Crystal Lakes

After a cold spring it was supposed to get up to 90 degrees this day. Where to go and not get fried? It was a birthday hike for Kim and Kirsten came along too. I chose Crystal Lakes near Mt. Rainier. I have been to Crystal Peak twice but had not been to the lakes. A recent report said it was almost snow free to the lower lake. We cruised up Highway 410 to the parking spot some 4 1/2 miles into the park. There were 4 other cars at 9:15 am. It was already getting warm.

The trail begins with a crossing of Crystal Creek. The creek was running high as expected with all the snow left and the heat. After that it is a very nice trail in very dark forest. The trees here are largely small and densely packed. No blow downs across the trail and very little mud. The flowers were minimal as we saw a couple trillium, some flowering strawberries, and then yellow violets higher up.

Kim was happy with a great variety of trees to photograph. Within about a half mile we had a great view across to Mt. Rainier. Not a cloud in the bright blue sky. The trailhead is at 3500' and we reached the turn off to Crystal Peak at about 4600'. The 1100' was gained in only 1.3 miles. The route is very smooth and did not seem to be nearly that steep. We took a break here. A group heading to the peak was also resting here.

The lower trail was a lot of short switchbacks. Above the junction there are just a few switchbacks as the trail contours to the right back towards Crystal Creek. Opening in the trees began to occur and we realized how hot it was becoming. There are some snow patches left below the lower lake but with all the footprints the route is easy to follow. When we reached the junction with the lower lake we went down the short trail to the shore.

There is no beach at this lake and we found a small area where we could sit by the water. It wasn't until we stepped all around that we saw a number of frogs in the water and under foot on land. In all, I think we saw 10 of them. They did not seem to be much afraid of us. They blended in so well that they were not easy to spot, even at a short distance. It was about noon by now and time for lunch.

Kirsten has been having foot problems and I wasn't sure if she was ready for more uphill but she wanted to give it a try. In fact she did great up and down the trail. The report said it was almost all snow to the upper lake but this is no longer true. About half the route is on dirt and the snow part is very easy to follow. With the current heat it will not take long to melt out. We headed up with the way now mostly in the open. It was getting really hot.

It's only half a mile with about 400' of gain to the upper lake. We crested the hill and looked at Upper Crystal Lake with most of the lake still covered with a thin sheet of ice. It was thin and breaking up so it won't last long. The lake shore is still mostly covered with a thin layer of snow. Sourdough Gap is right above the lake. It would not have been hard to scramble on up.

We had a nice long stay at the lake. Kim and I headed along the shore to a waterfall loudly crashing down from above. The frigid water was a nice contrast with the blazing hot sun. Sunglasses were a must with the bright light reflecting off the snow. The peak is right above the lakes but I could not see anyone on top. I had to step behind a tree as the sun was just to hot for me. In the shade and near snow it was very comfortable.

We had plans for a birthday barbecue so we had to head down a little earlier than I might have wanted. We slogged through the snow then on down on dirt to the lower lake. From there a little more hot sunny hiking brought us back into the forest. It as still hot there but much more comfortable than in the sun. The trail is so smooth with so few steps or roots that it is very easy on the knees coming down. That is true even though it gains 2400' in only 3 miles. It never feels steep.

The last half mile the trail really felt hot and stifling. As we neared the creek it cooled down. There were a lot more cars than when we started but open spaces remained. I think most folks thought that lakes at 5400' and 5800' would be completely snow bound still. That is not the case. Traffic was pretty light on the way home and we made good time.

By 7:30 we had all been home, showered, and met at Kirsten's for the barbecue. The highlight was when Kim finally received her coveted red velvet cake. A red velvet birthday cake to boot. After looking down on the lakes from Crystal Peak and from Sourdough Gap I was glad to finally visit. The timing was perfect as there was not enough snow to be a problem coming up but enough left to help cool us down. It also provided great contrast with the deep blue sky, green hillsides, and dark mountains. A good time was had by all.

Crystal Creek
Dark Lower Trail
A Little Sun Creeps In
Mt. Rainier
Kim In Her Element
Kirsten On Snow
Frog Close Up
Two Frogs
Above Lower Lake
Leaving Lower Lake
K & K On Trail
View Towards Sunrise
Crystal Peak
Hillside Meadow
Trail Under Snow
Upper Crystal Lake
Marsh Marigold
Sourdough Gap
Western Pasqueflower
Crystal Lake & Peak
Crossing Creek At End
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2008