Our Northwest

How Crater Lake Lodge preps for winter

Monday, November 24, 2014by  Jon Osterberg

Story No. 5 in a series
   Just as you winterize your home, Northwest landmarks get prepped for winter, too.
   That includes Crater Lake Lodge, situated right at the caldera rim of Oregon’s famous extinct volcano.
   Crater Lake was created about 7,600 years ago when ancient Mt. Mazama erupted and collapsed on itself. Today we know the water that fills the huge caldera as Crater Lake.
   Crater Lake Lodge sits at 7,002 feet, about 5,000 feet below Mazama’s pre-collapse summit, which scientists estimate was around 12,000 feet high. The lodge closes to guests by mid-October.
   Built in 1915 and renovated in 1995 to its original specifications, harsh winter storms pound the historic structure. Phil Gibson, chief director of engineering, and his crew of seven face stern tests in preserving and maintaining it. All lodge restoration and maintenance must be natural and authentic. For example, the National Park Service allows no chemical de-icers.
   “This is a four-story lodge with cedar shake roofs and siding,” Gibson said. “A metal roof would shed snow and hold up better, but we couldn’t put one on, for authenticity.”
   By November 1 each year, work crews shut off water to all pipes above the basement level and drain them. Water pipes remain pressurized in the basement, for fire suppression.
   Snowfall at Crater Lake averages 533 inches annually, about 44 feet, and by spring there’s typically 10 to 15 feet of snowpack on the ground.
   In April 1983, snowpack reached 21 feet deep.
   “We literally board up every window and doorway, and we cap the chimney,” Gibson said. “We do that to protect from collapse by snow.”
   Crater Lake Lodge never goes entirely ‘offline’ for the winter.
   “The upper floors remain heated to between 45 and 50 degrees,” Gibson said. “We have a small maintenance office in the basement that’s heated to about 65.”
   Heat comes from fuel-oil boilers that use 20% biofuel, stored in tanks that hold up to 20,000 gallons. At 7,002 feet, there are no winter deliveries.
   Electricity for Crater Lake Lodge comes straight off the Pacific Power grid, but fluctuations and outages at that elevation are common, so Gibson maintains a biofuel generator for backup.
   I asked Gibson if he hunkers down at the lodge all winter, gawking on clear days at stunning views that stretch all the way to Mt. Shasta in California.
   “No one lives on the rim in the winter,” Gibson explained. “Sometimes in heavy snow, you can’t get there for two weeks. I commute from Chiloquin, 35 miles southeast of the lodge.”
   Gibson drives a 4-wheel-drive Chevy Colorado. (If you’re curious, he doesn’t use studs, just winter snow tires.) Each winter morning at 4 a.m., National Park plows clear access to Mazama Village (6,004 feet), park headquarters at Steel Visitor Center (6,450 feet), and Crater Lake Lodge.
   Although Crater Lake endures some harsh weather – Gibson said it hit -22° last winter – temperatures remain somewhat moderate because of Pacific onshore flow. The National Park Service says the lake surface hasn’t frozen completely since 1949, though it got close in 1985.

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