OverviewThere are at least three ways you could climb to the top of Crystal Mountain.
I considered the ski area way which is to me a less interesting way to do any mountain. The second way is via a trail from highway 410 which I will add a route for and then there is this route, a route that has 70% of its effort on the Pacific Crest Trail which is a more interesting route overall. Other than the highway that accompanies you with its sounds along its intial aspect, it takes you into the high country right off the get go. I found it very enjoyable and the scenery extra special.
After you leave the PCT, you enter Mt. Rainier shortly therafter and soon have views down to Crystal Lake and on clear days, a stunning view of Mt. Rainier that just keeps getting better as you proceed down the trail towards Crystal Lake. The key to climbing Crystal Mountain is to cut off of the trail (see map) and determine your way towards the mountain using simple cross country skills. A GPS is helpful as well but by staying fairly high, you can avoid some cliffs and annoying brush found a bit lower.
Topozone and the National Geographic program Topo doesn't show the trail from the saddle overlooking Crystal Lake down to the lake, but it is there and it is signed as shown below.
Getting ThereSee the information provided on the Crystal Mountain page. The key is getting to Chinook Pass and parking HERE.
Route DescriptionRoundtrip - 9 miles (7 miles on trail)
Elevation gain - 2200 feet
Time - 4-5 hours.
From the parking lot at Chinook Pass, there is access to the Pacific Crest Trail that is easily found. Go north on the PCT as the trail parallels the highway below and the tread is excellent and allows for fast hiking. The trail reaches Sheep Lake
after 2 1/2 miles and an elevation gain of less than 400 feet. Go around the lake on the south side, cross a small footbridge and the trail immediately begins a half mile ascent up to Sourdough Gap, at an elevation of just above 6400 feet, so plan on a gain of 700 feet from the lake.
As you go over Sourdough Gap, you will have your first glimpse of Crystal Mountain. You will notice that the trail drops a bit to a fork, with the right fork continuing on as the PCT. Take the left fork which heads slightly uphill across a rock slide slope and head for the gap which marks the boundary of Mt. Rainier National Park. The topozone map shows the trail ending here but it doesn't, an excellent path heads down to Crystal Lake and connects up with the trail coming up from highway 410.
It is downward here for about 1/3rd mile to a spot where you can pick out a line heading up towards Crystal Mountain. I found a relatively straightforward route that kept me above some cliffs and brushy areas and other than sidehilling most of the way, it was an easy ascent. I'll post a map later showing my route since I waypointed it as I went up.
When you reach the talus slope, you are almost there. I had GPS'd where the summit should be beforehand so my trusty GPS led me up nicely. The top was a nice place to eat lunch as somebody else's half eaten sandwich bore witness to. In the pic below, I just plunked my pack down, grabbed my camera and started firing away. For some reason though, I wasn't too hungry but a nice hamburger in nearby Packwood resolved any hunger pangs I might have had. I thoroughly enjoyed this hike and would do it again.
Essential GearThe usual basics, sunscreen, sunglasses, rain gear, and whatever else a knowledgeable northwest hiker carries since the weather can change rapidly.
Good footgear and perhaps hiking poles makes this even better. If you use water from any of the lakes, be sure and filter it. Bugspray is needed in early season. If snow should be present, then ice axe and crampons would be needed.