Nature Notes

Volume II No. 2 - August 1, 1929

The Cleetwood Rudder
By Earl U. Homuth

Among the many interesting relics in the possession of William G. Steel, which will be presented to Crater Lake National Park when a permanent museum is established, is the rudder of the Cleetwood, the boat used in sounding the Lake in 1886.

When the Geological Survey complied with a request for a survey of Crater lake in that year, Mr. Steel was commissioned to build a large boat and two skiffs. The boats were brought to Ashland from Portland on a railroad flat-car. There a heavy sling of canvas and ropes was fixed to a wagon frame, and the boat carried in this sling to ease the jolts and strains of a rough journey through the mountains to Crater Lake. A week was required for the trip. The route followed the old road which crosses the Cascade Divide about six miles south of the Lake. It was necessary to spend a full day for the last stage of the jaunt, going directly up the slopes of the mountain through the forest, across snow-fields, logs and finally to the Rim.

A crate of heavy timber was then constructed, the boat lashed to the crate, and a stout cable snubbed around a tree on the Rim. This tree still stands as a landmark of this unusual launching.

The boat was pushed over the edge of the Rim, and the line played out as it slid toward the bottom. The slope here is approximately at an angle of 45 ° and the Rim lies about 950 feet above the water. Sixteen men accompanied the boat down to the lake.

sketch of men lowering boat down rim

When half way down, the boat was secured, while the rope was snubbed around a tree at that point. When the line was again entirely played out the boat was still more than ten feet from the water, with the prow projecting several feet over a ledge about ten feet high. The boat could not be pulled back nor could more rope be spliced in. The only alternative was to cut the rope and allow the boat to drop into the water. It was necessary that someone should accompany the boat to bring it back to shore should it ride too far out. Everyone in the party volunteered. The boy who had driven the team on the trip from Ashland was chosen, it being reasoned that since he was the only person to have ever come by boat to Crater Lake he should be the one to finish the trip.

The boy braced himself to the stern. With one stroke of the axe the rope was cut. The boat shot forward over the ledge, dropped upright on the water, and floated safely upon the Lake. The lad gathered himself up in the bow, bruised and bloody, but the happiest boy in Oregon for having completed this strange boat ride.

Later an unofficial sounding of the Lake, a few hundred feet from land was made. Great depths were anticipated, each man venturing a guess. The line was gradually let down. As it sank deeper and deeper the men watched with increasing astonishment. Six hundred, eight hundred, one thousand feet -- and still it continued to sink! When the line finally stopped at 1210 feet, the men gave vent to their amazement in a shout which brought those on the Rim hurriedly down the slope fearing someone had been killed.

Though it was late in the evening, a man was dispatched to Fort Klamath to give the news to the world that a depth of 1210 feet had been found near the shore of Crater Lake.

During the following days, soundings were made systematically the results of which are recorded on the maps used today. The greatest depth, 1996 feet, established Crater Lake as the deepest fresh water lake in the world other than Lake Baikal in eastern Russia.

As told by William G. Steel
to Earl U. Homuth

By Charlie Croghan, Ranger

Inspite of the fact that conies are usually very timid and seclusive animals, this season they are becoming somewhat accustomed to the nearness of visitors at Crater Lake. cony They may be seen busily engaged in carrying and storing their winter supply of forage at the foot of the new trail during the quieter moments between launch trips, giving observing passers-by a rare opportunity to study them. These exceedingly interesting little animals do not hibernate in the winter as do ground squirrels and marmots. Owing to the fact that their homes are deeply burried with snow seven or eight months of the year, they are busy during the short summer season laying up prodigious stores of grasses and other vegetation to be used as hay during the long winter. Among themselves they are very sociable, communicating with each other along the rocky pathways beneath the snow in the winter-time.

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