Crater Lake National Park is, for most visitors, all about the lake and only the lake. Which is understandable, given that the park’s roads take them right to this utterly stunning natural feature. Even popular hikes in the park, like Garfield Peak or Mount Scott, are mostly about getting a better view of the lake. But what about some of the park’s other natural features, like its cinder cones or bogs or desert? Granted, We went to see Crater Lake! sounds a lot better during show-and-tell than We went to see a bog! But, still, some of these underdog features deserve a little recognition. With that it mind, I (while The LovedOne caught up on her library duties) set out to summit Timber Crater, a well preserved shield volcano in the park’s largely untracked northeast quadrant.
My original plan, based on Google Earth, had been to park at the viewpoint in the Pumice Desert and use an old road to intersect the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at the edge of the desert. But I couldn’t see where this faded old road met the North Entrance Road and so ended-up parking at the Grouse Hill PCT parking lot. From there, I went north on the PCT through a forest (and clouds of mosquitos – where did they find the water to breed??) that seemed more dead than alive (unlike the mosquitos, who were definitely alive…).
At 4.2 miles from the trailhead, I left the PCT and headed northeast cross-country toward the crater. A short way into the forest, I crossed an old road prism and quickly realized this was the old road that started back at the entrance road and parts of which had become today’s PCT (the road was mapped as a dirt road in 1955, as a trail in 1985, and was no longer mapped by 1999).
The mostly open terrain rose gradually toward the crater, with only the last 0.4 miles being really steep. But the footing was good and there was no scrambling. Most views were obscured by the trees, but I caught a glimpse of the crater rim on the way up.
The rim of the summit cone is gently rounded loose dirt and pumice, riddled with ground squirrel holes,
and hosting some small meadows. I’d missed the peak of the growing season here,
but there were still enough wildflowers in bloom to support a few butterflies.
I walked around the rim, catching a few views along the way,
before arriving at the unremarkable summit of Timber Crater.
From the summit, I dropped down into the crater, startling (not sure which of us was the most startled!) a young (still with spots) deer on the way down. The main crater, shown as a depression on the map, is a flat area roughly 600 feet in diameter, big enough to host a rock concert or a football game.
I started back from the low point on the crater rim and worked down through the mostly open forest, getting a good, clear view of Mount Thielsen on the way.
About a mile west of the rim, I again intersected that old road, then followed it back to the PCT. The old road prism, while crossed by a number of fallen trees of differing sizes, was still a much easier hike than trying to go cross-country through the forest.
On the way back, I saw one of the early Pacific Crest Trail System signs being absorbed by a tree. Since the Oregon Skyline Trail ran west of here, this sign must date from when today’s PCT was first routed east of the North Entrance Road.
Not finding the old road at the North Entrance Road made this a longer hike (12.6 miles round-trip; 2,000 feet of elevation gain) than planned but the chance to experience the expansive interior of the crater was well worth it. I stopped at the viewpoint in the Pumice Desert for a look at Timber Crater to the east across the desert and at Mount Thielsen to the north. The park gets roughly 750,000 visitors a year but today was pretty quite here, so the drive home – with the requisite stop at Beckie’s in Union Creek for pie – went smoothly. As did the pie…