Local Diving

Waldo Lake

The first time someone asked me why I dive locally,

I had to stop and actually think for an answer. To me, I thought it was obvious — I enjoy it! I now perceive there are four good reasons to dive locally.

1.

Diving requires practice and training to do well and safely! Every time I dive, my skill level goes up — I learn something new. If one only dives on vacation to some exotic site, they might only get to dive once a year or in some cases every couple of years or more. This suggests that even though one may have logged 20 dives they occurred quite some time ago and one¹s skills have not been expanded or practiced since. (Believe me, I especially see this in Roatan.) What kind of golfer or skier would only golf or ski when on vacation? Are they the ones who actually spend most of their vacations in the club house or lodge? If you were going to take a climbing or hiking vacation to Tibet, wouldn¹t you practice first by climbing and hiking locally? I would think that practice would make the vacation more pleasurable besides being fun in itself.

2.

Local diving is cost effective. People talk about diving being expensive — travel is expensive. On a typical dive vacation, one may spend 70% on travel, 20 % on accommodations and food and 10% on diving. It costs less to equip oneself (including a dry suit), and dive locally than it does to make one average dive trip somewhere and rent your gear — besides, you get to keep all of your equipment after every dive and go diving next weekend too!.

3.

I like to dive locally because it is fun, exciting, and relaxing. The pleasure lies in seeing and experiencing new adventures. To see the lavenders and purples of the spectrum at 80 feet in Waldo Lake is inspirational. The fun of sharing a common interest and excitement with some friends or buddies is a healthy way to socialize. It seems as if divers are a special group of generous people who enjoy company. There is no other sport which allows one feel so weightless and free within a three dimensional environment, Diving is the sport of NOW. When diving, there is no future or past — one is totally in the moment — there is no cell phone, engine noise, or pollution.

4.

I have more senses than just sight. Someone asked me what there is to “see” in some of our pristine lakes. Believe me, there has to be more to diving than just “seeing” to make it worth my time. When I am working in Roatan as a Divemaster, if I was dependent upon just my sight to keep me interested, even the complexity of the reef would get boring. There are so many sensations and ideas to be explored, and diving is the perfect medium for me. Every dive is a meditation.

World Class Altitude DIving

Altitude Diving:

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Please remember that regular dive tables and computers do not work correctly without adjustment for all altitudes above 1000¹. Please only dive if you understand how to plan and execute altitude dives safely and properly. In most cases you will be a long way from medical assistance and hyperbaric treatment. (Portland, Oregon) I offer an Altitude Diver Specialty Course and the chapter in the PADI Adventures in Diving Manual on ³Altitude Diver² offers an explanation. Be Safe!

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The following sites are phenomenal altitude diving sites! If identified as oligotrophic (nutrient free), you can expect wonderful visibility. Several of these lakes have restrictions on motor boats, so they tend to be diver friendly.


  • Waldo Lake
  • Clear Lake
  • Crater Lake
  • Cultus Lake
  • Odell Lake


Crater Lake

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Trapped in the caldera of extinct volcano Mt. Mazama, Oregon’s only National Park beckons divers with its indigo blue and vertical walls. Famous for its distinctive blue water Crater Lake attracts visitors from around the world who marvel at the surface colors. The same magnificence greets divers below the surface. Expect shades of blues and violets you have perhaps never experienced before.
Crater Lake is classed as an oligotrophic lake so you will not be seeing many fish. I have seen a few, they are shy Brown Trout mostly. The Atlas of Oregon Lakes (1985) rates the transparency of Crater Lake at 95.1 feet. However the USGS reports:

The record clarity of Crater Lake was measured at a depth of 41 m (134 ft) in August 1994. The lake clarity is measured with a secchi disk, a black and white disk lowered into the water with a cable. Its exceptional clarity is mainly due to its isolation from streams and rivers. There is no incoming stream to bring any organic materials, sediments, or chemicals to pollute the lake, although natural plankton in the lake and wind-borne pollen have seasonal effects on water clarity. Particulate materials and chemicals are mainly introduced into the lake through precipitation and run-off of the calderal walls. The caldera wall is composed of volcanic rocks that do not react with or dissolve easily in cold water, although warm water escaping from the caldera floor adds a small amount of dissolved solids.

I believe the latest bathymetric survey of Crater Lake was completed in 2003 as the USGS reports:

The maximum depth of Crater Lake recorded at the time of the July 2000 multibeam survey was 594 m ( 1,949 ft). The lake level had an elevation of 1,883 m (6,178 ft) above sea level at the time of the survey. The lake level of Crater Lake fluctuates according to the climate (http://craterlake.wr.usgs.gov/facts.html).


DIVING CRATER LAKE:

As of the summer of ’03 the Park Service no longer requires preregistration for diving Crater Lake. That adds convenience and safety for those who enter the park from the north entrance. However, the park service does expect divers to have in their possession their certification cards and to apply altitude diving rules. A floating dive flag must be towed above divers in the water. I have had casual conversations with Park Rangers, and their questions reflected knowledge of the hazards of diving the lake. If one is not versed in applying altitude diving rules I suggest one get some training before diving Crater Lake for a couple of reasons. First, since one passes over the rim at over 7000 feet one must calculate the dive at 8000 feet! Second (and I will emphasize this again) this is a rigorous dive — with strenuous exercise before and after. Trust the Force on this. In addition, a diver needs experience with controlling open water vertical descents and excellent buoyancy control. It is not a good beginner’s dive.

The only access down to the lake is via Cleetwood Cove Trail on the north side of the lake. The parking lot area is slightly over 7000 feet so as I said before the dive must be planned at 8000 ft. The trail is a steep gravel hiking trail. There is about 1000 ft of elevation change in about 3/4 of a mile. The Park Service does not allow any wheels to be used on the trail. This is a rigorous hike without a heavy pack! Please, one should not do this if one is not reasonably fit. I load all of my equipment, including an old 72 cu ft tank and weights, on a sturdy aluminum backpack. The whole shebang weighs about 110 lbs. I hump this down the trail to the dive site and then split the load for the hike out. I have seen people hike out with their full down load with white flecks at the corners of their mouths. Remember, this is not level ground and one is at 7000 ft. Dalton’s law of gasses means there is less oxygen to get and one can easily experience hypoxia. This is rigorous! Stay hydrated! Take your time! Dive a conservative profile!

When one reaches the bottom of the trail, go past the boathouse toward the privies. Go around below the toilets and you will be on the top of a cliff with boulder access down to the water. Carefully pass your gear down and suit up in the boulders. One may enter the water on a slight shelf, but about 10 feet out it is a vertical wall — I mean vertical! Straight down to about 95 or 100 feet and then a steep slope into the abyss. Remember, this lake is over 1900 feet deep. There is nowhere at this dive site to stop and adjust buoyancy on the bottom! Divers must be skilled and control their descents carefully. Avoid banging into the wall or finning against the wall — the fine sediment will silt the vis and other divers won’t appreciate it! I like to turn left after entering from the boulder patch and swim kind of southeast admiring the absolute beauty of the wall formations. If I have gotten down early enough to avoid the breeze rippling the surface, I have been able to clearly see trees standing up above the cliff on the wall of the caldera. When one looks down into the abyss, notice the different shades of purple and violet. There are some great photo opportunities along the wall if the vis is undisturbed. At the end of the dive, be sure to allow a 3 minute safety stop at the appropriate depth for the altitude. Please dive a conservative profile.

What I normally do in the summer is set up an Altitude Diver Specialty class on a weekend. We do our two training dives in Waldo Lake and then move our camp up to a higher elevation on Saturday afternoon to acclimate. We then go into the national park on Sunday morning and knock off the Crater Lake dive. By acclimating at about 6000 feet, we are able to add a margin of safety to our dive.

Waldo Lake

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Another “Top of the World” dive! Waldo Lake is similar to Crater Lake in that it is a summit lake resulting from the collection of snow and rain from an extremely limited watershed. Waldo Lake is my favorite lake to dive so far. Considered ultra oligotrophic I believe it has better clarity than Crater Lake although the underwater geology is not as spectacular. I believe Waldo is a glacial gouge which has filled with melt and rain. It is the second largest natural lake in the state with a surface area of 6298 acres and a depth of 420 ft. The Atlas of Oregon Lakes (1985) rates its transparency at 52 ft; however, I personally think they measured it on a bad day! The website http://www.jcheadwaters.com/Cascade.html reports a transparency of 30 m. on a Secche disk, so I suppose it can vary. Another accessible website with info on Waldo and Crater is: http://www.nps.gov/crla/notes/vol32-33b.htm. In the fall of 2008 I had a 100′ horizontal line on the bottom at 20′ depth. I was able to see the entire length of the line and beyond for a total distance of about 130′. Of course with that depth, I had great lighting.

Waldo¹s history is quite interesting. I first visited Waldo in 1969 shortly after the paved road was brought in from highway 58. I had heard about it from a fellow who had grown up in Oakridge and had spent his youth hunting and trapping around Waldo. He told three stories that really stuck. First was the story of Simon Klovdahl and his attempt to irrigate and power the Willamette Valley by digging a headgate controlled tunnel through the ridge on the west side of the lake into the head of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. He did the deed somewhere around 1910 and from the historical photos and my own exploration of their living arrangements, it must have been miserable! The stories claim that all of their equipment and supplies were teamed up from Bend to the north end of the lake and then barged down to Klovdahl Bay. The stories also claim that they used a steam tug to move the barges. Orlo Flock told me that as kid he recalled seeing a ³sunken ship² on the bottom of the lake. That was his second story, and the third was that there used to be a ³hotel / hunting lodge² on the lake. I have spent some time researching and trying to put pieces together to locate clues but so far, I have not found the ³tug.² I may have found the site of the boathouse where it was kept, but underwater I could find little evidence.

There are also stories of a seaplane that landed, caught fire, and sank into the lake and last summer some one asked me if I knew of the ³railroad train.² on the bottom. That one seemed a stretch to me, but there is some submerged machinery around the concrete headgates in Klovdahl Bay which may have inspired someone¹s imagination that it was a locomotive.

In a conversation with a scientist at Portland State University, we decided that Waldo Lake needed and deserved a monster, so someone can start that with a sighting in the mist.

View Waldo Lake Bathymetric map in JPG format.
View Waldo Lake Bathymetric map in PDF format.

DIVING WALDO LAKE:

The elevation of Waldo Lake is 5414 ft so it is planned as a 6000 ft dive. Because I like to avoid DCS risks I usually arrive near the summit near Charlton Lake and camp there the night before I dive. The aclimation is just one more way for me to build in a safety margin.

My friends call my favorite Waldo Dive “Walt’s Wall.” (I know, it’s just ego which has become a joke, but I like the spot.) Anyway, go in toward Shadow Bay boat ramp. Just above the boat ramp you will pass a large paved parking lot that runs toward the north. Go to the northeast corner of the parking area and park your rig there. You will notice a trailhead there that runs down toward the lake. Pack up your gear and head down the trail. (I have settled on a handi-dandy hand truck from BiMart. — I can bungie on all of my gear, a couple of tanks, and a PB&J for lunch and head down the trail!) Anyway, drop down that trail about 50 yards and you will hit the trail that runs around the shoreline. Go left about 15 yards and take the fork that goes toward the lake. It runs out onto a rocky point with a bench at the end. Suit up there and enter the water right off the point. Take a heading of 270š for a surface swim of about 100 yds. You will be swimming out over a gradual bottom. I suggest a surface swim because the bottom of Waldo at that depth has a very fragile organic mantle about 1/2 inch thick. If it is disturbed, it silts quite badly. Every once in a while, take a look down and ahead of you and pretty soon you will see the edge of the wall. I usually drop down right on the edge of the wall and set my float anchor there with a screw.

The wall runs to the south from there and tops at about 15′ and bottoms at about 60′. At this north end of the wall at about 35 feet someone had built a cairn of rock — it was a nice landmark and interesting, but has been scattered . Continuing on, I have seen some magnificent brown trout (including some schools) in and around the boulders in the wall. I like to just drop to the bottom on the north end of the wall and head south along the bottom of the wall at about 50 feet so I am not stirring up the fine organic silt. Continuing along to the south, the wall will begin to peter out and curve and rise up toward 40 ft. at this point I usually begin my return and slowly work my way back to my float.

From my float anchor point at the north end of the wall, if one takes a heading of about 120š up on top of the wall, one can run into an interesting sea mount that rises up to within a couple of feet of the surface. (It is a nice surprise for sailboats with centerboards!) I sometimes just enjoy a nice safety stop by going that direction and then taking a quick peek from the top of the sea mount toward the exit point, setting my compass and then returning on the bottom. I suppose I should write down the azimuth, but I get lazy and just kind of “go north” on the bottom till I think I am getting close to the exit.

There is some other neat bottom on the west side of Waldo that deserves exploration. (Someone might find the train!) One point of interest are the headgates in Klovdahl Bay. I suggest one very carefully enters the headgate area over the old coffer dam (couple feet of water) and then with perfect buoyancy control descend into the headgates. I took some friends in there a while back to take some photos and explained the importance of not disturbing the sediment. Well, needless to say, a few fin strokes had the entire area silted so badly we could see nothing. With care, I have explored it without silting. Old Simon Klovdahl must have been nuts or was scamming some stockholders. You decide.

Further north, on the west side, the bathymetry holds promise of some nice walls but I have yet to luck onto them. I have never had a dive I considered a waste of time, but I still seek the will-o-the-wisp perfect wall in Waldo. It is a big lake and I still have time. On the extreme south end of the lake, the bathymetry suggests another wall, but some friends who dived it did not find one.

A final request: Several things come to mind: First, although big, Waldo is a very fragile lake. Research is showing that development around the lake and even the use of phosphate based fire retardant on the big burn on the north end of the lake have begun to effect changes in the water chemistry. These phosphates contribute nutrients to the water, so we may be seeing more flora develop in the lake — thus less vis. Also, the flora matte bottom is very fragile, it deserves good buoyancy control if one is going to spare his buddy zero vis. This thin layer supports some unusual life. In August on a night dive, we encountered a number of tiny unique salamanders with feather like external gills. Second, please pick up and remove any trash you find on the bottom. And finally, please be respectful of research and monitoring systems in and around Waldo. Waldo is a gift that deserves our respect and support.

GETTING THERE: — THERE ARE THREE SETS OF DIRECTIONS HERE:

These are the short directions to Waldo Lake from the Central Oregon Diving. This route covers some unpaved roads which can be very rough but shorter, thus faster! You will need a vehicle with clearance and good tires:

From the COD shop, go up Century Drive past The Inn of the Seventh Mt. Watch for first paved turn to the left FS RD #41. Turn S. on #41 — this Rd is paved for 4 miles then graded gravel. Follow through until #41 intersects at its end with FS RD #40. Turn R or W. on FS 40 — follow to Century Drive / Cascades Lakes Highway. (Don’t get fooled by the turn up to Bachelor about a mile up from the 41 — 40 T) Turn L. or S. on Cascades Lakes Hwy. Go past Cultus entrance and keep going south approx. 7 miles (I guess) ’till you come to cross intersection with a paved rd to the east or left that comes up from Hwy 97. I think the signs also say something about Twin Lakes.

Turn R. or W. here onto the dirt road FS 4290 — It goes up over the summit and gets progressively worse as it goes. It is about 8 miles through to Waldo Lake.

About 1/4 mile past Charlton Lk trailhead you will hit pavement. Turn left (S) and go for 5? or 6? miles watching for first paved turn to the right (W) into Shadow Bay Campground area.

Longer Paved Directions: Go south from Bend on Hwy 97 to the town of Crescent. In the center of Crescent there is a flashing yellow light. Turn right (W) at that light on what I believe is called the “Crescent Cut Off.” Continue through to the west until you hit Highway 58. Turn right (W) on Hwy 58 and go up over the pass past Odell Lake and the Willamette Pass ski area. About 2 miles down the west side of the pass, watch for the sign indicating Waldo Lake on the north side of the highway. Turn there and head north toward Waldo Lake — approx. 11 or 12 miles. Watch for the first Waldo Lake Campground called Shadow Bay. Turn west and drive a couple of miles down to Shadow Bay campground.

I-5 Directions: South of Eugene, look for exit #186 highway 58 to Oakridge. Go past Oakridge toward the Willamette Pass summit. (I estimate about 27mi past Oakridge) Watch for Forest Service Signage on the N. side of Highway for Waldo Lake. Turn there and head north toward Waldo Lake — approx. 11 or 12 miles. Watch for the first Waldo Lake Campground called Shadow Bay. Turn west and drive a couple of miles down to Shadow Bay campground or on to the boat ramp area.