10:30am | June 1, 2017 | Crater Lake National Park
When we arrive at Steel Visitor Center - headquarters for Crater Lake National Park - the building is hidden behind snow banks taller than I am. Today is the first day of June. I smile at the massive amount of snow - it's fun to have winter in the middle of summer.
When Haas and I inquire about backcountry camping, the male park ranger raises his eyebrows with a quizzical expression. His partner tuts disapprovingly. "No way," she says. "There is way too much snow up there."
"Do you have snowshoes?" he asks.
Jon shakes his head. We patiently listen as the rangers explain how we can try to make our way up towards Watchman Overlook, but we probably won't get far without snowshoes.
Jon and I are feeling fairly confident in our abilities on snowy terrain - at this time yesterday morning we were drinking celebratory beers in the parking lot of Timberline Lodge, having reached the summit of Mt. Hood about three hours earlier. We convince the rangers to issue us a backcountry camping permit, and they reluctantly hand it over.
We drive up West Rim Drive until we hit the road block, signaling there is too much snow beyond this point for vehicles to pass. We park the car, throw our packs on the pavement, and begin the familiar process of sorting through our gear and deciding what to bring on this overnight adventure.
There is no visible trail, but as is common practice in alpine environments, we follow footprints in the snow. We don't have an exact destination - all we want is a safe, scenic place to camp with a view of one of the most sunning lakes in the world.
Approximately 7,700 years ago, a large composite volcano called Mount Mazama experienced a massive eruption, blowing out 12 cubic miles of magma as pyroclastic materials (mostly pumice and ash). It took about 250 years for the caldera that was formerly Mount Mazama to fill with water. With a depth of 1,949 feet, it is the deepest lake in the U.S. and the ninth deepest in the world.
"Well, we could just go up there," Haas says, looking up a steep hill of snow, below Watchman Tower. "If you're down for the climb."
"Of course I'm down," I say, wishing I had brought my ice axe.
We kick steps into the deep, crunchy snow, utilizing the traditional German (and most aggressive) crampon technique. I didn't feel nervous when we were doing this on Mt. Hood early yesterday morning, but now my nerves are jacked up. I focus on my feet, stepping methodically into Jon's large foot prints.
Roughly an hour later, we come to the perfect spot, and enter into construction mode. Because we don't have a shovel (yet another lesson in alpine life) we use our boots to kick around the snow into a level surface. It's physical work, but the sun is blazing and the scenery is unreal. We create a platform for out tent (and a staircase leading up to it) a kitchen, a bar, and a walkway between the two living spaces. We also have a bathroom.
We find multiple uses for the snow. A little bit of packed snow functions as a cup holder. A hand full of snow functions as an ice sponge.
We settle in, and we talk about food. Yesterday, after we climbed Mt. Hood, we drove to Eugene, Oregon just to eat sushi burritos. We discuss, in great detail, the many merits of pumpkin pie. Haas tells me the story of the time he ate an entire pumpkin pie in one sitting.
The next morning we drink backcountry mochas (instant coffee mixed with packets of hot chocolate). We marvel at how quiet it is.
"You know what's going to be really hard?" I ask Jon.
"Going back to real life?"
"Picking a favorite part of this trip," I say. "I don't think I'm going to be able to do that. I don't think I need to."
Jon clinks his plastic mug against mine. "Cheers."