Mon, Sep 1, 2003
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later climbed Tue, Jul 5, 2005|
This had none of the wild adventure of the previous days in the Minarets, but that's how it was intended. We had exited early from that trip and I still had some free time before I was due back in San Jose. But I was feeling ill, a weeks long lingering thing that had started four days earlier and was continuing to sap my strength. At the same time I was restless sitting in a Mammoth motel room with little to do but watch TV and feel sorry for myself. So when Romain left to go home, I headed up to check out Crystal Crag, a mild, half day adventure even at a leisurely pace. The crag is a tiny mountain, but mostly granitic unlike most of the peaks in the Mammoth area. It seemed ideal for a get-out-in-the-sun-and-off-your-butt sort of day.
I parked in the large lot by Lake George and struck off on the trail to Crystal Lake at 8a. It's an easy trail, and consequently popular, and on Memorial Day it seemed as popular as ever with several other parties passed along the way. The crag loomed distinctly ahead of me where the trail heads down for 100ft as it approaches Crystal Lake. As I walked along the trail on the east side of the lake I spied a dog in the water holding a stick and swimming back towards the west shore. To my amused surprise there was a woman in the buff on a rock by the shore waiting for the dog to return, evidently sunning herself while her dog played in the water (and attracted the attention of anyyone walking by). Sadly it was to far away to get a decent photo, so her identity remains a secret...
I left the trail to approach the north side of Crystal Crag. Where I left the trail I was greeted by a sign indicating the dangers of climbing Crystal Crag. I found this also amusing and continued on my way. Climbing through the forest up some gentle slopes I soon came to the talus and sandy regions surrounding the crag. I had thought I might solo the North Arete beforehand, thinking it to be rated class 4. When I got to the base I stared up at the impressive route. Not class 4 that I could see (in fact it's rated 5.7 as I found out later). Another climber was a third of the way up the route, solo but using a rope. No way I was going up there by myself, so I started walking around to the east side, looking for an interesting class 3-4 route I might follow.
On the northeast side, or the north end of the east side, I thought I found what I was looking for. But I was unable to climb more than about 30 feet before I felt I was getting in over my head and backed off. Maybe sometime when I'm feeling better I'll go back and try that route again. Instead I continued circling around the base. I noted a number of bolts on the lower reaches of the east side, evidence of sport routes up some of the more featureless granite slabs. It seemed a shame on such a fine feature, but I don't get too emotional about bolting ethics - fortunately they are only unsightly from close up. I continued around until I was near the southern end of the east face, and here I found a narrow gully cutting diagonally up and to the left towards the crag's N-S spine. I headed up this, finding some class 3 climbing, but not enough to put it high on a recommendation list. Once on the spine, I followed the large granite blocks north to the summit, arriving just after 10a. A little more than two hours for a total of a mile and a half, it was about as leisurely a pace as I could imagine. It would have been better with another couple thousand feet of scrambling.
The summit has a pretty vantage for views, to the Ritter Range, Mammoth Mountain, Mammoth Lakes, and east to Duck Pass. Much of the view east, south, and west is blocked by The Sherwins and Mammoth Crest. For views, a hike along Mammoth Crest is far better. I looked around for a summit register but found none. I started scrambling north along the spine to go check out the interesting crystal feature that the crag is named for, but after about 20 yards I found the climbing a bit too spicy for my liking that day, and went no further. I turned my attention to the descent. Looking down the broad West Face, it seemed to offer a variety of options in my comfort zone. A short distance north of the summit I headed down a body-width crack and made my way down over slabs and through short chimneys, broken up at intervals by small ledges that led down to the next level below. This was the best climbing I had on Crystal Crag, sustained class 3, some class 4, with many variations possible that made route-finding trivial. I followed this down to the sandy slopes just above the lake level, and found my way back to the use trail.
On returning I missed the regular trail near the lake's outlet that climbs back uphill, and instead found myself on a use trail following the outlet stream. When I realized my error I decided the use trail ought to make for an interesting alternative, and so continued following it. It met expectations nicely. There was no one on the trail, it followed the outlet as it drops steeply through a 100-foot cascade (there was almost no water at this time of year, but it would be quite pretty I imagine in spring and early summer). The trail brought me down to the westernmost end of George Lake, and I followed a fishermen's trail back to the parking lot, arriving at 11a. It had been an enjoyable three hours spent. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in Mammoth Lakes, easier for me to do once I got my daily exercise in. I would wait until the next day before driving home.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Crystal Crag
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