and back, with about 1,200 feet of elevation gain. By this point in the trip, I could do these routes in my sleep. But as soon as I began, I realized the ascent would be slightly more challenging than usual. Simply put, the trail was very snowy.

Two days earlier, it had snowed quite a bit. Yesterday, it had rained a good amount and the temps had stayed very low. So it was still around at 10 a.m. as I began.

I kept a comfortable pace going up. When I reached the first set of switchbacks, I turned around and looked at the view. It was awesome to see the lake from halfway up the mountain.

After about 45 minutes, I made it to the summit. And I saw this:

It was truly something. The layer of snow made the landscape that much more spectacular.

I spent 20 minutes at the summit taking it all in. I fiddled with some photos and videos, and even had a furry friend stop by to say hello.

I carefully made my way back down. To my surprise, most of the lower portion of the trail was completely snow-free--it had all melted within the last 90 minutes. I guess it made sense; this was snow on the west face of Mount Scott that had been in shadows for the early morning. Now that it was almost noon, the sun overhead could melt it with ease.

I felt content that I'd seen Crater Lake at sunrise and from high above. But as I drove around the rim, I was once again impressed by the deep blue color of the lake. I stopped for a picnic lunch at one of the pullout spots. I stared into the lake.

It's hard to get a sense of the scale of the lake. It was almost 6 miles wide, and almost 2,000 feet deep--one of the deepest in the world. I saw a small boat moored near the shore. That provides a sense of scale.

After eating lunch, I was ready to leave Crater Lake and head for Redwood National Park in northern California. On my way out, I noticed an area of the forest that had been hit hard by some of the forest fires in the region. The trees were shriveled up, and the earth was black ash. I pulled over to take a closer look. Some of the trees had big bulges in it (presumably because the fire had warped them?). Despite the devastation, I actually found the dead trees quite pretty. I don't know what that says about me.

I finally hit the road for Redwood. It was roughly 1 p.m.--the time I'd originally planned to be running in Redwood. I was half a day behind. But I eventually made it to northern California, and ended up running in Redwood that evening at dusk. This was a full day--one of the fullest, and most fulfilling, yet.

Day 22: Redwood National Park, CA by Wookie Kim

The park police was waiting for me when I finished my run in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (a park that is co-managed by the NPS). I'd squeezed this run into my already very long day, and I guess the officer wasn't happy about it. It was past 8 p.m., and it was pitch black deep in the redwood forest.

I'd spent the first half of the day making the rounds in Crater Lake. It had taken far longer than I'd expected to make it to California.

I didn't arrive at my Airbnb (this is my 3rd time using it this trip) until almost 6 p.m. Although the day was basically over, I wasn't about to let it end without a run in the woods. Redwood National Park is scattered and huge. But I wanted to see a little bit of each unit, so it made sense to run in one of the units tonight. Ed, my host, had mentioned that the Boy Scout Tree Trail was nearby. My national parks guidebook had also mentioned this trail as a must-do. I set out to run it.

I arrived at the trailhead right as two groups were getting off the trail. One group had turned around early because the sun was beginning to set, and they were worried it was getting dark. The other group had just finished. I asked them what the trail conditions were like. They said it was fine, but that the trail felt very long, and that it would get dark soon. I nodded. I realized that there were only two cars at the trailhead. They were the last of the day's hikers. I would be the only person on the trail.

I feared that I might be starting too late, that the forest would become dark while I was still running in it. This was a place with absolutely no cell service--deep in an old-growth forest. If I got lost in the dark, it would be a long, cold night of wandering.

I decided to chance it. I figured I could cover the 5.6-mile trail in about an hour so that I'd be back at my car at roughly 8 p.m. Knowing that sunset was around 7:30, I assumed that I'd have ample light until the last couple miles. I wasted no time. I was off chasing Fern Falls, the end of the trail.

I moved quickly, with fast leg turnover on the cushy dirt trail. I was determined to minimize the amount of time I spent running in the dark. It was a race against time. This also meant my photos were blurry.

I tried to make the most of my brief forest foray by looking around as I scrambled across the forest floor. These trees were incredibly beautiful--and huge!

I made it to Fern Falls in just under 30 minutes. I'd moved at a solid pace, given the undulating hills, and the root-laden trail I'd followed. I saw a massive fallen redwood that seemed like a continuation of the trail. I decided to see where it led. While tiptoeing across it, I looked down to the side and realized that, if I fell, I'd be stuck in a little ravine. The tree was so big that it was not resting directly on the forest floor. It was at this moment that I decided to turn around.

I booked it back to the car. But not before it got dark. It was already past official sunset, and I could sense it. There were portions of the trail where the trees were less dense. Between strides, I could look up and see the dark blue sky--it was not yet completely dark. But, pretty soon, I was in a part of the forest that was so dense that I looked up and saw nothing but black. I'd underestimated the thickness of the forest cover, and how that would prevent the already dwindling ambient light from hitting the forest floor.

Thankfully, I had my headlamp on me for the very purpose of providing lighting when the natural light went out. I used it to scan 10-15 yards ahead for obstacles, mainly roots, but sometimes also stumps. It continued to get darker. And the return leg seemed without end. As things became ever so slightly less well-lit, I started to make ever so slightly more errors. I began stubbing my toes on roots, and occasionally caught myself from twisting my ankle. I had quite the adrenaline rush come over me as I zigzagged back to the trailhead.

For the last mile, I ran in almost complete darkness. My headlamp lit the forest floor before me. It was so dark that I decided to also hold my iPhone and use the flashlight function to light the trail right in front of me. Despite the darkness, I moved at an even brisker pace. I was determined to get out.

I finally made it out. It had taken just over 27 minutes. Waiting by my car, however, was a park police officer. He had hiis heavy maglite out, and was walking around my car. When I arrived back at the trailhead, sweating buckets, and breathing somewhat hard, he asked me what I'd been doing. I told him I'd been running on the Boy Scout Tree Trail. He told me that people couldn't be on the trails after dark. I told him I was sorry, and that I was done for the evening. He said I was lucky--he was just about to give me a ticket when I'd arrived back at the trailhead. And then he left.

I changed out of my sopping wet running clothes, and took a moment to listen to the forest. It was extremely quiet, and I had the entire forest to myself. I hopped back into my car and drove slowly back to the highway.

Despite the literal and figurative stumbling blocks, tonight's was a good run. I'd tested my limits by running in near darkness. And I had no regrets.