The alarm on my watch was set for 5:30 in the morning. I, however, started waking up every half hour at about 3:30 a.m. I was excited to get up and head back to the lake, but kept hoping to fall back asleep until 5:30 a.m. when Joe would wake up, too. It didn’t help that the temperature continued to plummet through the night. I kept waking up shivering and tried to bury myself deeper inside my sleeping bag.
My alarm finally went off at 5:30 a.m. I internally rejoiced as Joe stirred on the opposite side of the tent. In a very groggy voice he asked if I still wanted to get up for the sunrise, stating either way was fine with him. I answered by sitting up and grabbing a sweatshirt.
Within minutes we were out of the tent and into the dark, racing against the sun. It was a seven mile drive winding our way up the side of the mountain towards Crater Lake Lodge. We thought that would be a good place to watch the sun illuminate the gorgeous lake. Pale light slowly began to cut through the dark sky as we drove. There was no sight of the sun yet, but its presence was already felt. I rounded the last turn and pulled into the lodge parking lot.
We exited my car in our cold weather gear; equipped with hooded sweatshirts, jeans, and knit caps. It was still bitter cold so we walked through the lobby en route to the veranda overlooking Crater Lake far below. We made a quick stop while in the lobby. In one corner of the cozy, yet spacious great hall was a table with complimentary coffee. We each grabbed a cup and walked out on the patio overlooking Crater Lake.
The sky above had already progressed to a dark blue, which was evolving to a lighter, paler blue with each passing minute. The sun climbed the horizon faster than I expected. A pink banner of light shot across the lower reaches of the sky, just above the caldera. Then the pink fanned upwards to shades of yellow, before continuing higher into the transforming sky.
The lake was a rich, sapphire blue. It appeared lumpy from far above. It looked like it was gently sloshing around like a jiggling Jell-O mold. The water color remained a very dark blue, from the lack of sun.
Crater Lake is an utterly spectacular sight, unlike any other lake in the world. It is completely enclosed by jagged cliffs. The caldera rim ranges from 700 to 2,000 feet above the water. The lake is circular in shape with a diameter of roughly five miles. And its pristine cold water is a stunning midnight blue.
To our left, in the western side of the large lake was Wizard Island. The island is actually a volcanic cinder cone with a crater of its own at its summit. It reaches more than 750 feet above the water, but actually stretches all the way to the bottom of the caldera, almost 2,000 feet below the lake’s surface. The small island is like an iceberg, whereas the area above water spans about one square mile, while the part underwater covers nearly three square miles. Wizard Island has a rocky shore and is mostly covered by hemlock and fir trees. Although, the upper third of the cone is mostly barren, exposing the 500 foot wide crater on top.
The crater in which the lake rests was formed 7,700 years ago. Mount Mazama, one of the most imposing peaks in the Cascade Range, exploded with a massive volcanic eruption. Ash spread as far as 1,000 miles away. The hollow volcano imploded, leaving a gigantic crater in its wake. The bowl-shaped caldera that remained was 4,000 feet deep with the outer rim topping out 8,929 feet above sea level.
Over several hundred years rain and snow slowly filled the caldera, creating a striking blue lake, now known as Crater Lake. No streams or rivers flow into or out of the lake leaving it extremely clear. In fact, it is widely regarded as the clearest lake in the world. The amount of rain and snowfall the lake receives is offset by evaporation and seepage, maintaining the level of the lake. Crater Lake is 1,943 feet deep, making it the deepest lake in the country, and seventh deepest in the world.
Apart from the immaculate blue color of the lake, the towering rock wall enclosing it helps make Crater Lake such a scenic destination. Despite the fact that the deepest lake in the country resides inside the giant caldera, it is still only half full. That means the crater rim soars steeply up from the lake for another 2,000 feet. Consequently, the lake can only be seen from the numerous viewpoints along the rim.
We watched the natural beauty before us from a couple of large rocking chairs on the balcony. There were a handful of others out there with us braving the cold. I sipped my coffee as I rocked. It tasted awful. I guess I forgot to mention that I have never liked coffee. However, I hadn’t tried it in a long time and since it was awfully cold out I figured it might hit the spot. It did not. I didn’t take another swig of the coffee, but I held on tight with both hands for warmth. My coffee may not have warmed my insides, but it did a number on my hands.
I put my coffee down to take some pictures as the sun’s rays eclipsed the crater’s rim. A great orange burst of sunshine sprayed the western side of the caldera. The sunlight steadily spread across more of the lake and the side of Wizard Island. And within minutes the whole crater was illuminated with a soft glow amplifying the rocky makeup of the caldera. Thankfully, the sunrise was accompanied by an increase in temperature. It was still cold, but it was gradually heating up.
Rocking on the large chair, watching the sunrise over the lake was a great experience despite the cold. It was equally quiet and peaceful. Viewing the glow of the sun slide down the rim and span the length of the lake below me was unlike anything I had ever seen. I felt very relaxed watching the natural display before me. The crater eventually came alive with color as the sun continued its ascent. And with the sunrise complete it was time for us to exit the lodge and head to Cleetwood Cove.