A Spring Weekend on the Upper McKenzie River

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: May 2018 | Participants: 5 | Type: Hiking and Car Camping

The season’s first warm weather brought significant snowmelt into the McKenzie River watershed and over the majestic Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls. Our plan to hike to Tamolitch Falls (Blue Pool) was cut short when a sign stated a mile of trail was closed because water had flooded the path in places to a depth of 3 feet. Even with the closure, there was plenty to appreciate further upstream at Clear Lake with its crystalline waters and turquoise colored Great Spring. Animals that were seen along trail also appeared to appreciate the warmer weather as fish jumped in the lake, several species of birds flew overhead, and a garter snake warmed itself on the rocks. In shaded areas winter still managed to hold its grip as large patches of snow remained. Springs spontaneously appeared on the trail sometimes forming small ponds, and at one point, all of us were mesmerized by a plate-sized vortex that had formed in such a pool. After a solid day of hiking, we visited Belknap Hot Springs for a relaxing soak. Because we timed our visit before the Memorial Day crowds the U.S. Forest Service campground was basically empty. Our campsite was green with moss and located next to a white rushing stream that looked like it was born from a Tolkien novel. The next day we enjoyed the comfort of a morning campfire, broke camp, and explored several more miles of trail before heading home.

   

Visiting Crater Lake’s Wizard Island

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Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is spectacular to behold, but the park’s centerpiece, Wizard Island, truly enchants visitors.

Wizard Island is striking because it appears unreal, as though it was pulled from the pages of a fantasy novel, here’s how I might [poorly] describe such a mystical setting-

Seeing the island for the first time I could only describe this place as the dominion of a sorcerer, a fortress where he/she can perform incantations in solitude. The isle looks as though it was inspired by a familiar clothing item, something mundane and convenient – the magi’s hat; the island gently rises from all sides to a center point, the top appears mischievous as though the fabric has deliberately toppled to the far side. Surrounding the castle is a beguiling blue-colored lake, a gigantic moat that is miles across and terrifyingly deep! The island is fortified too; soldiers of green trees stand guard, expecting an attack from the water they are numerous near the shore, only to have their numbers fray at the ramparts. In the distance, immense cliffs stab into the sky creating an impenetrable wall of stone. The scene is inspiring, beautiful…serene. A cool wind gently blows past and whispers about the power of a hellish phantasm that was once unleashed and devoured a mountain, possibly of a battle between Gods. The island captivates the soul; its beauty too alluring, this grandeur too inspiring, the enchantment…too intoxicating. The wind’s gentle whisper beckons to visit, to explore this place – to walk in its magic.

The best part about Wizard Island is that it is not a fictional destination, this spellbinding place really can be explored, though your time on the island is limited to just a couple of hours.

Like most adventures, be flexible on your journey; while camping at the park I tried, for several days, to obtain tickets for the boat ride to Wizard Island. Unfortunately weather concerns and mechanical problems caused delays. On the third day, the stars aligned and tickets were quickly in hand. After a quick scramble for gear, my family and some friends drove to the opposite side of the massive crater to the Cleetwood Cove parking lot.

The hike to Cleetwood Cove is a 1-mile long, 700-foot decent down the side of the crater.

At the water’s edge was our boat to Wizard Island, about 25 or so people boarded, then we were off.

What is most fascinating about the boat ride is the perspective – a view not fully appreciated from seeing Crater Lake from the rim. Being at the lake’s surface you feel like a small toy boat in a gigantic bath tub, it is an awe-inspiring method to better appreciate just how immense Crater Lake is-

  • The lake stretched beyond our boat in all directions, the crater’s oval shape is a massive 5-miles by 6-miles wide.
  • Below our boat, at the deepest point, was 1,943 feet of water – that’s equal to a 180-story building below us!
  • Around us the rim towered overhead, it ranged in height from 700 feet to 1,800 feet.

Most fascinating, this entire place literally went to hell about 7,700 years ago when the 12,000-foot Mount Mazama erupted – the eruption was 42 times greater than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980*. Riding over the waves it is hard to imagine that the original mountain once stood 1 mile above us and a quarter mile below our tiny boat, and within the course of 2 violent days…completely disappeared in one eruption.

The eruption was recorded in Klamath Native American oral traditions; it tells of two Gods, Skell and Llao who fought. It was their battle that caused the eruption of Mount Mazama and left many of the geographic features seen today.

Over time the volcano eventually settled down, though in the process left behind several gigantic cones, which rise from the crater, several are underwater, the one above the water’s surface is Wizard Island.

The water of Crater Lake is entirely of snowmelt – it is clear, pure, and cold! Its clarity allows light to penetrate to great depths, which absorbs longer rays of light (like red) while scattering and reflecting shorter rays (like blue). When we peer into the water we see these scattered/reflected blue shorter rays.

blog_2013_07_13_img02Approaching Wizard Island, even several miles away, is very impressive.

blog_2013_07_13_img03As the boat approaches Wizard Island the size and grandeur of this volcanic cone becomes apparent.

blog_2013_07_13_img04Hiking to the top of Wizard Island the trail climbs 760 feet, but this is nothing compared to the eastern rim of the crater which towers above me. In the photo the Watchman scrapes the sky at 1840 feet above the lake’s surface. Seen between the trees, on the water (crossing Skell Channel) is a small white line, this is one of the boats that transports passengers to the island.

blog_2013_07_13_img05The views hiking to the top of Wizard Island are jaw dropping.

blog_2013_07_13_img06Think of Wizard Island as a small volcano, and it has a crater; this picture shows several people hiking out. The rim of Crater Lake looms on the horizon.

blog_2013_07_13_img07This Ground Squirrel is a resident of Wizard Island. He was demanding a food tithe from me for visiting his island retreat.

blog_2013_07_13_img08A view from atop Wizard Island looking across Crater Lake to the opposite rim which is about 5 miles away. The blue color is just magnificent.

blog_2013_07_13_img09Hiking down the cinder cone we enjoy a rich tapestry of colors – a masterpiece painted by nature!

blog_2013_07_13_img10This is one of the few boats allowed on Crater Lake. It is seen here delivering visitors; this boat will take us on our return trip around the lake’s perimeter in a counter clockwise direction. Our next stop was the southern shore to see a slide area and the Phantom Ship.

blog_2013_07_13_img11The spires of the Phantom Ship, an island in the lake, which under low-light conditions resembles a ghost ship.

blog_2013_07_13_img12Looking into the water from the edge of the boat we saw this dramatic difference in color. The interpreter on the boat said the contrast was because we were passing over an underwater ledge, to the left the water depth was about 900 feet, to the right the depths plunged to 1,600 feet!

blog_2013_07_13_img13Crater Lake’s legendary “blue” water.

*Wikipedia reference “Mount Mazama.”

» Find out more about boat rides to Wizard Island
» Find out more about Crater Lake National Park

What’s in Your Water Bottle – Trip Report March, 2015

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Trip Report
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Group: Obsidians
Date: March 13, 2015
Participants: 15
Hiking: 2 Miles
Type: Day Hike

We have all turned on the kitchen tap and filled up a bottle in preparation for a hike, but have you ever wondered what was in your bottle? Think about it – we all live downstream from somebody.

How does river water become the tap water we drink and how is wastewater made safe for wildlife and others downstream? To learn more, I organized a trip with The Obsidians (A fantastic outdoor club in Eugene, Oregon), to the local water intake and the wastewater facilities.

Our first visit was to the Hayden Bridge Water Filtration Plant, located adjacent to the McKenzie River, in Springfield. The facility is no small operation; it serves the needs of 200,000 people on a daily basis by removing water directly from the river, treating it, and finally delivering it to our taps.

Here are some observations from the visit:

  • The facility is very high-tech and water quality is measured at all stages of the process both by computer and by human with hourly lab checks.
  • Security is a paramount; the plant is gated with a security fence/gate, cameras are everywhere.
  • Our local water system has about two days of water reserves if there is a calamity.
  • On the day we visited the facility had processed and was sending out 16 million gallons (24 Olympic sized swimming pools) of water to the surrounding community.

Next, we traveled to the Eugene/Springfield Water Pollution Control Facility in Eugene. This is where all of the waste materials that go down the drain/flushed from our households and businesses in the greater Eugene metropolitan area (a quarter of a million people) are processed. The plant is located adjacent to the Willamette River. Our hour and a half visit was very informative:

  • More than 99% of what arrives at the facility is water; less than 1% are solid materials that need to be either removed or turned into bio-solids.
  • Most of the odoriferous gases are collected and used to power a generator that supplies 50-60% of the energy needs of the facility.
  • Waste materials can take up to 10 hours, once they leave your home, until it reaches the wastewater facility; then wastewater can take another 10 hours to be processed. In short, waste materials take less than 24 hours until that water is returned to the river.
  • The amount of water being cleaned and being returned to the Willamette River that day was about 15 million gallons (roughly 23 Olympic swimming pools).
  • During the summer, the plant can process up to 70 million gallons per day (106 Olympic swimming pools) of wastewater!

I was fascinated to learn that on the Willamette River in Oregon there are about 25 wastewater treatment stations, and that does not include communities on the tributaries that flow into the Willamette! Just think about that…for every wastewater plant there is likely a water intake facility that supplies drinking water for the next community downstream. If you live downstream you really want to know that the people upstream are taking care of your water – the water you drink, use for bathing, and for recreation.

If you’re curious about the water that goes into your water bottle start asking questions. Most water intake and wastewater plants are happy to host tours for small groups. Let them know you are interested in visiting.

Behind us is a 2-million gallons of water; the tank is actually a settling basin for any particulate matter.
Water Filtration Plant: Behind us is a 2-million gallon settling basin. This is used to settle any particulate matter in the water. This water was recently pulled from the McKenzie River.
A view an empty 2-million gallon setting tank.
Water Filtration Plant: A view an empty 2-million gallon setting basin.
Wastewater Treatment Facility: It looks like a really bad root-beer float, it is actually air being passed through the wastewater, this allows bacteria to better digest the waste.
Water Pollution Control Facility: It looks like a really bad root-beer float, it is actually air being passed through the wastewater, this allows bacteria to better digest the waste.
Treated water that is almost ready to be returned to the Willamette River.
Water Pollution Control Facility: Treated water that is almost ready to be returned to the Willamette River.

What about when the water is returned to the Willamette River? Find out more, read my post, Rafting the Upper Willamette River with the McKenzie River Trust; the majority of the photos were taken only a few miles downstream from Eugene’s wastewater treatment facility.