Original Post: September 1, 2015
Day 16 – Crater Lake! It was “only” a 3 1/2 hour drive from the Redwood National Forest, but it’s funny how on this trip, the shorter drives felt longer. We arrived at the campground at 12:30, set up camp, ate some lunch, and realized it was already time to get moving again. Our reservations for the boat tour of Crater Lake were for 3:30 and all of the guidebooks and info say to arrive at the top of Cleetwood Cove at least an hour prior. That’s because it’s a 1.1 mile switchback trail with an 11% grade down to the lake below. “Insane” is not enough to describe the parents we saw who were carrying toddlers both down and back up this path, although “miserable” was pretty accurate.
This was the hike I was worried about as the website claims that the “trail is recommended only for those in good physical condition.” Having screwed up my ankle less than a week prior, I was concerned, but there was no way I was missing out on a boat tour of Crater Lake. (Two boats in two days? Whoa!) Wrap it up! Thanks Mr. Ace Bandage. After all, it’s only an ankle. If I screwed it up further, at least it would be 100% worth every second. We took our time, taking about 45 minutes to reach the bottom of Cleetwood Cove Trail. Oddly enough, it wasn’t my ankle that bothered me at all, but rather my knees. It’s always something. My joints have always been weak and I’ve frequently suffered bouts of tendonitis from time to time in ankles, wrists, and knees. If that’s my lifelong “condition,” though, I’ll take it. It may not be great fun, but it’s bearable and I’m lucky! (And I still made it to the bottom of Cleetwood Cove! WITHOUT my knees buckling on me!)
While we waited for our tour to be called, we met an adorable family with two young boys who made us a bit homesick for our own little girls. (You know, the little brats who didn’t want to talk to us because they were having too much fun with my parents. Why do I love them so much!?) For the purpose of this blog, we’ll call the boys Adam and Taylor and their parents Mel and Tim Johnson. Though they seemed impressed with our journey, they were on quite the journey of their own (and with kids no less!). While we waited for the boat, we found out that they were from the San Francisco bay area and that they, too were headed to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons next. What are the chances? It was nice to meet kindred spirits who felt the same draw to nature and the desire to pass that love onto the next generation. I regretted not having the girls with us. (And then I remembered that they hate car rides and that though the destinations were amazing on this trip, the car trips were rides from hell.)
The boat tour started off with chop and cloudy skies, instantly dashing my hopes of capturing the amazing water shots. I had seen images online of Crater Lake waters glinting with amazing clarity – turquoise and deep blue hues typically only seen in the tropics. We were pleasantly surprised, therefore, when the sun emerged from the clouds and we had the chance to see how blue the waters of Crater Lake really could be. Maybe a few “tropical” shots after all!
After the tour, we headed back up Cleetwood Cove Trail. And if the walk down was strenuous, the hike back up was twice that. (But at least my knees didn’t threaten to buckle going uphill.) I was ready for a slower pace, but as it turns out Adam and Taylor were quite enamored of Nate and glued themselves to his side. It was positively endearing…especially as I huffed and puffed from 100 feet behind them. Every now and again, Nate would pause to wait for me to catch up and I’d get to hear the extensive and intense conversation regarding the latest and most important video game. I’ll be honest. My asthma hasn’t acted up in 8 years, but this hike definitely had me struggling. Frequent stops helped. Still, we made it to the top in a half hour. (Faster than I could have imagined thanks to the kids, who despite the steep grade still managed to chatter nonstop. How do kids do this? What superpower do they possess?)
Once we reached the top, we bid the Johnson family farewell, hoping to see them again in Yellowstone, but knowing the odds were likely against it. As we trekked to our car, their van pulled up and we exchanged cell phone numbers. Perhaps we’d meet in Yellowstone after all, or at least compare funny stories along the way!
By the time we arrived at the Mazama Campground, we were starved and headed to Annie Creek grill for food. One lame “fake” pizza later, we were full. Following up the meal with chocolate “bear claws” improved the dinner considerably.
Another early night for us, but a fully satisfying day. So, it was only an ankle. And I didn’t make it any worse by hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail. Just don’t ask me how it feels today, nearly two months later. (Hint: The answer is not “better.”)
It was still worth it.