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 21: Crater Lake National Park, OR by Wookie Kim

This day began slowly, and it ended slowly too. I'd spent the night at an Airbnb in Springfield, just over the Willamette River from Eugene. It was a rainy morning, and the hosts made a delicious breakfast for me. I felt lazy.

On my way out of the city to Crater Lake, I stopped by Pre's Rock, the rock ledge that Steve Prefontaine crashed into and died from when he was 24 years old.

Pre's Rock has become a place of pilgrimage for runners of all stripes. The site is covered with medals and memorabilia.

I decided to leave something: the medal the woman had given me at the summit of Table Mountain. (I knew that it might not be there long.)





From that quiet, residential street in Eugene, I drove for Crater Lake. It was a slow drive. I was feeling tired. Also, the sky was ominous. I had my fingers crossed that, magically, the weather up on the rim and inside the caldera would be better. It wasn't. Here was my first view of the park.

It was only 3 p.m., and I didn't know what I was going to do. I proceeded to the visitor center. At 4 p.m., they played a short video on Crater Lake. It was a full house--every single person who'd visited today was packed into the tiny auditorium.

I continued driving around the rim, hoping to catch a glimpse of the lake. I finally did. It was just a glimpse.

I felt disappointed. Crater Lake was the park for which I'd had the highest expectations. Before this trip, I'd never even heard of it. Once I learned about the high-altitude lake, I began to look forward to this visit. The fog was heavy, and there was freezing rain, too.

I had to make a bit of a strategic decision. Did I just say goodbye and drive straight out of the south entrance and sleep in an Airbnb en route to Redwood (my next destination)? Or did I set up camp in the freezing rain and hope for better weather tomorrow? I couldn't bear the thought of having driven all the way here only to see fog and rain and snow, so I decided I'd pitch a tent and try again tomorrow.

With lightning speed, I found a campsite and set up camp. It was only 5 p.m. at this point, and I had no idea how to spend my free time. I figured I'd eat an early dinner and go to bed early as well. There was a lodge with a cafe in it, so I ate there instead of cooking in the frigid outdoors. After chowing down on pot roast and a pizza, I settled in for the night. By 9 p.m., I was asleep.

My goal was to wake up at 5:30 a.m., break camp, and be at the Watchman Overlook by 6:15 to watch the sun rise over the east rim of Crater Lake. I went to bed dreaming the weather would turn.

Day 18: Mount Rainier National Park by Wookie Kim

When I signed up to do the Wonderland Trail, I did not sign up for snow, bone-chilling winds, and heavy fog. This about sums up my day today on the Wonderland Trail--the 93-mile trail that encircles Mount Rainier.


I'd left Yakima at a decent hour, and managed to get to the wilderness center in the White River entrance by 10 a.m. I looked up trail conditions and asked the on-duty ranger about how difficult the trail was from Fryingpan Creek to Indian Bar. He said the trail was in great shape, and that I should be able to do it no problem. A little bit into our conversation, he received what appeared to be an urgent call. There was an ongoing incident, perhaps a fatality. I wished him luck and went on my way.


While driving to the White River campground, I could see very little. The fog had rolled in and covered everything in sight.


As I was arriving at the White River campground, I could see, far off in the distance, and ever so faint, Mount Rainier. I hoped that the sun would come out and kill the fog. 


I quickly set up my tent in a secluded area surrounded by tall trees. Cozy. 


By 11:15, I was at the trailhead, ready to run the famed Wonderland Trail. It was surprisingly cold. So much so, that I actually began my run with tights, windbreaker, and gloves. 


As has become typical practice, I began by proceeding through a forested section. The trail was wide and flat--perfect footing to start the day. 


I'd chosen a section that basically involved a 3,500-foot ascent right from the get-go. So there was very little running involved. Instead, I went up switchbacks through the forest.  I was getting hot. I shed my layers.


It's always fun to look down from above, and see how the trail switchbacks up a hill.


I eventually reached the end of the forested section and popped out into the famous Summerland area of the trail. This was a wide meadow, typically overflowing with colorful wildflowers. Apparently, because there was less snow this season, and because it was hotter this summer, the flowers had already bloomed and died. I saw the remnants (kind of like arriving two days too late to see the cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin in D.C.). From Summerland, I could see the edges of Mount Rainier, shrouded by snow, fog, and clouds. 


Between Summerland and Indian Bar, hikers pass through Panhandle Gap, which is the highest point on the 93-mile trail. I began my ascent towards the Gap on wooden stairs.


I stopped by a stream to fill up water. After topping up, I realized my body felt somewhat rigid. As I continued hiking, I then noticed precipitation--it was snowing.

I'd not expected snow. I'd seen the fog, but I didn't realize that, inside that fog, there was also snow. Thankfully, not only had I brought a wind shell, but I'd also brought my thicker fleece. I quickly put that on and proceeded up to the Gap. 


I reached the gap, and all of a sudden, everything grew quiet. There was no wind, and almost no sound. All I could hear was the crunching of the dirt or rocks beneath my feet. The fog had rolled in even thicker by now, and visibility was decreasing. 


I became a little more cautious now. I was over 6 miles in, and wanted to see if I could make it to Indian Bar, but I also didn't want to get stuck in the cold (especially because I was still battling my own common cold), or in the creeping fog. The trail was easy enough to follow, so I continued, albeit slowly. 


This place felt eerie. I also felt a little bit like Beowulf, tiptoeing through barren land in search of Grendel. I was all alone, and all I could see was fog.

Eventually, I reached the end of Panhandle Gap. I began the 3-mile descent into Indian Bar. I soon realized that, each step I took down would be a step I'd have to take back up. I hadn't seen much in terms of scenery, and was starting to feel chilly. I decided I'd be better off turning around and heading back. So, after 7.5 miles, I turned around. 


The way down was easy. It got progressively warmer, and the fog got progressively less thick. I was able to get a clearer view of the Fryingpan Glacier (I think this is it). 


Right before reaching Summerland again, I was in what I could tell was the most scenic part of the trail--if only the fog were gone. The rocks were brilliantly colored, kind of like pastel-colored Fruity Pebbles.


I rested by the stream, rehydrated, and looked at the faint outline of Mount Rainier that I could see. 


I continued down to Summerland. I could immediately picture what this place would look like in full bloom. I decided that I would come back some day and run the entire 93-mile loop--in nice weather. 


The descent back to the trailhead was peaceful. I passed one group of hikers that asked me about the conditions up in Panhandle Gap. They were worried that the weather would only get worse tomorrow. I told them to wait. It couldn't get much worse. 

When I was only a mile from the trailhead, I noticed that a massive tree had fallen across the trail. This was not here when I started, so it had happened within the last couple hours. Seeing this made me realize just how important it is to be aware of one's surroundings. Normally when I run, I run with my iPod Shuffle. I was glad I'd not listened to music even one on this trip. 


I finished right around 4 p.m. It was a slow, peaceful day, and I hadn't quite seen the picture-perfect views that one expects from the Wonderland Trail. But it had turned out to be an exhilarating day navigating through snow and fog. I'd come off the trail a bit chilly, but otherwise felt completely fine. 

As I returned to my campsite, I noticed a blue bird on the side of the road. He seemed inquisitive, and kept squawking as I followed him around, trying to take a photo. 


The Wonderland Trail is aptly named. I had a great 15-mile day, but I ended the day with a lot to wonder about.