| How and When not to Climb Crystal Peak
Mountains: Crystal Peak (13,852')
Route: Mayflower Gulch TH (10,980') to S.W. Ridge and back
Elevation Gain - 1800' (approx)
Roundtrip Mileage - 7 miles (approx)
Roundtrip Time - 7 hours
We figured it might be useful to post this although we didn't summit. The pictures might be a good indication of conditions for the next couple weeks. Here's the route we took, courtesy Scott's (Mots010) GPS.
Scott and I met at the T. Rex parking lot at 6AM, Saturday morning and drove out to the Mayflower Gulch TH. We started hiking down the road by 7:30AM… I'd forgotten my gaiters and was anticipating some very cold wet feet in a few hours. The forecast had predicted 45mph gusts at 13,000' and we carried winter attire including Balaclavas, goggles and winter shells. We didn't carry snowshoes because we figured they'd be pretty useless with the unconsolidated early season snow, but we carried axes.
We crossed the bridge across Mayflower Creek and continued up to a curve in the trail. At the curve we continued straight, parallel to Mayflower Creek, blasting a trail through the willows (red arrow) as the road continued to the left. This was the recommended standard route to Pacific's West Ridge (summitpost). We returned via the road (blue arrow) and this may be the better option if you're attempting Crystal or maybe even Pacific before this year's early season snow is consolidated. The postholing is not as deep and you can also avoid most of the willows below timberline and the partially covered talus fields that gave us so much trouble up in the basin.
Our plan to climb Pacific held until we got to a spot where we got our first good look at the 3rd Class ridge with ice and snow on it and heavy gusts of wind which were sending plumes of snow and spindrift high in the air. Here we re-evaluated our strategy and decided to go for Crystal instead. Scott and I took turns breaking trail through the willows. It was slow going in snow that was powdery, unconsolidated and shin to knee deep in places. Here's where we crossed Pacific creek and bore left up towards the Mayflower Hill - Pacific Peak saddle.
Heading up to the saddle involved breaking trail up through more knee deep snow and willows. Past the willows lay what would be the bane of our existence for the rest of the day. Talus, haphazardly covered by powdery early season snow.
We crested the saddle and started descending more of the same difficult terrain down to the basin.
Here's looking over to Crystal across several seas of 'Boulder Soup'.
And here's a closer look at broken trail through the Boulder Soup. Breaking trail added no benefit to our travails in this terrain since the talus was loose and the snow covered just enough to throw off our depth perception completely. We would step on snow each time and find talus shifting and giving way below and letting us in all the way to our chests at times.
Staying along the base of Pacific's West Ridge would have meant walking through this all the way to Crystal.
To spare our knees from some of the savagery, we decided to wade / roll down to the basin and then climb up what seemed an easier route up to the Pacific-Crystal saddle.
Here's a close look at what we descended to get down to the basin from the saddle. We had spent hours with no meaningful gain of elevation.
And another look from the basin…
We set a conservative turnaround time because we noticed the incoming first waves of the Winter Storm rolling in from the Northwest. We figured it would take two hours to get to the summit from where we stood.
If we'd continued we would have summitted at roughly the time predicted for the arrival of the first waves of snow. We would then have to wade back down the Boulder Soup to the trailhead in poor light in a Winter Storm. We decided to turn around and follow the rest of the route traced in the topo map posted at the beginning of this report. There was less talus on this route but plenty of breakable suncrust which meant we were still breaking trail through shin deep snow. Plunge stepping down the steeper slopes was difficult because of the veneer of suncrust enveloping underlying layers of powder.
We got back down to timberline as clouds began touching the summits in the basin above us.
Below timberline we followed the contour line along the base of the ridge up to Mayflower Hill, avoiding the Willows by staying in the trees and curving gently to the left hoping to meet the road marked in the topo map. We found this log cabin on the way which might be a useful way point to take note of if you're wandering in the area and trying to make for the road.
Within 5 minutes of spotting the cabin we ran into the road and the bridge across Humbug Creek. The long day was almost over. We both agreed that despite of the lack of a summit to show for our efforts we'd exercised route finding skills and bagged a sweet workout. I absolutely love brutal days like this and hope to get back up into the High Country as often as possible this winter. It's so much more enjoyable than Summer. It's almost like the mountains fight back in winter after allowing us unrestricted liberty of action all through summer. We were soon back at the bridge across Mayflower Creek.
You will markedly improve your chances of a Crystal summit if you follow our return route. It might be difficult post-holing up through the trees and route-finding since you won't see any significant landmarks, but you'll save yourselves much of the distress of bushwhacking through willows and rolling down snow covered talus. We got back to the TH at 2:30PM. Snow had entered both my boots and the toes on my right foot took a half hour to recover mobility. Don't forget your gaiters. Scott, it was a good climb man. We should go back for this some other time this Winter.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):