Thomas Doty – Storyteller
Walking Llao's Hallway to the Underworld
I've never been there, but I am thinking of searching it out sometime soon. It is a semi-mythic, gorge-like chasm near Crater Lake, somewhere above where Whitehorse and Castle Creeks merge. It has had so few visitors that photos are rare. The only one I have is over 75 years old. Look closely at it. It's easy to miss the person at the bottom.
The chasm is pretty impressive with pinnacles, other-worldly rock formations, narrow passageways and numerous cave-like amphitheaters. At one point it is 200 feet deep and only as wide as a person's outstretched arms. The few journals from explorers I have found stress wearing a hardhat as there is constant danger of rocks and debris falling, and in a canyon so narrow, a person is a pretty big target. Though not far off the road, I have heard it is difficult to find, and that the walk through the hallway is a challenge.
Llao is an ancient spirit of the Below World, and this is his passageway to the underworld. Before Skell, spirit of the Above World, killed him in a fantastic battle dramatized in Klamath myths, Llao would instruct his pet crayfish to wait in the depths of Crater Lake for unsuspecting visitors, then snatch them off the rim with their giant claws. They would become Llao's dinner, and a treat for his pets. For the Old Ones, vision quests on the rim of Crater Lake were powerful if not dangerous events! After Skell killed Llao, he tricked Llao's crayfish into thinking Llao had won the battle. The crayfish attacked the body they thought was Skell, munching him down until they got to the head and recognized their master. Llao's head still floats on the lake. It is now called Wizard Island. Since childhood I've wondered if giant crayfish still live in the lake. The Park Service's nifty little submarine has yet to record a sighting though there's a lot of water down there.
In 1935, park ranger and naturalist Ernest G. Moll wrote a not-so-cheery little verse about Llao's Hallway....
Sometimes earth-laughter rings like silver bells
Where brooks run crisping over glinting stone;
But here the earth, remembering ancient hells,
Grins at the joke she shares with death alone.
Wow, should I "abandon hope" as Dante warned about entering hell? Naw. Though I am certainly more than "midday through the journey of my life," it feels like time to walk Llao's Hallway, underworld or not.
The 1932 guide to Crater Lake National Park has a listing for Llao's Hallway: "The hallway, a gorge 125 feet deep cut through pumice material by stream erosion, is located on a tributary to Castle Creek just north of the White Horse camp ground on the Medford road. There are cave amphitheaters and narrow passageways along the trail which follows the bottom of the gorge."
1932 Map of Crater Lake National Park (PDF) – Shows the "Trail to Llao's Hallway Music Shell."