This is the story of our trip to the Crystal Lakes Basin and Mount Helen, April 26-29 2013. April storms meant that we would have the deepest snowpack of the season, though conditions were actually quite good.
The photos will tell most of the story.
Shaylee and Kimberly chat as they snowshoe towards Lower Crystal Lake.
Kessler, Shaylee, Kimberly and I set off for Francies Cabin (11,360 feet) along Crystal Creek in the Tenmile Range. We got a later start than hoped for and didn’t leave until 8:10 PM, which is after sunset. Because it was after sunset and because we thought that we had forgotten our lights, we quickly snowshoed up the trail as quickly as possible.
We chose to take the shorter, but much steeper route. The second half of the route was completed by starlight. We were afraid that finding the cabin would be difficult, but luckily we found it without any problems. We had made the route in one hour, half of what the guidebook said it would take.
After getting to the cabin, we found out that we had actually had our lights stashed in Kessler’s backpack all along! There were several other people in the cabin as well.
We awoke to 14F (-10C) outside, which made for good climbing conditions. No one else wanted to climb a peak, so I set off alone towards Mt Helen (13,164 feet). With the recent storms, I chose Mt Helen because I thought Peak 10 (which was the original plan) would carry less risk. The snow was now the deepest of the season and much deeper than it was in the mostly dry winter.
I chose to climb up the rock ribs in order to reach the ridge because I thought the snow would be shallow and not risky. The rock ribs actually turned out to be quite difficult and I had to use my iceaxe on the slope between the rocks. I probably should have taken the standard route. There was a little unstable snow, but most of it was more stable than expected.
Mount Helen as viewed from just above Francies Cabin.
The craggy northeast face of Mount Helen.
Once on the ridge, the snow was stable and it was a direct climb straight to the summit. It was a bit windy, but otherwise the weather was great.
Nearing the summit of Mount Helen. High winds blast the snow from parts of the ridge.
I took a rest on the summit in order to take several photographs. I was the first to sign the summit register since November 8 2012, but wondering how many ascents of the peak there were over the past winter season. Probably not too many.
Quandary Peak as seen from the summit of Mount Helen.
Pacific Peak is the higher mountain in the background, while Father Dyer Peak is the peak in the foreground. As seen from the summit of Mount Helen.
I took the about the same route down, but had a nice glissade next to the trees. Because it was still fairly early, the snow was pretty stable, but I wouldn’t want to do it in the afternoon. The climb had taken 2 hours 20 minutes up and 40 minutes down.
After some games and other fun in the cabin, I explored some of the upper basin in the evening.
Summit of Mount Helen. Pacific Peak is in the background.
In the morning, Kessler, Shaylee, Kimberly and I went to go snowshoe up to Lower Crystal Lake. It was a beautiful and sunny day and we had a nice break at the cabin ruins located at 12,020 feet. After enjoying the views, we returned to Francies Cabin, packed up and headed down the trail. It took us 35 minutes after leaving the cabin to reach the cabin, again about half of what the guidebook said it would take.
Snowshoeing up the Crystal Basin with Father Dyer Peak (center) and Crystal Peak (right) in the background.
Nearing Lower Crystal Lake. The snowpack is actually pretty deep in these parts, but here you can see it is a big shallow and exposing some plants because the snow has been blown away by high winds.
Kessler, Kimberly, and Shaylee at the old miners cabin at 12,020 feet in the Crystal Basin. Father Dyer Peak is in the background.
It was a really great trip.
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