Over the past couple of months I have been looking for a great winter destination that is easily accessible. Unfortunately to reach many of the great summits in Washington you need you road-walk an extra 10-15 mile to get to the trailhead of the route. Unfortunately I work two jobs and could only get off for a half a day which left me to either settle for lesser peaks known in Washington State as “dumpster dives”, or head onto I-90 and do a number of highly popular mountains that I have already done. Clearly none of these ideas really interested me. I wanted great snow-climbs with stellar views of the Cascades without having to plan a multiple day outing to get to the area.
What finally came to me was to check out some of the mountain around the ski areas. For me the Crystal Mountain area is under two hours away, has a number of excellent peaks and sub-peaks each containing excellent views of the area and each mountain carrying its own adventure. Crystal Mountain is the largest ski area in Washington area and contains some of the best ski runs in the state. The ski area itself can only survive by how accessible it is to get to from cities such as Seattle and Tacoma. After calling the resort and getting more information I determined that provided I brought chains in my car, that Crystal Mountain would be very accessible in winter.
Finally though each mountain was well over 6000 feet high, the effort required to summit one of these peaks was similar to that of one the “dumpster dives” and the I-90 summits located near me. The big thing for me was that these peak actually contained dramatically more beauty and adventure then either of the others. I could see all of this info from various topo maps and I had to give this region a shot. Therefore I spent much of the 2010-2011 winter season exploring this area.
After this winter I would highly recommend the Crystal Mountain for back-country snowshoe and snow-climbing travel. Every single summit has given off great views and is fair easy to access in winter. Trailhead parking is very easy for most summit by the fact that many of snow-climbs actually start from the Crystal Mountain Ski Area. Crystal Mountain does want you to check in during the ski season with the ski patrol because you are using their parking lot during the winter but you are allowed to use their parking lot for any back-country travel.
If you want to stay away from the ski area pick Bullion Peak, Crown Point, Pickhandle Point and Platinum Peak. Each of these summits are off the ski area boundary and are not heavily affected by the ski area. Views on all peaks are great. For each peak during winter and early spring, snowshoes, traction devices and an ice axe is strongly recommended to fully enjoy these summit. Though all of these summits are amazing and well worthwhile, Platinum Peak has the best view of the bunch. Four volcano views not to mention the classic view of Rainier and the other Crystal Mountain summit make this a very rewarding hike.
Norse Peak located just a couple miles from Platinum Peak gives off even better views. Though often done in summer, Norse Peak make a good winter destination as well and can either be reached as a long ridge traverse from Platinum Peak or from its own trailhead which in winter is snowed in. In summertime though Norse Peak is a very popular hiking summit and has been featured in number of trail guides and other publications.
The west side summits of the Crystal Mountain area are heavily affected by the ski area. Two of these peaks Silver Queen and Grubstake Peak actually are on the Crystal Mountain property and can be reached by lift hill during ski area hours. That being said once the lift is closed these two peaks become very worthy destinations in their own right. Views from these two peaks are terrific and when the skiers are not there the peaks offer their own special alpine views. Out of the two Silver Queen really rocked in the views department and if hit just right (during the week when the ski resort is only open on the weekends) the mountain is a great treat for only a half-day’s effort.
Mostly important is the mountain the whole area is named for Crystal Mountain. A 2000 foot prominence peak, Crystal Mountain is home to stellar view of the entire region as well Rainier, Glacier Peak, Adams and St Helens. Surprising this summit has no trail that goes directly to the summit however the Pacific Crest Trail comes fairly close and in summer this mountain is just a Class 2 scramble to the true summit. In late fall/early spring it can be reached via the Silver Basin via the ski area provided the ski area is not open and there is snow. Ideally this is early May to early June but fluctuates by the amount of snow this resort sees in winter.
It should be noted that all of the summits in the Crystal Mountain area are doable in summertime. The Pacific Crest Trail comes close to many of the summits and many of the summits only require a short YDS Class 2 scramble or bushwhacking to the true top. Because of the fact that there is more daylight and that the summits are closer together. It is actually very easy to make a multiple summit traverse in this region. For this time there is no need to check in at the ski area and by late July only trekking poles and the ten essentials are needed for these summits.
Finally the Crystal Mountain does contain cell phone reception. Verizon clearly works the best at the resort but other phone companies do work here. It is important especially here to bring your cell phone just in case of emergencies.
Route Maps for Specific Climbs in the Region
Getting ThereVIA THE CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN SKI AREA: From Enumclaw take 410 east for 33 miles until just before reaching the gate of Mt. Rainier National Park. In winter this road will be gated just passed the Crystal Mountain Road. Make a left on Crystal Mountain Blvd (7190) (paved) go roughly 6 miles to the main ski area.
TO THE NORSE PEAK TRAILHEAD: Take 410 east for 33 miles until just before reaching the gate of Mt. Rainier National Park. Make a left on Crystal Mountain Blvd (7190) (paved) go roughly 4 1/4 miles. Turn on the dirt road on your left near the Sand Flat Horse Camp. Walk up the road passed the gate and the trail will be on your left roughly 200 yards.
Red TapeWHEN GOING INTO THE BACKCOUNTRY YOU ARE REQUIRED TO CHECKIN WITH THE SKI PATROL AND SHOW YOUR INTENDED DESTINATION. IN ADDITION IF YOU PLAN ON STAYING OVERNIGHT YOU WILL HAVE TO PARK IN A DESIGNATED SPOT OVERNIGHT WITH YOUR INTENDED ROUTE LISTED ON THE VEHICLE.
No fees required at Crystal Mountain to park. However you must stay off the established ski trails at all times.
External LinksThe best page to find local weather and local conditions on Silver Queen and neighboring mountains in the region.
The best website for trip reports on the Crystal Mountain area and an of the other Cascade Mountains in the region.