Our first ever mule packing trip was suitably adventurous but plagued by smoke for four of its six days. We came back to civilization to find that fire had ravaged (and is still ravaging 😥 ) a goodly part of our Oregon. We drove home in thick, acrid, choking smoke. And were then confined to our house (which we are thankful is still standing) by this foul miasma for all the next week. Finally, finally, last Friday the winds shifted a bit and we could breathe outside. By today the smoke had thinned enough – but not gone away, there are still fires burning – to allow for a short visit outside. Nothing dramatic, just anything other than staring out our living room window at drifting swirls of yellowish particulates and fetid vapors. 🙄

If you spend enough (or too much 🙄 ) time gazing at maps, odd features eventually jump out at you. One of these is on the western edge of Crater Lake National Park: Castle Point (6,276 feet / 1,913 m). It’s one of 40 cinder cones and shield volcanoes in the vicinity of the Crater Lake caldera. The topo map indicated it had an interesting elongated shape for a cinder cone.

The Castle Point topo with slope shading

Aerial imagery showed a perfectly circular crater some 400 feet (120 m) in diameter next to the summit. The LIDAR imagery (which “sees” through trees) was much more dramatic, in that it showed the crater as a massive dimple with a canyon of volcanic material flowing from it into a drainage to the east.

Our track (red) to Castle Point’s summit on the edge of the crater

Castle Point is less than a mile off Highway 62 (but can barely be seen from it). Put a journey to its summit together with a search for the lookout tree and we had the makings of a short hike, mini road trip escape (at least for a few hours) from our smoke-enforced captivity.

We got going by taking Highway 140 east (dodging the south side of the South Oberchain fire), wending our way through Fort Klamath (past the west side of the 242 Fire), and then north on Highway 62 (recently opened after fire closures) into Crater Lake National Park. The crux move of the hike to the Point is finding a safe and legal place to park along Highway 62 which, after some squirrel-like indecision, we finally did. The hike to the summit was through a tangle of fallen trees and fulsome vegetation. No real bushwhacking, just a lot of slow ducking and weaving over, under, and around obstacles.

Cross-country through the forest
Walk softly and crawl over many big sticks…

But soon enough we’d reached the reddish rock at the rim of the crater. Up close it looks even more like a perfect round, sloping crater than it does in the aerial photos. What a wonderful little feature tucked away under the trees so very near the highway! Although dimmed somewhat by the smoke that still suffuses our area, the views from the rim were pretty good.

On the crater rim
Looking north toward Hillman Peak and The Watchman, with a hawk circling overhead
Mount Bailey (B) and Mount Thielsen (T) to the north
Garfield Peak (G) and Mount Scott (S) to the east
Rabbit Ears (R) to the west, barely visible through the smoky haze
Union Peak to the south: just a silhouette in the smoky haze
Going back down the north slope of the crater

All told, we did just 1.9 miles (3 km) round-trip but with a steep 850 feet (260 m) of gain. As with our hikes to other cinder cones in the park – Timber Crater and Bald Crater – this one provided a different perspective on other prominent points in the area. On the way home we bravely (foolishly) resisted the temptation to stop for pie at Beckie’s Cafe. Perhaps we were simply looking for an excuse (as if one is needed) to re-visit the Union Creek area. Which, of course, we will… soon. 😀