| Crystal Lakes Loop
Father Dyer Peak(13,615)
Elevation Gain: ~4,700 ft
With another forecast for good weather, I knew that getting out again on Thursday was a necessity. I had heard great things about the Father Dyer-Helen traverse, and still needed Peaks 9 and 10, so I decided to make a loop out of it including a second summit of Crystal Peak in the middle.
I made it to the Spruce Creek trailhead at 5:45 and hit the trail right at 6:00 by headlamp. The trail/road is well packed and I took the right fork up towards Francies Cabin on Crystal Creek road. After a quick but steep hour I made it to the cabin, where my prepacked highway ended. No worries though, as I only had about 20 minutes of trailbreaking before getting above the trees and on much more crusty snow and windblown tundra. At this point I jumped on the Wheeler Trail, walked past the east slopes of Peak 10 and made my way north to Peak 9.
First light on traverse, Father Dyer, and Crystal
Father Dyer and Crystal
Helen, traverse, Father Dyer
ski tracks on Peak 10
The climb up Peak 9 was very gentle and the summit provided great views of the ski area as well as the Gores. I don't know about you, but whenever I see that range, I swear they are beckoning me..... I didn't dawdle long on the summit as I knew I had a slog up Peak 10 ahead of me.
Summit of Peak 9 looking at Crystal
Getting down to the saddle between 9 and 10, the north slope of Peak 10 is staring right at you, and it doesn't look fun. Endless talus that looked like it was going to be extremely loose. My plan was the climb the northeast ridge to avoid the slope, but it turned out to be much more solid than i had planned and I just zig-zagged my way straight up. Luckily most of the really loose stuff was still frozen in place, this would be quite the pain in the summer I am sure. Made the summit of Peak 10 at 9:30 in the sun and with no wind, could not ask for more.
Slog up Peak 10
Summit of Peak 10
ridge to Crystal
Next up was the descent to the saddle between 10 and centennial Crystal Peak. The ridge itself was fairly windblown, with some snow on the eastern edge of it. Since the snow was still very firm I was able to walk right along it and avoid the talus hopping and inevitable slipping and sliding on icy rock. Having been up Crystal before, from the Mayflower Gulch side, I was excited to get those amazing views again, and they did not disappoint! Took many pictures, ate and drank a bunch, then began the class 2 ridge over to Father Dyer. It felt good to do something other than just hike on simple ground for a change, a good warmup for things to come.
Mayflower Gulch area
Summit of Crystal
ridge to Pacific
Arriving on the summit of Father Dyer at 11:10 I finally got a closeup view of the traverse over to Mt. Helen. It looked pretty gnarly and I couldn't have been happier. It had been a few months since I happened upon any sustained class 3 climbing, so I was due. It was here that I put away the trekking poles and switched over to climbing gloves from my mittens. The day had warmed up considerably so I was able to go down to my baselayer which was nice so I didn't feel so bulky on the ridge, or so I thought. Turns out climbing class 3 with a winter pack with snowshoes, ice ax, and trekking poles strapped on makes for some awkward moves.
The ridge is broken up into three sections, the first and last being class 2+ and the middle section, the meat and potatoes, sustained 3. I made quick time through section one and then the fun really began. This ridge is awesome because it really is up to you how difficult or easy you want to make it. Staying as close to the ridge top as possible, as usual, yields the toughest climbing, but if it gets too hairy you can easily bail down to the south side and find easier terrain. Since I was doing great on time and feeling comfortable on the rock, I stuck to the ridge as much as possible. The views of Father Dyer from about the midpoint were just amazing and makes me want to try its NE ridge some day in the summer when you can drive much closer to its base.
I was listening to a recording of a Phish show from 1998 at that point, when something really cool happened. They were playing their version of Also Sprach Zarathustra(2001), and just as I stepped up onto the highpoint of the whole traverse the song peaked and the timing could not have been better. I simply threw my hands into the air and, once again, realized how lucky I am to be right there, right then, and truly happy. Things like this just cannot be fully appreciated unless they are happening to you.
After a few 'It's great to be alive!' moments I continued on. At this point I was sharing the traverse with the only souls I would see all day, about 15 mountain goats. I thought I was handling the climbing rather well but these guys put me to shame. I was able to get some good pictures as well as dodge a few of the rocks they inadvertently, or maybe not, knocked down towards me. Finally reaching the start of section three felt really nice, knowing that the major difficulties were now behind me and I could relax a little bit.
What you lookin' at?
By this point my legs were sick of the up-down-up routine and the last 400 ft grunt up to the summit of Mt. Helen was not too much fun. I dragged myself up to the summit at 1:00 and took a much deserved break to down some water and trail mix, as well as take a bunch of pictures and talk to goats, who oddly didn't reply.
traverse and Father Dyer
almost back to the car
The descent was pretty straightforward as I took the standard East Slopes route down. The slopes are pretty steep but grassy, so it went really fast. Popped out onto the Aqueduct road, then met up with the Spruce Creek road which took me back to the car. I arrived at 2:20 for a round trip time of 8 hours 20 minutes. I highly suggest this loop, not too long and a ton of fun.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):