Taking a Chance on Crystal Mountain
Well with the weather change in November it is finally time to change the mind frame from fall foliage to wintertime snow-climbs and scramble. It was a great fall run chasing down berry bushes, larches and finally the lowland trees but it now time to change the focus to the wonderful time of winter. Gone are the scrambles and walking in the woods with less. Now it is time strap up the snowshoes and head for the beautiful mountains. Snow-climbs are now the name of the game and ice axes, snowshoes and crampons will dominate the upcoming months.
To begin out this special season, Cyohma, Jimbopo and his brother Josh decided to for our first climb of the winter up Crystal Mountain. Crystal Mountain a major ski area in winter that is well known for having some of the best snow in the Cascades of Washington. Once the ski resort opens, access to the peaks in the area become harder to get to. Therefore the ideal time to hit Crystal Mountain is usually the week or two before the mountain opens.
Our goal was to hit the true summit of Crystal Mountain otherwise known as Silver King on the south side of the Crystal Mountain ridgeline (not to be confused with Silver Queen or the Summit House to the north. For us to have a chance for this mountain the time to head there was now. For Cyohma, this was going to be his first summit in the Pacific Northwest and his ice axe experience was not as strong as ours. We also knew this peak would be in one of his taller summits. Knowing that though Crystal Mountain is a ski area and there many good safe places to practice self-arrest.
We began out at the civilized base. I had flashback of Mount Hood when I think about ski lodges and all of the civilization at the base. Crystal Mountain was not open but they looked like they were starting to get ready for another incredible season in two weeks. It was snowing at the base but there barely a dusting at the base. We could see though that up higher on the mountain that there was no accumulation. Because there was so little snow three of us decided to take a chance and not bring our snowshoes while having a one person bring a pair of snowshoes up the ridge. We then got out gear ready and headed on up the mountain.
Soon we hiked up the closed ski lift. It was snowing lightly but the temperature was comfortable and we made great progress up the lift. It was great seeing some of trees being flock by the fresh snow. Once we broke passed the ski lift the snow became deeper. At first the snow was very manageable and easy to walk through. But as we continued to head up the snow became deeper. Finally it was time for Jimbopo, the snowshoe carrier to put on those snowshoes and break the trail.
We then went over a number of flat spots including a tarn area before heading to the Silver Basin. The Silver Basin is a 40 degree cirque area that can be either a great place to climb or a full avalanche chute. Right now in early November we knew there was very little snow to have a major avalanche so we went for the Basin. The snow was thick and very safe. If a person fell, they were not going anywhere. It would not make the best snow for glissade but the snow in this cirque like feature would make very safe for side traversing. And thankful it was just deep enough for us kick decent steps to the top of the ridge.
We took a short break at the top of the ridge, where the sun occasionally peaked out from time to time. From there we continued the easy traverse to the summit of Crystal Mountain. Though the sun did occasional peak at the summit, unfortunately the clouds would not lift enough to show nearby Mount Rainier. Still though for all of us it was our first successful snow-climb and we were very happy to have a great successful summit. We all spent 30 minutes to enjoy the mostly cloudy summit with only glances of peak-a-boo views and sat down to enjoy our feat. For Cyohma, it was his first summit on his first attempt. We waited for a view to come in but it never happened.
So now it was time for us to head down. It was easy for us to make it to the top of Silver Basin. Once we made to thee top we decided to go over some basic ice axe self-arrest refreshment with Cyohma. After a refresher all of us decided to glissade down the 600 foot- 40 degree slope. Josh formed the glissade and he struggled to get it going in the thick snow the rest of us were very rewarded by his effort and we were able to get a couple great rides down the mountain. Soon we were on the bottom of the Basin and heading back.
We had to be a little quicker though because the snow had really began to pick up on the mountain. It was now snowing almost an inch an hour and we really were trying our best to make it through the snow. It continued to snow heavy until we hit the lift. From there the weather toned down quiet dramatically and the more we headed down the more the snow became more like flurries. About a half mile before we reached the car the sky began to clear to the north and the weather improved so much that by the time we reached the car we could clearly see blue sky. Once we made it back we celebrated back at the car about another successful trip in the mountains.
I want to thank newcomer Cyohma for coming out on this trip and driving us to the mountain. He did excellent on his first Cascade mountain and handled the mountains conditions very well. I also like to thank Josh and Jimbopo for coming on this trip and taking the time to refresh Cyohma on self-arrest. It was an incredible trip, and a perfect start to another awesome winter.