Route: NE Ridge Trailhead: Spruce Creek Road
Alan Folz and I climbed Crystal Peak (13852 ft) and Peak 10 (13633 ft) on Sunday, 3 July 1999 via the Northeast Ridge. The approach to Lower Crystal Lake and the ridge route we took corresponds to the route described in Garrat and Martin's book. The side road heading up into Crystal Creek basin (near Francies Cabin) from Spruce Creek Road is now closed by a gate. This adds a few hundred more feet and maybe a mile or so one-way to the trip.
The goal was to maximize the amount of snow-climbing on the ascent (and, of course, the amount of glissading on the descent!). From Lower Crystal Lake we were able to climb snow nearly non-stop to the ridge.
Starting from the car we followed the side-road (which is coincident with the Wheeler Trail at that point) up to the tee and then left up into the Crystal Creek basin. From Lower Crystal Lake we opted against following the very long switch-backed jeep trail. Instead we climbed directly up a very steep, fairly wide couloir to Upper Crystal Lake in excellent snow climbing conditions. At Upper Crystal Lake, which is still about 50% frozen, we did an ascending traverse (with a bit of post-holing) through some snow fields to the 13250 foot low-point between Crystal Peak and Peak 10. Since we intended to climb both peaks, we decided to go for Peak 10 first instead of climbing the SE Face of Crystal which is entirely snow-covered at this point.
We quickly ascended Peak 10, returned to the saddle and ascended Crystal Peak. At that point the weather was still good, but the clouds were starting to gather and the winds were blowing on the ridge a steady 40 mph. Both summits have peak registers in good shape. The thunder clouds started to build quickly so after a short rest on Crystal, we glissaded down the massive snow-field on Crystal's SE face. The expanse of white from the summit was breath-taking. The most satisfying part of the descent was the glissade from Upper Crystal Lake down the same very steep couloir we had ascended earlier. We then continued the descent via the ascent route back to the car.
The snow conditions were generally pretty good on the ascent and descent except for the first hundred feet off the summit and near Upper Crystal Lake where it was extremely soft and post-holing was the rule. The jeep track up to Lower Crystal was snow free and the remainder of the standard switch backed jeep track route appeared to be snow free except for a couple of short sections although we did not actually travel on it.
All in all a fantastic day. The weather did get kind of nasty later in the day, but we only heard thunder a couple of times and didn't see any lightning. This was Alan's first experience with snow climbing and the ice axe so we spent plenty of time training and practicing which made for a rather long day. We only saw one other person on the trip, Jim from Castle Rock. According to the Peak register on Peak 10, three other people had climbed it that day, but they must have done it from the North side since we did not see them.
Equipment/Safety Notes: An ice axe is essential, if you are going to climb the snow as we did. If you are taking the jeep track all the way to Upper Crystal, then it may not be necessary, but as I mentioned there were two sections of the trail where we could see snow covering the tack. Snow shoes are not necessary. The ridge can be negociated without ever touching the snow and there is no exposure to drop-offs.