Creepy Crater Lake, Oregon: Exploring the Legends, Lost Gold, and a History of Mystery

Creepy Crater Lake, Oregon: Exploring the Legends, Lost Gold, and a History of Mystery


Oregon is famous for few things—namely rain and being north of California.  It hasn’t really caught the eye of the world at large, perhaps because the things man builds here are no match for its natural beauty.  There are no pyramids or skyscrapers that surpass the mountains and forests for their renown.


One wonder of the wild is Crater Lake, located in the Cascade Range of Southwest Oregon.  It is a bright blue cistern of pure rainwater lying in the crater of a long-dormant volcano named Mount Mazama.  After violent eruptions exhausted the mountain’s central spine of magma, Mazama’s peak collapsed in on itself, leaving a giant bowl of ash and stone—known in geology talk as a caldera—which now holds the majestic Crater Lake.  In true Oregon fashion it’s more or less a famous puddle, but it’s a beautiful puddle, attracting half a million visitors each year who come to admire its twelve square miles of heavenly blue.  At one time the lake was thought to be bottomless, but now it’s measured at 1,943 feet, making it the deepest in the US.


More things than its depth have made Crater Lake a mystery, though.  It’s a hotbed for strange disappearances, ghostly encounters, and legendary beasts.  Bigfoot himself is known to show up here from time to time.  Rangers once reported following a large, dark, putrid-smelling creature through the woods until it started throwing pinecones at them.  The area is also home to at least two claimed slayings of the Sasquatch.  One was by car (the body was reportedly whisked away by the government), and one was by train.  The train conductors didn’t report slamming into something that looked like the legendary beast—for fear they’d be accused of drinking on the job.

UFOs are no strangers to the area, either.  In February 1997 a jet pilot reported military aircraft pursuing UFOs above the Lake.  That night a loud sonic boom was heard all across Western Oregon.  Strange lights make periodic appearances in the area.

Everyone’s heard of Bigfoot and UFOs, but even more rare and sinister entities are fabled to haunt the wilds of Mazama and its crown jewel, Crater Lake.  The Klamath Indians say that to gaze upon its splendid blues is to invite, “Death and lasting sorrow.”  The Modoc tribe, who lived on its borders for millennia, knew the mountain since before eruptions rendered its tall peak to a dusty bowl.  They retain a strict taboo against the place.  It’s evil, they say, the home of dark spirits.  People disappear there…

The Klamath hold the Lake sacred, believing it to be the crossroads of the Spirit of Above (Skell)—a spirit of peace and goodness—and the Spirit of Below (Llao)—a spirit of fire, darkness and terror.  The Klamath believe that a battle between these two created the Lake when after defeating the evil Llao, Skell collapsed the mountain on his portal to this world and covered it with clear water as a sign of everlasting peace.  Skell cast Llao’s limbs into the Lake and tricked the water animals, which were faithful to Llao, into devouring them.  But when the animals reached Llao’s head they recognized it as their master and would not touch it.  It can still be seen today as a lone, steep cinder cone rising from the Lake’s waters.  It’s known as Wizard Island, and Llao’s spirit is still said to make its home there.

In other words, the Klamath’s version of the Devil lives in Crater Lake.

Vintage crater lake

Another Klamath legend says the caldera was created when the Great Spirit collapsed the peak of the volcano onto a band of rebelling braves, burying them all in the act.  Afterwards, “the Great Spirit converted the ghosts of the victims into huge, long-armed dragons which could reach up to the crater’s rim and drag down any venturesome warrior.”  These kidnapping “dragons” have also been described as “giant crayfish” in Klamath lore.  Similar ghouls have been spotted even in modern times.   Georgian Mattie Hatcher was rowing merrily about the lake with her family when something “a block long” swam beneath their boat.  “I have never been so scared in my life,” she recalled.  “What we saw that day was a monster.  To me, it looked like a dragon [emphasis mine].  I know why the Indians call that place Lost Lake.  They say monsters live in it.  I believe them. I know, because I saw one there.”

Another legend has it that fire spirits in the form of winged salamanders once haunted Wizard Island, these being, “the spirits of evil men doomed to suffer an eternal penalty of torture for their earthly wrongdoings.”  This last bit may be chalked up to post-colonial Christianization rather than real old-school Klamath lore, but rangers at the park often observe campfires on Wizard Island only to boat out and find not a trace of flame, a whiff of smoke, or a singed blade of grass.

Whether the culprit is water monsters, Sasquatch, restless souls, or something else, an abnormal amount of people have disappeared in and around Crater Lake.  The first settlers to find the Lake were themselves investigating a mysterious disappearance—or, more likely, the treasure that went along with it.

Every state has at least one Lost Cabin Mine in the annals of its fabled treasures.  Oregon is no exception with at least four on the books.  A quest for one led to the first sighting of Crater Lake by Europeans.

In 1853, a party set out from Yreka, California to look for their lost friend Set-‘em-up.  He had mysteriously vanished from his mining cabin nestled at the base of Mount Mazama.  Set-‘em-up always came into Yreka with more than enough gold to buy the whole saloon a round.  He would throw a little satchel of gold at the barkeep and holler, “Set ‘em up!” which earned him his nickname.  His real name has been lost to history.  His generosity also earned him the rabble of friends who fretted so much about their missing buddy’s safety (and the safety of his vacant claim).  They had a rough idea of where Set-‘em-up’s mine was, and after no one had heard from him for a couple years they figured he wouldn’t be needing it any more.  They decided that they—being his loyal friends—might as well be the ones to find it.

After stocking up on supplies in Jacksonville, Oregon, they headed off to the little-explored forests skirting Mount Mazama.  While following the rough directions they had to Set-‘em-up’s abode they hit a fork in the trail.  One party split to the left and one to the right, vowing to meet back at that spot before nightfall.  When the two parties split the teams broke apart further to cover more ground.

Isaac Skeeters

Isaac Skeeters

Isaac Skeeters, who had gone on the right fork, suddenly came to a point where his horse refused to budge.  Feeling curious, he dismounted to see what blocked their way.  Much to his dread he found himself perched on the sheer rim of Crater Lake.  Disappointed (he’d obviously chosen the wrong path), he took note of his grand discovery and hurried back to the rendezvous point to see if anyone else had had better luck.

When he reached the trail fork, a man named Hillman who had taken the left hand path rode up waving his arms.  He’d spotted a small, decrepit cabin beside a stream coming from a shallow canyon.  The two were galloping through the forest to claim their fortune when Hillman’s horse lost its footing on a rock and tumbled over the edge of a canyon.  Both the clumsy horse and its rider died on impact, taking the location of the lost cabin with them.  (I was tempted to file this one under Cursed Gold, but then again there’s nothing supernatural about a clumsy horse.)

Despite their best efforts, Skeeters and the team couldn’t find any trace of the little cabin by the creek.  They soon ran low on provisions and had to head home.  All they had found was a stupid lake.  Although many have tried, no one’s relocated the lost cabin to this day.

Old Set-‘em-up wasn’t the last person to mysteriously disappear around Crater Lake, though.  The next case comes from February, 1911.  B. B. Bakowski was a photographer who traveled from Oregon City to take the very first winter photographs of the Lake.  He got there just fine.  He set up camp, built a snow cave for emergencies, and stocked it with food.  Then, after successfully photographing the Lake, he “seemed to just drop out of sight.”

Massive blizzards hit Crater Lake at that time.  Bakowski’s sled and shovel were recovered a mile and a half from the Rim, but no trace of his body was ever found.  Why he would leave the safety of his camp during a blizzard—and how he managed to get outside the range of a search radius during such a horrific storm—remains unexplained.

Later that year an indignant visitor reported, “Indian guides will take you near the Rim and await your return with their backs toward the mountains…”  Maybe they knew something that old Bakowski didn’t.

Some sixty-four years later another photographer, Charles McCullar, also disappeared during harsh February storms.  Searches turned up no trace of the young man despite the help of the FBI and Charles’ distraught father, who poured his heart and soul into the search.

A year later, in 1976, two hikers saw what they thought was a skeleton down a box canyon in a remote area of the park—more than 12 miles from where Charles had been taking pictures along the Rim.  Twelve-foot drifts of snow were reported during the time of McCullar’s disappearance, with 102 inches of fresh snowfall covering the ground all over the park.  For an ill-equipped person to make it twelve miles in these conditions is unfathomable.  Keep that in mind, because this gets weird.

The hikers brought a tattered backpack and a few other items they found into the park’s ranger station.  Rummaging through the pack, rangers immediately identified a distinctive Volkswagen key they knew belonged to McCullar.  They mounted horses and rode to the obscure canyon, hardly suspecting the eerie scene that awaited them.

A clipping from the the Eugene Register-Guard shows McCullar's picture

A clipping from the the Eugene Register-Guard shows Charles McCullar’s picture

What they found was so surreal that one thirty-year ranger described it as the strangest thing he had ever seen.  It appeared as though Charles had “melted” right into his jeans while sitting on a log.  His pants hadn’t been disturbed by animals or removed before his death.  There were socks in his jeans and there were toe bones in the socks, but these ended with a bit of broken tibia.   The rest of Charles was mysteriously absent from the site of his demise.  A thorough search of the lonesome canyon turned up tiny bone fragments and the crown of his skull about twelve feet away.  That was all they ever found of Charles McCullar.

To add more weirdness to this already ghastly scene, Charles’ jeans were unbuttoned and his belt undone.  No shirt or coat was ever found, and most perplexing of all the rangers couldn’t find his boots.  Rangers say they always find the boots!  They are essential for traveling in the woods, animals don’t take them, and they can last for a century.

So the mystery is this: how did Charles manage to traverse twelve miles in eight and a half feet of fresh snow without clothes or equipment?  Why did he undress himself?  And, most importantly, where were his remains?

These cases alone are bizarre enough, but when taken with a complete history of the Lake they form an eerie puzzle—each missing person or mysterious death another tantalizing piece.  I took the below inventory of unsettling reports from the park’s official website:

October, 1991:  “Searchers spend three weeks slogging through four feet of snow looking for Glenn Allen Mackie, 33, of Brea, California. Snow had begun falling when Mackie’s car was first noticed in the parking lot. It contained his driver’s license, keys, passport, cash and toiletries. No trace of the man was ever found.”

August 24, 1978: “Massive air and ground search conducted by the National Guard and volunteers in search for a Cessna 182 that disappeared in the Crater Lake area with three on board, February, 1975. The search concentrates on a 50 square mile region in the southwestern portion of the park and the Northeast corner of Jackson County. The results were negative.”  The crash site, along with three skeletons, was finally located in 1982.

March 28, 1971: “Nick Carlino of Grants Pass, Oregon disappears while snow shoeing along the Rim, just west of Rim Village. When his German Shepherd returned to the Cafeteria Building alone, Nick’s wife instituted a search. Calino’s snowshoe tracks were traced to the Crater’s edge where they abruptly disappeared.”

Summer, 1956: “Photographer falls to his death while attempting to photograph the Phantom Ship at Sun Notch.”  I include this because it is yet another photographer to meet his end on Mazama.  Maybe the mountain is camera shy.  One website notes, “From 1926 to 1997, at least thirteen people have fallen to their deaths from the steep slopes of the crater. While one case was suicide, most of the others involved someone getting close to the edge to take a photograph.”

December 2, 1945: “A group of seven planes had left Redding, California heading for Washington. As the formation entered clouds near the Park, one of the planes disappeared…  The official investigation of the crash was conducted in 1970, following the discovery of the [the pilot’s] skull.”  Here’s the report of the skull’s discovery: “While sitting on a log wondering which direction to continue exploring, David had a feeling that something or somebody was looking at him. As he glanced about the trees, David discovered the skull ‘staring’ back at him from beneath a nearby log.”

July 4, 1947: “A Park visitor, Mr. Cornelius suddenly hands his startled wife his billfold and watch as he sits down on a snow chute near the old Lake Trail, and slides to the Lake attempting suicide. Since the fall only broke his leg, Cornelius crawls to the water’s edge and drowns himself.”

April or May, 1944: “A Grumman Torpedo plane TBF-VC 88-9=89, was reported crashing into the Lake. Two planes were flying in formation near Mt. Scott, when one partner turned away and when he looked back, the other pilot was gone…  Another plane story says that a SNJ trainer went down late fall of 1944, while heading north and was never found. The pilot and turret gunner were lost.”  One official, “reported that 2 or 3 planes crashed each week near the Army air base in Klamath Falls.”  Apparently a fair number of boats, planes, and helicopters have sunken to their grave in Crater Lake itself.  Some have taken their occupants along with them.

September 26, 1939: “Search for missing person, but never found.”

Summer, 1910: “Two men lost in the forest of the park and are never found.”

What may have transpired (or expired) around the Lake before the last hundred years of recorded history brings us back to the stuff of legend, which, if those old tales had been heeded in the first place, might have avoided some of the misfortune surrounding this forbidden mountain today.


What do you think?  Is Crater Lake cursed?  Is Mount Mazama the abode of some ancient evil?  Or do people just sometimes trip over their shoelaces and fall twelve miles through apocalyptic blizzards—losing their shoes in the process?  Let us know what you think on our official facebook page, on twitter @WhoForted, or in the comments section below!

You decide, but I won’t be sightseeing at Crater Lake anytime soon.


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Cody Meyocks
Cody Meyocks is a writer and adventurer straight out of the forests of Oregon. He has traveled all across the West chasing enlightenment, civil disobedience, and root-tootin good times. Check out the blog Ouroboros Ponderosa for some of his ramblings.

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Sounds like Oregon has it’s own Bermuda Triangle.

The Indians know the history of Crater Lake, that it is home to
the dark spirits where people disappear. That is good enough for me. I avoid the dark side, whenever possible.

Have been there a couple of times, It is so beautiful to behold. But the last time we were over that way we were going to stop but it would have cost just my husband and I $20 bucks!

Went to Crater Lake in summer, 1989. Most beautiful place I’ve ever seen but it has an energy that is daunting. That water like indigo ink from the depth of it, the vertical cliffs. It is a holy place where I am palpably yet inexplicably aware of my own human vulnerability.

It is devilish, that is for sure. If one is a Christian and one goes camping…pray for God’s protection. God can protect us…won’t go into it, but have had similar experiences, ( not bigfoot) but evil beings…not to be taken lightly when one calls out to Jesus for help. He knows our hearts and whether we be for Him or against Him. I tell you what, if I take a child with me, he won’t be more than 6 ft away from me like David Paulides suggested.( gun too) I listened to this interview for 3 hrs. today. One can’t… Read more »
I really liked ,I feel the same way I’ve always believed in Jesus but I doubted his power, that was until I was literally accosted by a demonic spirit, I screamed for his help and was instantaneously safe the demonic force that surrounded was gone,I felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and peace, like I said I believe in Jesus and for good reason, I am far from being a religious zealot The experience I just relayed to is 100% real but like this gentleman stated I think Jesus knows our Hearts and there are definitely ppl with black hearts… Read more »

Awesome article by the way ,I’m going to make my way up to the lake Soon if something should happen to me so be it ,I fear nothing, I want to enjoy the beautiful landscape, what an absolute Jewel that area is

True Alice. My family and I have had to deal with (and still do on an almost everyday basis) paranormal demonic entities and the events they cause. It goes way back in my family way before I was even born. They follow us wherever we move to and visit on vacation to. They hate my family and I sooo much but aren’t allowed to harm us. I know it’s because of my faith in God they have never been able to physically hurt us, and never will. That’s why they they always keep coming up with new paranormal crap to… Read more »

Been there twice, dove it once; it’s a mountain and dangerous, so simply Be CAREFUL!

So… it’s like some force attempted to pull Charles Mckullar right out of his boots, huh? What if his body had been frozen to the spot, and during a temporary thaw (not enough to unstick the wet clothes) a predator/scavenger came along and dragged it away, leaving only the bits still frozen to the ground? If enough rot set in before the freeze, I’d imagine the body might come apart well enough to dig it out and drag it off. Doesn’t explain what he was doing without his boots – unless there’s a tramp somewhere in the area who decided… Read more »

My thought would be he sat down to get his breath, undid his pants to breath and fell asleep and froze solid. Then a little thaw and a big wind blew him over. His feet were still stuck then a critter carted him off with his gear and pack. OR….aliens!

This isn’t exactly a remote undiscovered wilderness area. Crater Lake has a large parking lot with a tourist trap curio stand/restaurant on one side. It is beautiful but its wildness is tamed, at least on one side. The area around it is still wilderness and the geography/geology is pretty weird looking.

McCullar’s state of dress could be ascribed to paradoxical undressing where hypothermia victims will begin to undress when they begin to feel warm. Hungry rodents could have devoured the body after he died.

There’s a lot more to the park than just the lodge and parking lot. It’s a large wilderness area with numerous canyons caves and the like. THere are plenty of places to fall into and disappear, including the lake itself. If one slides into the lake, there’s little chance of getting out.

David Paulides, who wrote the book “Missing 411″. (two volumes East and West) are probably the best books I’ve ever read on strange occurances. I read some of the cases he list (some he had to get a FOIA request going) more than once and just shook my head and caught myself breathing out from holding my breath! – more than a few times just from the sheer weirdness of the accounts he puts forth. Everybody that loves true weird stories needs to read those two books! I also heard he will be on coast to coast 3/17 with George… Read more »

Let’s not forget eight year old Samuel Boehlke who disappeared in Oct. 2006.

Let’s not forget the double homicide that occurred on July 21, 1952, in Crater Lake Park.

I see several references to “paradoxical undressing” in the comments. Any recount of the McCullen case is certain to bring that particular Dismisser’s Myth into the discussion, I suppose. Well, to those who cited PDU in their comments, and anyone else thinking it is an explanation of the McCullen case…perhaps we might ponder on why the park Rangers who reported their findings did not mention this anomalous undressing phenomena to explain the scene they detailed. One would think, being experienced Rangers in a park that has long, cold winters, that they would be very familiar with such behavior. Yet they… Read more »

Sorry, the above post should finish with:

“…and the mythical paradoxical undressing is an attempt to explain the inexplicable phenomena of discarded clothes in the face of harsh winter, not an observed tendency to disrobe when freezing, which has not been seen, afik, and especially not the part where they take off their boots.”

I hit the send button before meaning to.
Perils of posting with mobile devices, I guess.

There’s strange dissapperances in other areas near there. In the early 90’s a young boy came up missing. His remains were found a year later in a remote area near Thielson Peak.

An entertaining, well-researched & written article. 🙂 All I can say is that the reason I found this post—-googling “crater lake, bad creepy vibes”—-is because every time I’ve heard someone visited there and asked them about their emotional state while at the lake, or how they thought the energy was, the reply is that they felt inexplicable anxiety, on edge, etc. Which was my experience as well. Considering how visually serene, how seemingly peaceful & superficially gorgeous the place is, this recurring dissonance got me wondering. Thanks for fantastic article, which confirmed my suspicions—there’s something fishy about Crater Lake! And… Read more »

Those woods in that region are some of the thickets I have ever been in. It is creepy. Love the area and region. One of the many beautiful places and forests in Oregon.

Very strange, indeed.

Surely any discussion of Crater Lake should include mention of the maybe not-so-creepy, but undeniably weird, “Old Man of the Lake”:


[…] for its natural beauty. There are no pyramids or skyscrapers that surpass the mountains and… Who Forted? Magazine Author: Jasper T. […]

Great article. My son likes to ski into the park in winter after it’s snowed in and ski the rim. He camps in a snow cave. This year he agreed that he should be taking a gps locator with him.


People, please don’t type in all caps. It is very difficult to read and is considered YELLING.

A good addition & balancing reminder that power is power, and not necessarily good or bad, just intense! And places of supernatural activity are portals, not necessarily “cursed.”

I live in the area and travel the high cascades frequently. I admit I have heard the scream of what might be a squach. However the Crater Lake area is very dangerous during winter conditions. Regarding finding remains where the persons shoes and clothing are missing is usual due to hypothermia. When the person starts taking off their cloths because they think they are hot they are near death.

I don’t think the crater has a curse, but does have unique wildlife!

Wonderful blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News.
Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo
News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Many thanks

Crater Lake

In 1970’s as a young person, I was in a photography class and saw actual photos of the 1940 era fighter and remains that crashed into the walls of Crater Lake. Also I believe in the 1990 era a large helicopter flew into the crater lost lift and mostly vaporized upon impact with the water. Sonar later found its location no survivors. Very beautiful area, Bigfoot? I have not heard if he has ever come by the lodge for a beer and a veggie burger. RSR

Been looking for other kind of scary stuff but I loved the article 😀

[…] Many, many, many stories about the place have developed over the years. UFO sightings are rife and apparently in February 1997, a fighter jet was seen pursuing UFOs over the lake and that evening, a sonic boom was heard throughout Western Oregon. Sasquatch/Bigfoot sightings happen regularly as well and several park rangers claim to have followed a large, dark, foul-smelling creature through the woods until it started throwing pinecones at them somewhere along the Southern Rim Road. Many people have gone missing  over the years and rangers regularly see fires on Wizard Island in the middle of the night… Read more »

I have just read some of David Paulides Missing 411 Western United States and Canada, and have come across this site. All remarks are very interesting, thank you.

There are other really cool/weird things around Crater Lake, too. There’s the Pinnacles, which are volcanic vents, that look like something Lovecraft dreamed up and The Petrified Lady, near the ranger station, that was carved into a granite boulder by a dentist during the early days of it being a park. People actually believed that it was the body of a native woman who was ‘fossilized’ Pompeii-style during the eruption of Mt. Mazama.

You said you got the reports of missing people off of the NPS page. I searched their website and failed to find the list. Could you possibly link it up?

are there any good scary story that will scare the living day lights out of anyone in my class. I’m looking for something scary people. COME ON!

Sorry to dash you american folks hopes but there is nothing strange about Charles death I’m a Brit I don’t believe in ghosts monsters or little green men or the bogey man . Here’s what really happened in all likely hood he went to photography the lake right on the way back became confused got lost . Panic sets in confused disoriented lost in a mountain region he headed the wrong way now they say he couldn’t have walked 12 miles in deep snow but did snow before or after and not total improbable if your trying to survive. Next… Read more »
Part two WHO knows why he may have removed his boots and top clothes but people do funny things human behaviour I’m afraid may the cold was getting too him maybe his feet hurt mad I know maybe he thought he could walk better barefoot who knows . He made the 12 miles and slipped or fell into where he was found his pack was recover the other items were lost on the way covered by snow drifts who knows. Also his remains were found a year later his body lying exposed would have rotted and animals would have eaten… Read more »

Charles McCULLAR? Please. Should know by now when people FREEZE to DEATH..they get a WARM sensation and disoriented. THEY STRIP off their clothes! Guy found OREGON was it? WRONG TURN ..went to get help left wife n kid in car..found in creek bed. HE STRIPPED off his clothing as HE FROZE. NO mystery here at all. SOME animal..did take his upper body.