Sourdough Gap and moreMy son had scheduled a father son / grandson outing for the Mt. St. Helens area and those of us involved were going to meet friday evening at Rock Creek campground near Randle. Since I had all of Friday off, I began to think about getting a conditioning hike in and came up with the idea of doing some of the Pacific Crest Trail from Chinook Pass or doing Crystal Mountain from the Crystal Mountain ski area.
Well, when I got to Chinook Pass, I had settled on the Pacific Crest Trail rather than going up through a ski area to get Crystal Mtn. That just didn't have any appeal to me. My original thought was to hike as far as I could on the PCT and then turn around and get back in time to be at the campground with the rest of the family.
The weather was perfect and I soon had my day pack, camera and hiking poles ready to go and I headed up the trail. In less than 45 minutes I had covered the first 2 1/2 miles to Sheep Lake, a pace I was pleased with since I am normally a slower hiker than that. I stopped and took a few pictures and started up from the lake toward Sourdough Gap, a pass in the ridgeline at the 6400 foot mark. This part is only 1/2 mile from the lake but gains a respectable 700 feet, making me slow down just a bit. Still, what really slowed me down was the scenery that started showing up. As you gain elevation towards the Gap, you see Mt. Adams make an appearance and even Mt. Rainier can be glimpsed briefly at one spot on the trail. Two trail runners and their dog passed me about 2/3rds of the way up and shortly behind them came a group of 7, folks of all ages, who were obviously enjoying their outing by the laughter and the way they were carrying on.
Soon I was at Sourdough Gap and while I consulted my map, I happened to look up and immediately changed my mind about where I wanted to hike to. Right in front of me was Crystal Mountain and I could see that it would be a reasonable hike to get to the summit.
I grabbed a quick snack and dropped down to a junction a couple of hundred feet beyond the gap where the PCT took a right and headed downward and the trail I now wanted headed up to the left. Following this trail to a saddle, I had wondered if the trail continued on but although it wasn't marked on my map, the trail did continue and was signed as an entry point for Mt. Rainier National Park. As I dropped down the trail from a high point of around 6400 feet. I noticed a group of five people sitting on a high point overlooking Crystal Lake but they took no notice of me as I passed by. What grabbed my attention was the beautiful blue lake below me, Upper Crystal Lake and the massive white mountain beyond it. Wow....what a view. I could've quit at this point and been satisfied but I had made up my mind to climb a mountain and climb it I would.
The trail dropped down to a small meadow located at about 6100 feet and I could see that a reasonable cross country route looked feasible from that point so I started steeply upward, angling towards the mountain but not heading for the ridgeline and therefore gaining unneeded elevation. My plan worked perfect, as I had no real losses of elevation at any point of my effort. I did notice that had I gone lower earlier, I would have been dealing with some cliffs that I would've had to backtrack around to get around them.
Soon I noticed that it leveled out several hundred feet below the summit and a talus slope began. I just found myself trudging up through the talus slope, being careful not to twist something. Finally I gained the summit, yea, always a great feeling. Oh boy, the views were outstanding as I had a 360 sweep although a few trees hampered the view in a few spots. It was interesting to look over at the ski area and observe the roads and lifts.
Two peaks further north had lifts right to their summits, making me happy that Crystal was spared that. While from below the summit had appeared to have trees on it, I found that it was pretty much treeless on the actual summit. I found no Benchmark or register although some careless hiker had left part of a sandwich near the top. It must have been a yucky sandwich since not even the critters would eat it.
The view of Mt. Rainier, with the White River valley was without a doubt my favorite view. I sat and enjoyed that for awhile and made sure I got some pictures to capture the memories. What a neat area the Mt. Rainier area is.
I never get tired of it. All too soon it was time to go back down. I managed to retrace my footsteps most of the way back down to the trail but it was this part of the hike that I went the slowest. Having turned an ankle back around the 4th of July, I am a little gunshy about having a repeat of such bad luck. I passed no one on my return trip to my vehicle at Chinook Pass although I could hear some voices coming from Sheep Lake as I was making the descent from Sourdough Gap.
It took me three hours up and two hours down. If you don't mind a little cross country, this is a great hike.