Old Man of the Lake – Crater Lake, Oregon - Atlas Obscura
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Crater Lake, Oregon

Old Man of the Lake

A vertically floating hemlock controls the waves and weather at Crater Lake. 

The first record of the Old Man’s presence was made by Joseph S. Diller in 1896.

According to his records, the strange, vertically floating log was splintered and bleached white, measured approximately two feet in diameter, and, at four feet above the water line, was substantial enough for a man to stand on. Moreover, the crystal clear water showed that the former tree’s roots were still intact below, making the Old Man appear rooted to the spot, despite Diller having spotted the stump a second time over a quarter-mile from its original location!

To this very day, all of the above remain true.

In the subsequent century, a few more details have emerged. Scientists believe the 30-foot long hemlock was washed into the lake via landslide, though debate continues to rage over the exact mechanics pertaining to the tree’s vertical positioning. The most-accepted theory is that the tree once had rock tangled within its roots. By the time the roots decayed enough to drop the rocks, the wood beneath the waterline had absorbed water, whereas the four feet of trunk above water had dried out, thereby creating the unique, perpetually upright orientation!

Also, the Old Man’s movements across the surface of the lake are attributed to him “riding the winds” (see map of his whereabouts during a single month’s time). Despite his heft and seeming lack of propulsion, the tree can drift upwards of four miles in just one day!

Though much hoopla has been made of the Old Man’s potential of becoming a navigational hazard to boats, his powers were made clear in 1988 when, during submarine explorations for research purposes, the explorers felt it necessary to moor the tree to the east side of Wizard Island. Immediately upon doing so, a storm descended upon the lake. The tempestuous weather only came to an end when the Old Man had broken away from his anchor and was again free to glide the water as he pleased.

Know Before You Go

The Old Man is constantly on the move at the surface of Crater Lake, though it is said that tour boats give a decent chance of running into him on his journeys.