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TR: Crystal Peak

Posted by gck Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Distance: 8 miles
Elevation gain: 3100 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.

Four hikes so far this year, and I’ve used all four of my main hiking books – Snoqualmie, Central Cascades, North Cascades, and now Mt. Rainier. (I also own Olympic Peninsula, but I can’t find it!) I have an annual Rainier pass from last year and I’ve been itching to use it, so I looked for a trail in that book. Go figure, while the Crystal Peak trailhead is within the national park boundaries, it isn’t within the pay gates, so no permit is required.

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Crystal Creek

It was definitely going to be a scorching hot day, so we started out early, hitting the trailhead around 9:30. To my surprise, the lot was already close to full, and an abnormally large percentage of the people we encountered were already going down. Since this trailhead is so close to Enumclaw, I think it serves as the “Mt. Si” for that region, and many people do a quick & early up & down and then get on with their day. As we were getting our stuff ready to go, a car pulled up next to us, playing really loud club music with really powerful bass. And they kept it on as they were preparing for their hike! Daniel and I just stared at each other with “Whaaaa…” looks on our faces. Eventually, a lady came over to their car and told them sternly to turn their music off. I couldn’t really hear what she was saying other than “it’s painfully loud.”

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The trail 

It seems like a lot of trails follow this pattern: forest – creek – forest – creek – climb climb climb climb – views! – climb climb climb – SUMMIT OR LAKE! Well, this one starts off immediately with a nice creek view, then it’s a lot of somewhat unexciting forest (with a bridge over the creek somewhere in there) before the trail enters the sun/view section. We started off early to get as much of the hike done as possible before the heat of the afternoon set in. The forest section passed by pretty quickly, and the climb wasn’t too bad. We caught a glimpse of a pika in a boulderfield when we hit the sunny part (that’s 3 for 4 on my hikes for pika sightings so far!).

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Beargrass and Mt. Rainier

As soon as we cleared the woods, the views started. We had gotten peek-a-boo views at Mt. Rainier through the trees, but we got to stare at the mountain in all its glory for the entire last part of the hike. Photos of mountains can’t come close to showing the giant presence they have when you’re there looking at them in person. Daniel had the Peakfinder app on his phone, so we were able to see what the surrounding peaks were named (much better than my very helpful “uh, that’s Mt. Rainier” knowledge). From this direction, we could see some of the destinations accessible from Sunrise, like Burroughs and Dege.

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As is probably obvious from the pictures, the beargrass was also a highlight of the hike! I had considered doing Granite or Defiance instead because of spectacular beargrass reports from I-90, but I stuck with the plan, since someone else had reported that there was beargrass on this hike. When we first started seeing it, it was pretty sparse and unimpressive, and it was making me sad. But as we climbed up higher, we got more and more bushy beargrass! It hadn’t quite hit the peak, but it was still a pretty sight, and I kept stopping to take pictures, possibly spending more photo time than any other hike I’ve done that I can remember. Regular wildflowers were out, too, giving pretty bursts of color along the trail.

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Left: lupine along the trail
Right: more beargrass

As usual, I had no idea what Crystal Peak actually looked like, so we played the game of, “Is that it?” as we switchbacked up. Seriously, longest switchbacks ever. I’m not one for the straight-up fireman/fisherman trails, but I was ready for one of those by the end of this back-and-forth trail. I got my wish – the last little bit up to the summit was steep and direct.

We had views in all directions from the summit, but the mountain views weren’t better than what we had been seeing on the way there. Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens (barely) were in good view from the top, but we had glimpsed them before reaching the summit. And the view of Rainier wasn’t as good as it was below because there were trees blocking parts of the valley below. However, we did get to see the other side, where we had a nice view down to Upper and Lower Crystal Lakes. It was hazy looking northwards, so we didn’t get to see Glacier Peak and could barely make out the smaller mountains in that direction. I’ll have to go back and do Norse Peak, a similar hike that has a view of the Stuart Range.

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Left: Upper Crystal Lake from Crystal Peak
Right: Valley view from Crystal Peak

No real shade up at the summit (a woman was curled up in fetal position under some low branches to get out of the sun) so we ate and didn’t linger too long. By the time we were heading down, it was HOT. It was definitely an upper 90s day and it felt that way. Not nearly as many people were coming up as we went down, and I was glad I wasn’t one of them because I’m not sure I would have made it.

We were happy to finally make it back to the car (no club music this time). As we were getting ready to leave, a woman came up to me and asked what all the cars were there for. Must have been a Mt. Rainier tourist who thought there was some sort of viewpoint! Well, there is, you just have to climb up a bit to get to it. :)

Mt. Rainier panorama (Photosynth)


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