Sunday, September 19, 2010

Crater Lake

I know that I have written that Glacier National Park is the most beautiful place on earth. And I stand by that statement, though with less ecstatic certainty now having been to Crater Lake, which is one of those exceptional hard-to-put-into-words places on this earth. We drove three hours south and east through the mountains and through a driving rain, which apparently dropped hail all over the park while we slept in our chemically clean cabin at Mazama Village, seven miles south and east of the rim of Crater Lake.

A few important facts about Crater Lake. About 8000 years ago there was this mountain, somewhere between 12 and 13,000 feet in height, perhaps the tallest mountain in the state of Oregon (had the state of Oregon existed at the time, which of course it didn't) and one of the highest peaks in the Cascade range. Now there are a number of Volcanoes in the Cascades (Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, and the mountain formerly known as Mt. Mazama). 8,000 years ago Mt. Mazama erupted, and in the course of about 12 hours went from being 12,000 feet tall to being a smoking hole. The top erupted and then sank back into itself, forming an enormous caldera, which, over the next few hundred years, filled up with billions of gallons of water, almost entirely from melting snow. (Crater Lake National Park gets an average of 44 feet of snow every year.) The lake is very deep, about 1,900 feet at its deepest, very clear (it is one of the clearest lakes on earth) and very cold (surface temperatures vary from freezing to about 60 degrees, but once you get below the surface a few feet it stays at a very chilly 38 for most of the year).

We arrived in the late afternoon after a brief drive around the caldera rim. We got ourselves oriented, picked up some supplies from the mostly under-provisioned general store (it was the last week of the season), and then set out for a hike up one of the mountains to watch the sunset. We started up The Watchman through a light rain. The trail switched back quite a few times, and at each turn we were floored by miraculous view after miraculous view, first the lake, then the valley, then the Cascades, then the lake, and so on and so on until we reached the summit at about 8,100 feet. We were about forty five minutes early for sunset, so we sat and watched the sky and the lake and the weather, which was dramatic and constantly changing. We snapped a bunch of photographs of the lake, the sky and the surrounding mountains before heading back to our cabin and cooking veggies burgers on our portable grill in the dark.

The next day we got up early and drove to the North Rim of the caldera, to the Cleetwood Trail which descends about one mile down into the caldera, where we hopped on a boat that went out into the lake and then dropped us off at Wizard Island. Wizard Island is a little volcano that sprouted up in the middle of the lake, evidence of the ongoing volcanism of the site and a marker of the scale of the lake and the mountain that used to stand there (there's a volcano inside of the hole left by the old volcano). The water is Caribbean-Aegean blue and clear as glass.

On the boat over to the Island, a Park Ranger told us about the geology (much of what I wrote above was cribbed from Ranger Dave's remarks) and about the history of the lake. They dropped us off on Wizard Island and then sailed away, leaving us alone on a deserted island (with 30 other adventurers). Just about everyone headed straight for the summit trail, so we took a little side trip to Fumerole Bay to dip our feet in the water. It was exceedingly cold, some of the coldest water I've ever put my feet in.

After our brief foot chill, we hustled toward the summit, which we intended to climb, eat lunch on, and then descend from before the boat returned to pick us up at 1:30. We were glad that we didn't set out with the horde at the outset, because we had the trail basically to ourselves on the ascent, and by the time we reached the summit about 30 minutes later the place was basically deserted. We ate lunch, snapped a few more photos, walked around the rim of the crater (which, surprisingly, is the crater the lake is named for), and then descended with time to spare.

The boat picked us up, and we had a new park Ranger (Ranger Brian) who told us a bunch of other stuff about the lake and the park, but he was such an incompetent public speaker that I can barely remember what he said. I remember hearing that there are no rooms available in the Pumice Castle (because it's a rock formation), and that the Phantom Ship (another rock formation) was for sale, and that if you had solved the mystery of where the 17 Billion gallons of extra melt water went each year you should call 1-800-Hot-Tips. By the time we got back to the boat ramp, we missed Ranger Dave. But we had the grueling uphill climb to take our minds off of Ranger Brian's incompetence. We grilled some chicken and corn that evening and slept very well after five hours in the sun on boats and on the trail.

The next day we climbed Mt. Scott, which, at 8,929 feet, is the tallest mountain in the park. The five mile round-trip climb took us a little less than an hour each way and was some of the most grueling uphill walking I've done since I've been in Oregon. But the views were incredible. We could see Mt. Shasta in Northern California to the South, and Three Sisters to the north, and hundreds of other smaller mountains and the enormity of the lake and a wildfire burning off to the east.

After a cup of coffee at the Crater Lake Lodge (which we learned had to be torn down in 1989 and rebuilt because it had been constructed without taking the incredible weight of the snow into consideration), we climbed up Garfield Peak, which one of my Oregon hiking books said was the must-do hike in Crater Lake. We were exhausted, having climbed three mountains already in the last two days, but when we got to the top we were treated to the most beautiful view of the lake and the surrounding landscape we had found yet. We rested at the summit, ate some green beans and some almonds, chatted with a fat chipmunk, then meandered back down the mountain.

It felt a little bit like being back on the road again, this trip to the Lake. But at the end we were both ready to be heading back to Eugene, to be finishing the fence and to be settling in for the beginning of the school year--at least for one of us. But it was nice to have one last adventure before the grind of Architecture school begins again (again, for one of us).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Fence

Here at Amazing Adventures we're moving on from traveling episodes to more domestic escapades. As our first home-based adventure, we tackled the demolition of an old fence, pictured below, which time and a vicious wisteria vine had ravaged. You will also notice, if you look carefully at the photograph, two old rusty steel T's, which had formerly been connected by a piece of cable, upon which, one imagines, clothes were hung.

We spent about two weeks doing demolition. We clear cut the backyard, with the exception of the big Cottonwood tree in the center of the yard. We borrowed a friend's pickup truck and loaded the bed five times with branches and leaves and sticks and vines and old rotten fence panels and took it all to Rexius Forest Bi-products where for a nominal fee (2 bucks load) they grind it all up and turn it into compost and mulch, which they then sell.
As with most project like this, we hit a few unanticipated snags. The biggest (at least as far as this writer is concerned) was those damned clothes line hangers. The picture below should give you a sense for the difficulty of removing them. The pipes were supported by footings that were at least 18 inches underground. I estimate that each footing was about 120 pounds--some serious support for a clothes line. I shoveled, pickaxed, sledge hammered (broke a 4lb sledge in the process), shoveled some more, rocked the damn thing back and forth with all my weight, added Rebecca's weight to that, shoveled some more, filled the hole with water, rocked and rolled and cursed and shoveled some more until the damn thing finally came out, four days after I began.

And that was just the first one. (The second one came out much less dramatically.)

With most of the demolition done, we set about setting the posts. The first post-hole took us almost an entire day to dig, partially because we needed it to be very close to our enormous rosemary bush and partially because the soil into which we dug was exceedingly rocky. I wil confess--and Rebecca will attest--that I was convinced we would never finish the fence after one day of digging post holes.

After that grueling first day, we were both thoroughly defeated. My back hurt a lot. We decided that maybe we didn't need to finish the fence so quickly. Maybe we would just work every other day. Maybe we would hire someone to dig the holes for us. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

We rested for a few days.

Then we came out and in three days set the rest of the posts. Rebecca has become a master post-hole digger, and we found a rhythm with the digging and setting of the posts. All told we set 11 fence posts and poured over 1,000 pounds of concrete. I have discovered that Lane County has an impressive drop off site for all manner of yard and household debris (like giant steel pipes cut up into four foot lengths, concrete footings still attached). Ulysses was impressed into service as a pickup truck to haul all sorts of things. We found some interesting treasures in the backyard and buried them in one of our final footings.

We both had a palpable sense of relief after we set the final post (and we'd done the whole thing without too many altercations or fisticuffs). In fact, despite having a gate to build and hang and 180 slats to nail, we felt sort of...done.

About the gate. Rebecca consulted with our structural engineer (the eminent and sensible Neal Mann, aka Big Poppa) and came up with a fine design for our gate, which we built in a few hours this afternoon. We had some tricky angles to cut (which we did free hand using a chop saw), and since neither of us had ever built a gate before we were curious to see how it would come out. To both of our surprise it came out to spec and, all things considered, pretty easily.

We're going to Crater Lake tomorrow for a few days of much needed and deserved rest and relaxation. When we return we will nail slats and hang the gate and then prepare a few planting beds.

One final note: our work was made much, much easier by Rebecca's exceptional CAD drawings, two of which I've included below for your enjoyment.

What each of the 12 panels will look like. (Aka: panel elevation)
The whole shebang.