Friday, September 13, 2013

Llao's Revenge

Ask anyone who has ever worked at the park: Crater Lake is an hypnotically beautiful but otherwise ethereal vortex that does strange, unusual and sometimes bizarre things to people bold enough to live there or even visit. It's downright spooky at times.

Aside from the spiritual nature of the park, the physics of Crater Lake are intense. For one thing, you’re at altitude; the human brain doesn’t function as well as at sea level, where there’s more oxygen. The ultraviolet rays are unrelenting, particularly on the lake where the water reflects the solar intensity back into your face.

At Crater Lake, some people can suffer catastrophic calamity. Some lose their minds there. Many lose their lives there. Some simply disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.

A year-by-year log of activities conducted by longtime Park Service Rangers Larry and Lloyd Smith, who happen to be twins, confirms what many who worked there already know: the place has bad juju. Speaking from personal experience, my buddy Pat Taylor and I escaped the revenge of Llao at least twice that summer.

The first time, while Pat and I were transporting hundreds of pounds of scuba diving equipment down the Cleetwood Trail, our small tractor lost its brakes and started rolling into the lake at high speed. Thinking quickly, we dove from the tractor and fortunately received only minor leg injuries.

In another incident, we loaded an old engine block onto a small rowboat and -- using another small rowboat with an outboard motor for towing purposes -- we were instructed to sink the boat with the engine block by puncturing it with a pick.

About a mile off shore from Wizard Island, the boat with the engine block started taking on water and, milliseconds later, both boats disappeared to the bottom of the lake, sending us reeling into the frigid, 35-degree water. Thanks to an alert Chuck Risse, one of our mates on the boat crew, we were spared from the clutches of Llao.

Another time, as I was winding my way back to the lodge at dusk, a herd of mule deer bounded across Rim Drive in front of, around and behind me, narrowly missing my VW bug. Startled and shaking, I had to pull over to collect my wits.

In 1975, an estimated 1,500 tourists and park employees suffered from an bout of gastrointestinal illness initiated by sewage that had seeped into the park’s water system. The epidemic closed the park for the remainder of the season.

The Klamath, Modoc and other local tribes have long understood the supernatural mien of Mt. Mazama. Ever wise in environmental matters, the people of the marshes left Crater Lake alone, fearing its mysterious powers.

Tribal shamen warned that “death and lasting sorrow” would befall anyone who gazed upon the lake. It’s evil, they say, the home of dark spirits. Native Americans who work at the park avoid the lake.

They know better: the spirit of Llao continues to dwell in the deep blue waters of Crater Lake, waiting for its next victim.

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