Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Curse Of Llao

To mark the 40th anniversary of my summer as a tour guide and boat operator at Crater Lake National Park (below, right), friend Frank Czubiak and I hit the road for a few days of fun and adventure in and around "the jewel of the Cascades" on Monday, July 29.

Alas, arriving at Discovery Point for a peek at the deepest lake in North America, the smoke from the 25,000-acre Douglas Complex fire near Glendale, Oregon had already begun to engulf the caldera (above), obscuring the views across the normally picturesque setting. As luck would have it, we were jinxed by “The Curse of Llao.”

To the indigenous inhabitants of the marshes south and east of the mountain they called Lao-Yaina (Llao’s mountain), Crater Lake was a powerful, mystical place, home of the evil deity, Llao, who resided inside Mt. Mazama. Along with his minions, a collection of lesser spirits who could change their worldly forms at will, Llao was the supreme ruler of the underworld, of earthquakes, smoke and fire.

The Klamath and Modoc tribes, who settled in the basins near Mt. Mazama about 13.000 years ago as the Pleistocene meltout filled the giant lakes and marshes, were understandably fearful of the mountain, at that time one of the great volcanoes of the world. The massif was revered and full of symbolism, and tribal shamen would weave tales of mystery and imagination about the dwelling of Llao.

While the prince of darkness occupied the grim mass north of the marshes, Skell -- the benign god of the earth and sky -- ruled to the south on the lofty, white dome known today as Mt. Shasta. Rejected and humiliated by the daughter of a Klamath chieftain, the lovelorn Llao sought revenge, trying to destroy her people with a curse of fire, and battled with Skell, her protector.

The evil deity thundered and spewed rivers of fire, burning rocks and lethal black gas on the villages below. A fierce war raged between these gods until Skell vanquished the lord of the underworld, forcing the summit of Mt. Mazama to collapse and sending the subjects of Llao into the seething remains of the mountain. 

Seeking peace and tranquility, Skell filled the dark pit with blue water. But fearing its mysterious powers and evil past, Native Americans tended to leave Crater Lake alone. Shamen warned that death would come to anyone who gazed upon the indigo blue waters.

John Wesley Hillman, the first white man to “discover” Crater Lake, was puzzled by the indifference shown by the Native Americans to his discovery: “Stranger to me than our discovery was the fact that I could get no acknowledgement that any such lake existed; each and every one denied any knowledge of it,” he wrote in his journal.

White settlers in the vicinity and subsequent generations of immigrants would not be immune from the evil spirits lurking in the deep blue waters of Crater Lake. But those are tales for another day. On this day, we had been bedeviled by “Curse of Llao.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Vintage Vagabonds: Denouement

As these backcountry excursions go, the trip up Phelps Creek to Spider Meadows and beyond ranks right up there with the best. For one thing, the weather was fabulous -- not too hot and not too cold. The bonus was that there were virtually no bugs.

Timing -- as they say -- is everything, and our trip in the Glacier Peak Wilderness coincided with the melting of key campsites at about 4,500 feet above sea level. Beyond, of course, it was mostly snow.

That made the bug situation tolerable, with only a few mosquitoes at dusk that were unceremoniously blown away by prevailing winds. Otherwise, it was way too early for the appearance of black flies, yellow jackets, deer flies and bald-faced hornets.

Because the meadow had recently thawed, the mountain flowers had yet to blossom, except for some cow parsnip and a couple of other early bloomers. Deer and marmot were out in force and were not bashful about making their presence known.

The first night, we ate well as usual. “Cowboy punch” (vodka and lemonade mix in ice cold water) provided libations for cocktail hour, followed by the piece de resistance -- macaroni and cheese with diced Spam and onions sautéed in olive oil.

Frank (above, left) and Steve enthusiastically give two thumbs up while enjoying this epicurean delight around the campfire. Of course, the next night we were back to Mountain House freeze-dried dinners.

Spider Glacier was the highlight of our sojourn. Lyall’s larch (above), also known as mountain tamarack in these parts, provided bright green contrast to the white and grey of the snow and rock.

Although a conifer, the larch is a deciduous tree; it turns bright yellow before losing its leaves in autumn, creating an otherworldly, Hobbit-like environment in the backcountry of the North Cascades.

Crossing streams this early in the season is always an adventure. Plan on getting wet. Spider Gap (below) -- at the apex of our climb -- was a great spot for a view of Lyman Lakes, and waterfalls surrounded the glacier. Guess that’s why they call them the “Cascades.”