Interested in skiing or snowshoeing around or at Crater Lake? I’ve collected a lot of information here. While we skied the loop in one long day, I highly recommend spreading the trip out over multiple days to get full enjoyment from the experience. We were very lucky to have really good conditions; had they been different, we may not have been able to pull off a one day trip.
Lack of it is often my biggest obstacle to achieving anything I dream of doing. We are taught to doubt ourselves in so many ways – from not seeing people who look like us doing the things we want to do to outright messages that we are too female, too old, and too weak to matter. Doubt keeps us small and safe. But doubt sucks, so I decided to try chucking it out the window and try something big.
The goal: Ski 33+ miles around Crater Lake backcountry in one go.
The challenges: Route finding, incoming weather, the wind chill, avalanche danger, altitude (I’m a sea level baby and this route is all at 6600+), carrying 20 pounds of safety gear and fuel in my @deuter pack, 16+ hours of skiing, but mostly believing I could do it. That nearly stopped the adventure before it even started. I knew @ultraucoach was strong enough, but believing in myself? Way harder. I have been working on my belief muscles over the past year but this was a massive deadlift of self confidence. I had to trust that I really was capable of pulling off this complicated goal; if I was wrong, the consequences could be severe. That weight was really heavy.
Witnessing first light breaking over the edge of the rim felt crazy good.
I just might be able to pull this off.
The pre-dawn hours were cold. So cold. Bladder hoses froze in minutes. But the beauty of the morning more than made up for it.
The next major milestone we had to tick off was skiing past the Watchman. Read anything about circumnavigating the rim, and you read of the avalanche danger it poses. No bypass. Falling rock. Big risk. My anxious mind was like YES! How many nightmare scenarios can I dream up with this excellent content? I had so many moments when the thought of skiing Watchman was nearly enough to convince me not to try.
To counter my anxious mind, so strong now with all of the training it has had over the last year, I made sure we had careful plans. We would start early just so we could ski through while it was still cold. We would follow the weather and avy reports all week to know the danger. We agreed to turn back without question if it did not feel safe to one of us.
The slope angle at Watchman is perfect for avalanche. Because temps had been cold all week and it was still early, we felt good about crossing. We did not linger though.
When the time came, we skied through and barely noticed we were crossing the danger zone. So yes, you do need to be careful and safe and know your weather conditions and forecasts. But I am reminded that I also need to know my anxiety so that it doesn’t convince me to not try something rad that I am capable of doing.
After skiing through this big obstacle, I immediately fell on my ass when I hit the icy crust of the far side. I should have been a lot more worried about breaking myself, I think. But the anxious mind loves the big mishap, doesn’t it?
It was hard all day. My left foot has been trying to get plantar fasciitis all up in it for months now, and it was squawking all day. That stupid knife like pain you get in your shoulders from a heavy pack joined in early. The painfully slow pace bred worry about making it.
But the lake! And the mountains! And the fresh tracks of the solo skier in front of us, leading the way. The glint of ice, winter diamonds in the snow. The warmth of the sun on our shoulders. Delicious iced pumpkin cookies and twizzlers. A moment to sit into the edge of this magnificent lake that we had all to ourselves.
Dana forgot to grab her sunglasses, so she fashioned eye protection from her buff. We found this quite funny for some reason.
So much joy as we crossed snowdrifts and passed viewpoints and witnessed wide open vistas.
And then the climbing began. I never realized how long roads climb for until I started cross country skiing.
If I try to tell you only the lovely things, I am not telling you the whole story.
There were so many endless climbs. There was the warm spring snow, wet and sticking to my skis over and over, frustrating in its persistence.
And then there was the Dutton Cliffs Avalanche Bypass.
No one tells you what this bypass entails. All day you ski roads with long, gentle climbs and slow descents. We have passed more avalanche debris now – rocks, small slides, large snowballs. We meet a snowshoer who recommends we bypass – other skiers have turned back. We imagine we will add mileage, but this was expected.
We ski down a gorgeous road, loving letting the skis run. And then we turn off on a trail. And start up. Like straight up. It’s about a 700 foot climb in 3/4 of a mile. With switchback after switchback. Which I, after 13 hours on skis, can no longer navigate. I fall on every turn climbing up. I make up new swear words. I curse the trail maker. I try taking off my skis but I only sink into the deep snow to my thighs. I try one ski on and one ski off. I cry a little. I feel the panic coming and start to hyperventilate. I practice my square breathing. I figure @ultracoach will never adventure with me again. I think about staying on this trail forever. I remember that I really like sleeping in a soft bed though.
I keep going. Because I have to. And eventually – god, it felt like hours – I get off the wicked climb. And now it is getting dark and the weather is coming in. We keep skiing and skiing. The wind is blowing the snow into our faces, and I decide skiing to Antarctica is not for me. And then the tracks we have been following are just…gone.
We check the map. It doesn’t make sense. Are we just tired? Are we lost? The fear of having to stay out overnight is suddenly very real. We have the gear but we want to finish. This is the crux. This is where it could all go wrong.
We spot some tracks. I check my map; i am tired but I am pretty sure this is where we need to go. (Thank you @gaiagps, again.) Down we ski, racing the fading the light. Yes, this is where we are supposed to go.
The rest of the ski is uneventful, a long grind on rocket fuel snow as the day’s melt turned to ice. No one is there to cheer us in. We have not set an FKT or completed a novel route. We are not even the fastest circumnavigation of the day. But it still feels pretty darn good.
In the end, it is the beauty of the day that I will think about. The brilliant blue of Crater Lake. Mt Scott rising above the snow covered plain. Lenticular clouds hanging in the sky. The silent darkness as we glided through the trees, a soft snow falling, hoping not to disturb the angled slopes above.
We made it in just under 17 hours. Our watches died but we think we probably skied 35 miles in total. When we finished and were sitting in the car with the seat heaters on, I turned to @ultraucoach and said “Well, that was a terrible idea!” and she laughed and agreed wholeheartedly.
If I do it again, I will camp out for a night or two. I will take so many photos. I will enjoy the stars and savor the sunset.
Ultimately though, I am glad we went for it in a day. I needed to take on my anxiety and my self doubt. This turning 49 sh*t and getting gray hair, going through menopause and living through a pandemic has been a lot. It’s nice to remember that the badass that lives in us can still be called forth. Sometimes the only way to figure out how much we are capable of is to attempt more than we believe possible.
And I only had to fall 38 times to figure that out.