Crystal Peak & Peak 10
March 25, 2012 - Spruce Creek T.H.
I needed to get out and climb, Bob needed to get out and climb, the forecast was for a bluebird day . . . so it was off to the Tenmile Range for me to score the last Bicentennial of that range and for Bob to summit that and another Centennial. More importantly, we both wanted to take a tour of the Crystal Creek drainage, which offered us an approach from a trailhead that we had never been to before.
The drill is so familiar . . . a phone call early in the week, a muted discussion of the departure time from Cheyenne, a minor and heartless bidding war to drive the depart time back into the wee hours of the morning and the eventual acceptance of the number 3 or 4 preceding the a.m. . . . this time the bidding stopped at 3. Bob was at my place at that unwholesome hour and we were off. The trip took the expected three hours with the usual stops along the way to pee and hydrate, followed by our arrival at the trailhead and gathering of the gear in the sweltering morning air, must have been a few degrees below freezing!
We lashed the snowshoes to our packs in the hope that they would not be needed and were off for the first quarter mile of snow covered road before we cut off to the right and started the much more uphillish climb to Francies Cabin, about 3/4 mile distant. The climb rolled, giving a flat spot here and there but generally providing a good workout as we both knew the drill, i.e. we go to the next way point without stopping, like not at all, that's the rule. Below the cabin we called it a halt, knowing the we were just shy of the Wheeler Trail intersection and that the next stop would be to break out an axe or put on some crampons before climbing to the summit of Peak 10.
We left the trees and wandered into the open basin that lies below Mt. Helen, Fr. Dyer, Crystal and Peak 10. The course was pretty much a stay on the snow and avoid the willows sticking up to keep from postholing routine. We punched through here and there but most of the terrain was well burned by the sun over the past week and had melted and re-frozen enough to have a good walking crust. One half hour of valley floor hiking deposited us at the base of a snow line that looked to lead most of the way to the summit of Peak 10. The slope was not that steep but appeared to offer the opportunity to don the crampons and practice some snow climbing techniques . . . . while there was snow to climb. Although this was a March climb, the signs of Spring, all too early a Spring, were well in hand. If not otherwise advised of the date, I'd have put my money on it being mid to late May . . . the valley was that bare.
With crampons in place, we made began another non stop segment to the break of the ridge, about 1200 feet above our starting point. The slope was never that steep but it did yield some hard smooth neve off to the west side of the gully, had enough to easily justify the crampons in the event a foot failed to gain the necessary purchase. We topped the ridge and found ourselves standing on an old road that we followed a short distance to the base of the summit shoulder. The shoulder yielded a pleasant ridge hike that provided perhaps another hundred feet of vertical before we were on the summit of Peak 10. But our summit rest was short . . . as the wind came up and we decided to promptly traverse the crest of the snowfield that connected Peak 10's two subsidiary summits before dropping to the Peak 10/Crystal Peak saddle.
The saddle drops 300+ feet to a flat between the two peaks followed by a good 500 foot climb up the northeast ridge of Crystal Peak. Most importantly, the saddle proved to be wind free so we took 15 minutes to stop and have lunch before proceeding to the summit of Crystal. Lunch over, we started up Crystal's northeast ridge, mostly skirting the top of the vast snowfield that lay across the southerly face of the peak. We gained the summit after about one half hour of climbing and took a break on top for about ten wind free minutes. Photos, a thin mint for Pachamama, and we were again on our way, this time bound for the trailhead. We'd considered a traverse to Mt. Helen, but we were both a bit under the power curve so we opted for the retreat.
Our descent was a traverse rather than direct descent down the snow face. It was getting more than a bit hot out, at least in wet slough avi terms and we figured discretion favored the rock just above the snow/rock interface rather than the snow proper. As we descended, we passed a couple of skiers, Joe Kool in the lead, obviously too cool to acknowledge the greeting of non skiers . . . takes all kinds. The snow slowly went to hell and we connected flattish snow fields trying to avoid postholing and eventually making our way back to the valley floor. We figured it would be time for the snowshoes to go on, but the floor was still good footing and but for a short stretch around the Wheeler trail intersection, we hit the snowmobile compacted track near the cabin and made good time to the parking area. Overall, 8 hours total and two summits. We could have been a bit more gung ho and gone for the Mt. Helen and Father Dyer traverse but that route will be there next time as well.
Crystal in the spring from Mayflower Gulch . . .