PCT: Crater Lake

The first PCT hike of the 2022 season (July 5-8) didn’t turn out as expected from very early planning … who would have thought that OR snow would come later and last longer than any season in the last 6. While rain and snow make hiking more challenging, the added water in our parched woods is just the ticket; doesn’t help much, but fire risk doesn’t get worse.

Key objective over the 4 day backpacking trip was to catch Crater Lake first thing in morning on the best day (weather), and to cover a good section of PCT north and south of Crater Lake.

Day 1Highway 138 to Trapper Creek (Southbound PCT around the west flank of Crater Lake)

Left home very early to be at Highway 138 TH (North Crater) and hiking before 6:30. Immediately after crossing Hwy 138 south, one enters the park. The day started out challenging … rain, mist, cool temperatures, with small patches of snow on the trail early and not much hope of clearing.

Day 1 was the longest day, in / out of rain and constantly in the woods with over 12 trail blowdowns that were so bad either I could lose the trail or damage myself or gear (there were literally 100s of blowdowns, but most simple step overs). The third day, however, there was a trail maintenance crew out clearing blowdowns.

PCT hikers were few and far between on the non-rim portion of the trail (who would choose to miss seeing Crater Lake?). I camped at a remote site off the trail near Trapper Creek (good cold rushing water was a few steps away) which is close to 3 miles north of the Mazama Village junction .

Day 2 – Trapper Creek to past Honeymoon Creek

Wednesday dawned a bit better weather-wise, and quickly walked below the Mazama cut-off and started encountering the “early bird” northbound PCT thru-hikers. PCT thru-hikers in Crater Lake had started between March 15 and April 15. Not much after that junction, however, snow.

As the sun came out further, the steam rising off the snow was captivating making the walk easier – Day 2 the snow was hard ice that I could mostly walk atop. Past the snow, it was all burn; each burn seemed different based on time and intensity.

During this segment, NOBO hikers were telling me of the challenge crossing the Devil’s Peak pass due to snow and ice, but my time just was not enough. I had gone >20 miles with only the water I carried at this point (water past Crystal Creek southbound is slim pickings), and thought Honeymoon Creek would be my salvation – but it was a pond. Another gushing stream was 1 mile down the path – perfect for the night camped on a knoll above two forks of that stream.

Day 3 – South of Honeymoon Creek to Dutton Creek (Northbound)

Per the weather report at departure, each day would get better. True to form so far, so Day 3 was all about getting positioned to be at Crater Lake Friday as close to sunrise as possible (weather had day 4 – Friday – as the best day). This was mostly a repeat of Day 2 going opposition direction. The day dawned great …

Regardless of the pain, devastation and destruction the fires bring, wild flowers and fungus come quickly – and plants that pop as soon as the ice retreats.

Dutton Creek is a developed campground within the park for hikers (was developed but seemingly closed due to dead tree risks). My campsite was 100 ft from PCT well hidden and a close walk to two streams – Dutton and Crystal.

Day 4 – Dutton Creek to TH (car) via Crater Lake Rim Trail

Talk of Rim Trail closure at The Watchman was in every hiker meet-up. I had a back up plan – if it was closed I could either walk the ~1.5 miles on road (around The Watchman), or take the path back down after a small rim walk … I ended up walking on the road and before 8:00am there was little traffic.

I hit the rim right around 6:30 with the sun over the ridge, but the lake perfectly calm … and no clouds.

By the time I’d walked around part of lake to the North Rim Trail (heading back down northbound), the clouds had arrived but the lake was no less spectacular. Snow, ice and gravel run-off into the lake looked like dozens of deltas in the lake; I do not remember seeing those 2 years ago from a boat on lake.

Regardless of the clouds, leaving was not easy. On the way down the top portion, the snow was unbelievable given GaiaGPS NOAA overlay showed absolutely no snow. The section of trail is the Watchman Trailhead to Red Cone Trailhead

In case you think it was ‘small snow’

If you look closely at the lower right pic, you can tell when end is dirtiest (the top going northbound); Sherlock moment to infer NOBO traffic MUCH greater than SOBO. While up on these exposed slopes, the view to the north with Bailey, Diamond and Thielssen was great.

Summary: The PCT section from Highway 138 to Crater Lake and the PCT around Crater Lake – avoid unless you must traverse. The Rim section of the lake is way special. South of Crater Lake is something one must pass through – enough said. There are several better trailheads for backpacking around the park than North Crater. I estimate that other than around the lake, >60% of where I walked was burnt in last 10-15 years. The hiker campsites (park developed) are terrible and to be avoided. With all that said, Crater Lake is like no other place I know.

GaiaGPS Stats

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

2 Responses

  • Michael, I have a picture of Crater Lake Kath took one winter, going to try to download one of yours to go with it! Did not know the PCT was that close to Crater Lake, can’t remember from the book this fact. Wear out your shoes?

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