This Famous Tree Log Has Been Floating Vertically for 120 Years And No One Knows Why

A floating tree stump known as the “Old Man of the Lake” has been bobbing in the blue water of Oregon’s Crater Lake for at least 120 years, baffling scientists with its upright orientation and allegedly even controlling the local weather.

The first account of the Old Man of the Lake dates back to 1896, when geologist and explorer Joseph Diller described a splintered and bleached white log floating vertically in Crater Lake. Five years later, Diller 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 it’s able to do that is still a mystery, but it’s only one of many.

Photo: Markgozynski/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Carbon dating suggests that the Old Man of the Lake is at least 450 years old, at least 120 of which it spent bobbing in the water of Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States, and the ninth deepest in the world. Experts believed the log, most likely a hemlock, wound up in the water following a landslide, but as to why it remained upright instead of floating horizontally, no one has a definitive answer.

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, but the Old Man of the Lake is different. Despite being 9-meters-long, with a diameter of about 61 cm, it’s been bobbing vertically for the last 120 years.

Photo: TCY/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)

The exposed end of the floating log is splintered, discolored and worn, but wide and buoyant enough to support a person’s weight, as shown by this 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 position of this famous tree log is that when it slid into the water over a century ago, it must have had some rocks tangled in its roots which acted as natural anchor points. By the time the rocks were released from the roots of the log, the submerged wood had already become saturated with water, making it denser and heavier than the dry part above the surface.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Of course, no one knows if the above explanation is what actually makes the Old Man of the Lake float upright. The 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 CBS, “I’m okay with not knowing”.

As if its unusual floating position wasn’t intriguing enough, superstitious folks also believe the Old Man of the Lake has the power to affect local weather. This stems from events during 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. This was 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 attraction of Crater Lake.