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A 30-foot Tree Trunk Has Been Floating Vertically in Oregon’s Crater Lake for Nearly 120 Years

The Old Man of the Lake is a 30-foot tall tree stump, most likely a hemlock, that has been floating vertically in Oregon’s Crater Lake since at least 1896.

The stump is about 2 feet thick at the waterline and stands approximately 4 feet above the water, its surface has been bleached white by the elements and is splintered and worn, but still wide and buoyant enough to support a person’s weight.

A sketch of the Old Man of the Lake published in 1938

In 1902, the same year the area became a national park, Joseph S. Diller published the first geology of Crater Lake. He briefly describes a great stump he had found in the lake six years earlier.

Thus, it appears that The Old Man floated, just as it does now, since in 1896, giving it a documented age of 120 years.

Picture of the ‘Old Man of the Lake’ (September 13, 2005)

The Old Man’s movements have long been observed. In 1896, Diller established that it could travel by tying baling wire around it and pulling it a short distance. Five years later, Diller observed that the Old Man floated about 400 meters from the location he had previously noted. The earliest known photograph of the trunk dates to this period.

View of the Old Man a piece of driftwood that has been floating in the lake for at least 70 years.

Washington, D.C. commissioned the project of recording The Old Man’s location between July 1 and September 30, 1938. The observations indicated that the trunk travels quite extensively, and sometimes with surprising speed.

During the period of observation in 1938, the Old Man traveled at least 62.1 miles (99.9 km). The greatest movements occurred on days of high wind and waves.

View of the Old Man a piece of driftwood that has been floating in the lake for at least 70 years. Picture taken 18 September 2005 at Crater Lake National Park.

Since it can be virtually anywhere on the lake, boat pilots commonly communicate its position to each other as a general matter of safety.

In 1988, submarine explorations were conducted in the lake, and the scientists decided to tie The Old Man off the eastern side of Wizard Island to neutralize the navigational hazard until their research work was complete.

As of January 2012, tour boats regularly pass The Old Man on their journeys to view the sights around Crater Lake. The entire submerged section of the tree’s trunk can be seen below the waterline.

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