SW Rib of Crystal Lake Tower

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 47.47030°N / 120.785°W
Additional Information Route Type: Mountaineering, Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.8 (YDS)
Additional Information Grade: III
Sign the Climber's Log


Crystal Lake Tower forms the Westernmost point of the summit ridge of McClellan Peak and offers a ~1400'-tall steep Southwestern aspect which houses some excellent climbing. The SW Rib forms a continuous line from the ~8000+ foot summit thumb down into Crystal Creek Basin, and is home to another great long moderate Enchantments climb. The position at the Southeast edge of the plateau offers a somewhat unique perspective where uncommon views down into the rugged cirque below Crystal Lake form a backdrop opposite the more familiar austere Enchantment Lakes basin. This particular route is most readily done from outside the permit area, is very infrequently traveled, and offers the same good quality rock as can be found on other Stuart Range favorites, with a fair amount of adventure thanks to its relatively obscure status.

In the Cascade Alpine Guide Fred Beckey credits Pete and Judy Doorish with the FA in 1982. There are established routes on most of the nearby Nightmare and Flagpole Needles, this appears to be the longest continuously-technical route in the basin.

Of note Fred Beckey is consistent in labeling the summit of Crystal Lake Tower as a pinnacle at about 7800' just below the summit ridge of McClellan and the Westernmost of the Chessmen. However, the route line most practically continues a short distance to the summit ridge to an 8000' point which allows easy scrambling down to Crystal Lake.

Getting There

The base of this climb could be approached from either Crystal Lake via the Enchantment plateau or from Crystal Creek via Ingalls Creek.

See the main page for information on getting to Crystal Creek Basin from Ingalls Creek, making note of several great boulders offering shelter throughout the hike in.

From Crystal Lake one needs only to make an easy descent to the South following the outlet stream.

The most practical climb and descent of the route described in the CAG of the SW Rib of Crystal Lake Tower actually takes you over the Westernmost Chessman, as described above, from which the Enchantment Plateau can be easily reached, so any campspot is best in line with this descent and your chosen trailhead. Camping in Crystal Creek Basin is not in the Enchantments Permit zone.

There is year-round running water to about 5800' Crystal Creek Basin, with seasonal tarns and snow above that. Running water draining Crystal Lake disappears into the talus about 500 vertical feet below the lake. Small patches of snow linger into September in the upper basin, and is the only source of water in late season near the convenient campsites in the meadows below the route.

Route Description

From Crystal Creek basin travel to the heavily featured toe of the SW Rib which is located on the East side of the basin, to climber's right of the outlet stream from Crystal Lake, and climber's left of a prominent gully separating Crystal Lake Tower from the rest of the Nightmare Needles. The terrain begins to steepen at about 6600'. Intermittent treed, sandy ledges, slabs, and short, steep steps lead up the indistinct crest of the rib for some 500 vertical feet until it becomes more defined and even knife-edged for an enjoyable stretch.

The distinct, low-angled, sharp section of rib crest is readily identifiable by a large open slab on climber's left of the crest which is easily visible from a distance. Following this the rib becomes less distinct again and more low-angled corners, some filled with loose blocks and sand, ascend for another 400 vertical feet or so to the upper part of the climb which is more noted for prominent gendarmes and more continuously steep and exposed climbing. 6 or so 60m ropelengths of mid-fifth class climbing wind up the rib, and around towers as is found to be convenient, until one finds themselves at the top of what Beckey labels as the top of Crystal Lake Tower. From here one can traverse to the East to what Beckey calls Fantasia Saddle and readily descend, likely with a rappel, to Fantasia Pond, or one can continue to the Northeast directly to the top of the nearest Chessman.

Staying on the crest, a short section of mid-fifth can be rappelled or down-climbed to the base of the summit block, and an excellent network of cracks can be followed for 55 meters to within one easy ropelength of the summit. From the summit a corkscrewing scramble starting to the South and curving around to the East takes one to the Chessmen Notch and an easy walk back to the Enchantment Plateau and Crystal Lake.

Essential Gear

Rock rack to 3", rope at least 50m long, ice axe before mid-July, stove for water after mid-July.



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