Peak(s):  Crystal Pk A  -  13,852 feet
Date Posted:  07/30/2019
Date Climbed:   07/29/2019
Author:  zbergen
 Crystal Peak - Northeast Ridge  

I've always appreciated detailed trip reports and find them very useful for planning my own trips so I decided to take the time this time and hopefully make it a habit.

I picked an ideal weather window to get up Crystal and read reports and studied maps (the usual). I am more into the experience without crowds and have long since sought hikes on peaks that might not have that magic number (14er) based upon some normal gravitational vector distance above an imaginary mathematical surface (the geoid) attempting to extrapolate what sea level would be if the mountain wasn't there. I climbed Pacific last year and had it to myself. This year on Crystal Peak was no different. I did zoom in on Quandary to see the multitudes of folks up top.

I got some information on the 4WD road going up to Lower Crystal Lake. I figured I could make it up with my Subaru Forester no problem. I decided that the area could use one less motorized vehicle and opted to enjoy the solace on an early morning start and hike starting at the Spruce Creek Trailhead. I may have had a different opinion had the distance been greater to the lake (say, 5 miles) yet a bit over two miles gave me a sense of more experience moving through the forest/stream bed area and emerging above treeline on my own two legs.

The 4WD road to the lake (aka Crystal Lakes Trail) wasn't too bad and the worst section with rollers in steep sections looked like they could be handled easily by going on either side. I was still glad I decided to walk. We started around 5:30am regardless of the fact that the forecast was for clear skies and high temps in the upper 70's F. That gave about 30 minutes before sunrise. After a little over a mile we were getting close to treeline and were greeted with that desirable first light on the nearby peaks. As well as avoiding storms I like getting out early for that transition. When I climbed Pyramid Peak it was more of a 3am alpine start with headlamps. We left the car without the need for headlamps.

First Light on Father Dyer Peak towards the Crystal Lake basin

Since it was a high snowfall year I waited a little later to do certain hikes this summer. I was eager to check out the snowpack on Crystal since I brought my girlfriend and her level of comfort is different from mine and I always defer to the least comfortable member in the party as to what class of climbing and approach to take. Given easy Class II rating of Crystal Peak I figured the only other aspect might be some snow on the steep aspects on the east face. I saw three snow crossings when the face came into view and figured only one was of note (the third one shortly before the deviation to the saddle before the summit ridge). This one had a nasty slide consequence into a narrow rocky couloir.

Narrow snow patch above a narrow couloir just before the turnoff to the Crystal Peak saddle (north)

I did also notice a nice band of snow along the north ridge of Crystal which made for a nice option going up.

Snow conditions on Crystal Peak's East Face

A little way past the Francie's Hut turn off we ran into enough of a stream to warrant taking our boots off and wading for about 100 feet. It was just doable and felt nice once we found a boulder in full early sun to dry out and put our socks and boots back on.

Crystal Peak Trail conditions in a high run off year.

Proceeding easily to Lower Crystal Lake we encountered more water crossing yet were able to balance using trekking poles while placing our feet on submerged rocks just shallow enough to miss the tops of boots (or in my case Topo shoes with gaiters). We proceeding across the basin to the actual trail where the light road tracks turn into a trail on a broad shelf that continues (via short switchbacks) up the east face in a nice grade and inconsequential talus here and there. We threw on our micro spikes for the snow crossings since the snow was still pretty firm and I am not an adrenaline junkie anymore like I was in my twenties whitewater kayaking. I figure experienced hikers might just cruise on over yet I was trying to make a good impression with my partner and cared more about her fun than my bravado (of lack thereof).

One of the delightful snow crossings

Past the snowfields we made our way to the pass between Crystal and Peak 10. It was a windless sunny day so far.

Climbing above Upper Crystal Lake towards the saddle.
A bit closer view of the ridge condx

I was hoping that Upper Crystal Lake was liquid since the last condition report I read had it still frozen. It had thawed and there were a couple of little icebergs in residence.

Upper Crystal Lake
Berg in Upper Crystal Lake

From the saddle I eyed the ridge hopeful that we could proceed on snow since it's so much easier cruising up with traction. That was the case!

Crystal Peak North Ridge
Easy going on the east side of the ridge all the way to the summit.

The rest of the way to the summit was just enjoying the solid snow with traction and trekking poles. We didn't even need baskets on the poles. I desperately wanted to glissade down the substantial snowpack to Upper Crystal Lake on the way down yet I left my axe in the car and my companion wasn't into that.

So we had the summit to ourselves and enjoyed a fine mountain day basking in the sun and sharing a few glances with pikas.

Someone who looks a lot like me on the Crystal Peak summit.
One of many pikas up top

I enjoyed the clear views all around identifying peaks here and there. Of note was the snow on Snowmass Peak in the distance and a bit of Capitol on the right.

Snowmass Peak and Capitol Peak to the right

As with Pacific I looked over at the multitudes going up and on the summit of nearby Quandary.

Quandary Summit participants

The north basin off of Pacific Peak had some neat patterns in the snow.

Pacific Peak

Snow patterns on the north side of Pacific Peak
Looking down towards Mohawk Lake (out of view to the left)

I figure John Muir would call this a glorious mountain day. We didn't see anyone until most of the way down and were friendly to the Jeeps making their way up the road that was once quiet in the early dawn. The wildflowers did not dissapoint and it was yet another wonderful day in the mountains. Garmin said 10 miles round trip and I had it set to smart track. Other reports have the RT shorter than that. I'm not sure since I didn't really take any deviations and I only report my GPX track for planning and comparison. Until next time stay safe and love the mountains in whatever low-impact style you choose. I'll keep looking for more mountains and less people.

To the west and Copper Mountain
We just slogged through the trail (stream) on the way back and didn't mind wet socks for a couple of miles back to the car.
Wildflowers in abundance
Happy Trails

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