Crystal Lakes

It was a rare moist day in early August. Kim and I headed south and east on Highway 410 to the trailhead for Crystal Lakes. We met in North Seattle at 6:35 am. It was lightly raining in Seattle. It rained for much of the way to Enumclaw. It was more misty when we reached the 3530' trailhead in Mt. Rainier National Park. There were about half a dozen cars in the lot along the highway. We arrived at about 8:20 am. By 8:30 am we were packed and on our way. After quite a few weeks of hot hikes the cool and damp morning felt good. We brought umbrellas but never had to use them. Jackets were helpful at first but came off a short way up the trail. The grade is a steady climb all the way to the upper lake. Not overly steep but the trail gains about 2250' in three miles. One group headed out a little ahead of us and we did not see them again hiking up to the lake.

The trail has many switchbacks as it climbs up along Crystal Creek. The creek can be heard near the bottom but gets a little farther away and smaller higher up. With an early start and a fairly short hike we had plenty of time to stop for photos. There are very few flowers along the lower trail. Much better higher up. With some recent rain there were a lot of mushrooms just breaking through the ground. Some were quite large. The junction with the trail to Crystal Peak comes up at 1.3 miles. That left 1.6 miles to Upper Crystal Lake. A little beyond two miles the forest thins and some meadows appear. They get bigger the higher you go.

There were a lot of asters though they were almost all well past prime. It seemed to be the last of the asters. There is still lupine in bloom. The largest amount of a flower was "Rainiera stricta". It has lots of yellow flowers that look a lot like silver crown. It was in most of the meadows we saw. There were a few Indian paintbrush and higher up were more patches. Not a great flowers show but still a lot of colors. The other star of the day was western anemone. The flowers are long gone but the floppy seed heads were more than abundant. One of the best displays I have seen. All the flowers were coated with drops of rain. The cloud layer was right above us. The lighting on the wet flowers was great. Very different from a sunny day but in some ways even better looking. All of this slowed us down to a crawl.

There is also a great variety of trees along the trail. Douglas fir and western hemlock to mountain hemlocks, cedars, pines, and western yellow cedar. Kim enjoyed noting all the different types of trees. The meadows were best from the lower lake junction to the upper lake. We arrived at Upper Crystal Lake at 11:30. We took almost three hours to hike three miles. And we had many dozens of photos to show for it. Clouds were low over the lake. We could barely see across at times and then it would clear up a little before more clouds blew through. Very different from the blue sky and hot weather on recent hikes. I even kept long pants legs zipped on the entire day. It has been a long time since I last did that.

We went part way around the lake and sat on some rocks to have lunch. Now it was decision time. Hiking this day was never about views. That's why we hiked in forest to a lake. Going beyond the lake to the ridge top would not likely have any views. There are meadows. Would there be enough wildflowers in bloom to make it worthwhile? We decided to find out. Along the lake shore were hundreds of elephant heads. The pink flowers were mostly finished but the shape remained. A few of the flowers were still blooming. We had minimal visibility as we headed up. We found that while many flowers were about done there were still enough blooming to make going on well worthwhile. We saw more Indian paintbrush along here. The floppy western anemone were really thick in the meadows.

We were back to very slow forward progress. Though it always seemed about to start raining it did not do so. We planned to go up a little to see the wildflowers. Part way up the flower show dwindled but we kept on going. We decided to go to the ridge top. In the upper basin clouds covered then parted hiding then showing the sharp rock spires on the ridge top. That was neat. We reached the saddle on the ridge top at 1:25 pm. The view over to Sourdough Gap went in and out of sight. At times it was clear. After leaving the lake we had a few small donut holes of blue sky overhead. They did not last long. Much like the views. Those short bits of sunshine did seem to add about 20 degrees. It went from chilly to hot in seconds. Then back to chilly.

We saw a few folks on the way up to the lake. We passed a few more groups going each way on the trail to the ridge top. Perhaps it was the weather but the trail was not very crowded all day on a summer weekend in MRNP. So much the better. We enjoyed watching the clouds blow by. At 6375' some of the clouds were below us. A park ranger came up on the Sourdough Gap side of the ridge. He replaced a sign and was taking down the old metal one. We hung out until almost 2:00 pm when it was time to head down. More photos on the return to the lake but far fewer than on the hike up. We had a short stop at the lake before heading for the trailhead at 2:58 pm.

There were more photo stops as the lighting was much different now. Most of the raindrops were gone too. The last 2 miles down there were very few stops. We reached the car at 4:58 pm. Two hours down sliced an hour off our uphill time. Surprisingly, there were no slow downs on the drive home. Leaving Mt Rainier National Park at 5:15 pm on a summer Sunday and traffic was extremely light. Even in Seattle the freeway was wide open through town. A perfect cap for a really nice hike. I will be glad to get back to sunny summer hikes for the next month or so but for this day a cool damp but not raining day was just what I needed. I'm sure Kim felt the same way. This was only by fourth visit to Crystal Lakes and only my second out and back ever. The past few years we did a big loop that included the lakes. This was a perfect pick for a dark and cloudy day.

Wet Parking Area
Mushroom Emerging
Dark Forest
Pattern On Tree
Wet White Flower
Needle Droplets
Drops On Lupine
Amanita Mushroom
Alaska Yellow Cedar
Lewis Monkey Flower
Lined With Paintbrush
Closer Paintbrush
Shroom Under Tree
Nice Color
Western Anemone
Misty Meadow
Kim At Work
Shaggy Ink Cap
Upper Crystal Lake
View To Outlet
Elephant Head
More Anemone
Nice Color
Kim On Trail
Lake Below
Lone Paintbrush
Cloudy Point
East Of Crest
Sourdough Gap
Brief Sunshine
Lots Of Anemones
Nearing Lake
Really Nice
Hole In The Wall
Shaggy Ink Cap Again
Rainiera Stricta
Closer Rainiera Stricta
Smooth Trail
Cloudy Panorama Shot Of Upper Crystal Lake
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2019