“Old Man of the Lake” is not a legend or a myth, but a real 450-year-old hemlock that’s been floating vertically in the Oregon’s Crater Lake for at least 120 years.
The floating tree stump has been bobbing in the blue water of the deepest lake in the United States, and the ninth deepest in the world, baffling everybody, including scientists, with its upright orientation and allegedly even controlling the local weather.
Its first account dates back to 1896, when geologist and explorer Joseph S. Diller described a splintered and bleached white log floating vertically in Crater Lake. Five years later, he observed that the unusual log had moved 400 meters from the location it had originally been spotted at. Further research would show that the Old Man of the Lake is able to move more than four miles in just one day, despite lacking any apparent means of propulsion. How a tree log is able to do that is still a mystery, but it’s only one of many. In any case, the Old Man’s movements across the surface of the lake are attributed to him “riding the winds” (below map of his whereabouts during a single month’s time).
Carbon dating suggests that the Old Man of the Lake is at least 450 years old, at least 120 of which it spent wandering in the water of Crater Lake. Experts believed the log, most likely a hemlock, wound up in the water following a landslide, or it may have been a remnant of a volcano eruption which occurred in 5.680BC, but as to why it remained upright instead of floating horizontally, no one has a definitive answer.
In fact, the laws of physics state that a floating object of uniform density will always have its center of mass as being higher than its center of buoyancy, which is why tree logs float horizontally.
All tree logs.
Except the Old Man of the Lake that, despite being 9-meters-long, with a diameter of about 61 cm, it’s been floating vertically for the last 120 years.
Despite the exposed end of the floating log is splintered, it is wide and strong enough to support a person’s weight, as shown by an old photo of a ranger standing on top of it. According to some scientists, this apparent equilibrium between the dry part and the submerged part that allow the Old Man of the Lake to float the way it does.
According to the Crater Lake Institute, the most plausible explanation for the vertical floating is that when it slid into the water over a century ago, the log must have had some rocks tangled in its roots which acted as natural anchor points. By the time the roots decayed enough to drop the rocks, the submerged wood had already become saturated with water, making it denser and heavier than the dry part above the surface.
Of course, no one knows if this more or less logic explanation is what actually makes the Old Man of the Lake float upright.
In any case, he clear water of Crater Lake offers a clear view of the tree’s roots, and there’s no sign of any rocks, nor can anyone remember ever seeing or hearing of rocks attached to its roots. But as National Park ecologist Mark Buktenica told, “I’m okay with not knowing”.
As if its unusual floating position wasn’t intriguing enough, superstitious locals believe the Old Man of the Lake has also the power to affect local weather.
All began in the late 1980’s, when submarine explorations were conducted in the lake, and scientists decided to tie the floating log to the side of an island in order to avoid navigational accidents during their research.
According to several accounts from locals, as soon as the Old Man of the Lake was immobilized, the clear weather turned stormy, and it soon started to snow. In August. Soon after the Old Man was released, the weather cleared up again.
When it comes to the Old Man of the Lake, we seem to have more questions than answers, but that’s a big part of what makes it such a fascinating piece of history in Crater Lake.