Nature Notes

Volume VIII No. 1 - July, 1935

Crater Lake In Winter
By L. Howard Crawford, Ranger-Naturalist

With an annual precipitation of seventy inches of water, practically all of which falls as snow, Crater Lake National Park is transformed each year into a truly magnificent winter wonderland. To describe the magic transition wrought by a sixteen foot blanket of snow over rugged volcanic peaks would halt the pen of a Ruskin. To paint the silent sea, more silent, more luminously blue, the frowning walls, serene now, ermine clad, crowned by upward-pointing silver spires, and in reflection far below reaching down toward the peaceful depths where once was fire and hell, would still the brush of a Michaelangelo.

Exiled in such a world of beauty were five men, the winter crew, stationed at Government Headquarters, living and working together through the long winter, recording snowfall and temperatures, maintaining telephone and power lines, painting, repairing, caretaking, photographing, and shoveling snow. Shoveling tons of snow, and during the long winter evenings, reading, narrating, developing photographs, listening anxiously and intently to the news and weather reports at the radio, or perhaps later in the evening to music and gaiety from some distant spot where all was light and laughter.

But it was not always so. Sometimes it was a tortuous hell, battling foot by foot, ski shod, through miles of newly fallen snow in black weather, when returning from the monthly leave, seeking a break in the phone or power-line, or patrolling the Headquarters area.

To the winter crew, all of whom had an appreciation for the beauty and wonders of our mountain fastness, the hardships which so often had to be met and endured, were mitigated and made bearable by nature in her gentle moods. Skiing, and occasionally snow-shoeing, were our only means of locomotion for many months, principally between December and June. A hardship on long trips made necessary by emergencies which always occur during the course of a severe mountain winter, the blanket of light, the snow, was a never falling source of recreational diversion and sport on Sundays and during that silvery grey twilight which ushers in the winter night.

Pleasant memories linger with all of us, memories of the lake at twilight, of cheery warmth and companionship at the Lodge, mecca of our only social pilgrimages, to chat with Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, our only neighbors, and memories of adventurous moonlight ski-rides, after our visits, wind whistling and snow swishing, as we sailed from the rim down to Government Headquarters.

The winter of 1934-5 began in earnest around the middle of November. There had been snow and freezing nights and frosty mornings since the beginning of October, but not until the black bears had disappeared to their sheltered dens and the agile martins had become bold enough to flaunt their lustrous new coats before the eyes of man, did we consider winter really under way. Even so early, the leaden skies had covered the earth with a white mantle to a depth of four feet, softening every contour, smoothing and rounding with gentle curves the rugged rocky places.

Of primary importance was the task of making an accurate record of temperatures and snowfall, and each day readings were made of the minimum, maximum, and set maximum (temperature at time of observations) temperatures, and the exact amount of snowfall in the past twenty-four hours were measured, both in inches of snow and for water content. As the snow fell, during the winter, layer by layer and foot by foot, it packed down and compressed of its own weight, becoming quite solid underneath. Then during warmer weather, the winter and spring thaws, the surface snow would melt and cause the inner mass to granulate, or change to tiny balls or blocks of ice, the process ascending downward as spring progressed. Except during the extremely cold periods, the ground underneath the snow would not be frozen, and the lower layers would melt from the ground up. By such settling or compression, and by some loss of snow and water content from the bottom, the winter's accumulated snowfall of some sixty feet made a blanket but sixteen feet deep, in March, deepest snow of the winter.

During January, and again in March, official tests were made to determine the exact amount of water (in the snow) covering the ground, the greatest, of course, being in March. Fifty-five and eight-tenths inches of water were in the 126-1/2 inches of snow that covered the ground at Annie Spring, where the tests were made. The findings of these tests were forwarded to the Water Resources Department, State of Oregon, to aid in their prediction of the amount of water to be available for irrigation this summer.

During the stormy weather the snow would come down steadily for long intervals, sometimes two weeks in duration. When the storm finally stopped, it was very difficult to foretell, without a barometer, whether the clear air and blue patchwork between the clouds meant a mere lull of a few hours or the final passing of that particular siege of bad weather. Here we relied somewhat on the natural instincts of the lower animals, for if the martins and pine squirrels ventured out, nine chances to ten the storm was over, and on many mornings, upon looking out and seeing the tracks of these animals on the fresh snow, and spots of blue appearing above, we rejoiced at the prospect of good weather.

The red fox and the porcupine also were about, but were not particular about when they ventured abroad.

Unusual jobs turn up during the winter without warning, often with both tragic and humorous angles. Early one February afternoon, a telephone call came from Ft. Klamath. We were informed that while out skiing, two men had seen an old man, poorly dressed, walking slowly up the Park road, over the snow. He had been observed early that morning and was then about a half mile inside the old entrance. The men tried to persuade him to turn about, but he was determined to continue his weary meandering. It was snowing at Government Camp, and in the upper regions of the Park, and though the snow was firm and afforded fairly good footing in the lower regions of the Park, and though the snow was firm and afforded fairly good footing in the lower regions, the old fellow, we knew, would find very tough going as soon as he encountered the soft newly fallen snow.

Mr. D. H. Canfield, our Superintendent, was at Government Headquarters at the same time, having skied in the day before on an inspection trip. He instructed two of us to ski down and get the man out of the Park before he became exhausted or frozen, because it was inevitable that night would overtake him, and having no skis or snowshoes, he would be in a very bad way.

Rudy Lueck and I started immediately, and after skiing about eight miles in a light snow storm, found him between Pole Bridge Creek and the Ski Cabin, sitting on his pack underneath a tree. he had made about seven miles since last being seen, but was near exhaustion and his first call was for water. He undoubtedly had been across the Park before, and no doubt was trying to get to the Rogue River Valley, over the divide. We took him to be an East Indian, or perhaps an Algerian; he spoke but a half dozen words or English, neither could he understand German, Italian or French. Not until we had taken his pack and staff would he turn around, and then reluctantly. With frequent mention of Allah and the repetition of the word "Mazaam, Mazaam", he would point to the mountains above.

He needed food badly, had been staggering for several hundred yards before giving up, so we escorted him to the Ski-Cabin, where we filled him to capacity (a rather large capacity) with coffee, biscuits, beans and corned beef. After he had eaten and thawed out, his, to us, amazing vitality, returned. We were able to escort him out of the Park under his own power. We got him a berth for the night, and the following day turned him over to the Transient Bureau at Klamath Falls, who headed him to a warmer clime.

As a whole, the winter slipped away rapidly and now it is quite unbelievable to again see the earth uncovered.

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