D and I did a three day backpack. We did the same thing in April last year, but the snow pack was huge and snowshoes were involved, and our three day became two days after we lost spirit. (And because essentially all backpacking in Craters is off trail, and besides the little adjustments to avoid particularly nasty lava flows you pretty much just pick a line and go in that direction, it makes cutting things sort, perhaps, a little too easy.)
This time we loaded GPS coordinates of several interesting landmarks into D's device and tentatively headed for one of them each day, with lots of time for wandering around and finding good campsites in between.
First - obligatory photos of lava fields!!!
You can occasionally find easier walking in between the lava...
Harder walking, right over the top.
Despite essentially covering similar ground we saw many neat lava features we didn't see before, and didn't see many neat lavas features we did see last time. I believe, if you were to walk a line of latitude straight across Craters, and then move 300 yards north or south and walk straight across it again, your experience would be completely different. The smallest changes in the nature of the lava change how you hike so much, and the lava just changes constantly, there are so many variations.
All of the lava however, works your feet! I never take my shoes off while hiking, but in Craters, exceptions were made.
Shoes off break.
Look D - there's an avocado!
An avocado tree?
No, an avocado.
An avocado pit?
No, an avocado.
Is it a rock?
Umm... yes, it's a rock. But it's an avocado!
(Shows D avocado rock)
That is an avocado!
(Maybe this is where I should mention that it was stunningly cold both nights, which led to me getting maybe 2 forty five minute naps the first night, and maybe 3 the second... our conversations were not groundbreaking...)
Photo Credit D.
D's light reflecting off icicles under the bridge.
(It should be noted that bridges in Craters are usually formed when two sides of an underground cave collapse, leaving the roof of the middle of the cave a bridge. Not exactly Canyonlands here...)
I like to pronounce Aa as "AAAAAHHHHH" because that is what goes through your mind when walking through/over/on top of it.
When plotting a trip to Craters on the map, "Prairie" and "Pahoehoe" are your friend :)
Besides the lack of comprehensive snow cover, there were a few of these darlings peeking out.
Exceedingly more spring like than last year.
If you can find smooth enough lava to not constantly be watching your feet, there are pretty much constant mountain views.
Spot the green tent below. At the edge of the sage fields and near the cinder cones and buttes you can find patches of cinder beach which makes for nice camping.
The view from the top, looking out over a lava flow.
D surveying. You can see a few snow patches in the lava field below. Snow being the rare water source at Craters, makes backpacking trips during this time of year a necessity, unless you like carrying all your water with you.
The moon was bright and out early in the evening.
This is Idaho sunbathing -
Toward the end of the third/last day, we intercepted some established trails. This is D showing what the tree would have looked like before the lava surrounded it thousands of years ago. He's standing in a Tree Mold that would have covered more than just his knees, except there was at least a foot of snow in the bottom.
At that point where we were almost at the car, but had just far enough to go that you still have to pay attention I started thinking about the most abusive places to hike... and decided to re-establish the DefCon system, which in my mind was more like DeathCon, which switched to DeathHike... like - "Oh, my gosh, we've hit DeathHike 2!" Except I thought that instead of each level having a number it should have a place... and based on my own personal hiking experience, this is how it played out -
DeathHike 1 - Grand Canyon
DeathHike 2 - Craters of the Moon
DeathHike 3 - Death Valley
DeathHike 4 - Zion
DeathHike 5 - (I was going to say Yosemite, but only because of a particularly abusive hike where I barely ate all day and vomited multiple times on the trail... sorry if you happened to be one of the people waiting outside the pizza place at Curry Village... that couldn't have been pretty... but the conversation devolved at this point and I never decided for sure...)
D did a post too... but he's also doing a write up for BackpackingLight.com so he wasn't his usual verbose self.
While Craters certainly deserves time and attention, and one trip is not quite enough to see everything, I do think D and I have reached that nice, thorough level of understanding with Craters. Neither of us left, dreaming of what we'd do when we go back. I'm sure we'll go back... and I'm sure Craters has many more secrets yet to reveal to me, but I'm left with a satisfied feeling that will keep it low on the To-Do list for a few years.
Not a bad thing.