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[TR] Crystal Lake Tower - SW Rib 8/16/2015

Val Zephyr

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Trip: Crystal Lake Tower - SW Rib


Date: 8/16/2015


Trip Report:

Kyle and I teamed up for a weekend in the Enchantments, which included a lovely walk up McClellan and an ascent of the SW Rib of Crystal Lake Tower. Crystal Lake Tower is a worthy alpine objective. The ridge is long and complex (19 pitches up to 5.8) with interesting climbing throughout. The 5.8 cruxes are short and there are ample belay ledges, yet exposure on the climb is high and the location in the Enchantments is hard to beat.


We met up at the Snow Creek lot and stashed a car there to give us more options later. Then began the hike into Crystal Creek from the Ingalls TH at 2:30pm Friday. Our full itinerary for the weekend began with a rough start. I’ve never been up Crystal Creek from the Ingalls side and with way too much beta, somehow managed to miss the correct drainage by a mile, literally. We ended up doing a long traverse on steep slopes at 5000’ and sleeping in a creek bed 1000’ below and 0.5 miles of steep brush away from our intended location of Crystal Creek basin. Saturday morning we completed the hike in to the basin and were staring at our intended objective of Crystal Lake Tower by noon. It is a long, intimidating ridge and we were not about to jump on it this late in the day.


Off route on the approach:



Our first view of the SW Rib of Crystal Lake Tower (ridge line coming directly toward us):




We decided instead to tag the summit of McClellan. Despite the countless times I’ve visited the Enchantments, I hadn’t stood atop this particular summit yet. The route is short and enjoyable and offers probably the best view in all of the Enchantments. With renewed stoke after hitting a summit despite our disaster of a start Friday, we set our sites again on Crystal Lake Tower. Instead of a leisurely hike out on Sunday, we were now preparing for a very long day, with the climb and the 10 miles of descent down Snow Creek (given that I hadn’t seen the correct Crystal Creek in the day, I didn’t want to try descending it tired and in the dark). We took in the views of the Enchantments in the fading light before ducking back toward Crystal Creek Basin for the night.


The view from McClellan isn't bad:





Evening walk through the Enchantments:



The climb of the SW Rib of Crystal Creek Tower was as good as people had described it. It is another huge ridge of granite, and is just as worthy an objective as the rock routes on Stuart and Dragontail. The exposure is impressive throughout much of the route, climbing sometimes on steep faces or knife-edge ridges, but there were ample comfortable belay ledges. The setting is hard to beat too. Views down to Crystal Creek and Little Annapurna and the Flagpole, which I think Kyle and I both never stopped admiring the entire trip. Pretty much every time I had the camera out, Kyle would say, “get a picture of the Flagpole!” I took 17. As you gain elevation the entire Enchantment Plateau comes into view as well as Fantasia Pond, the Chessmen and the Nightmare Needles which are all tucked in this whole other world on the south side of McClellan.


What really sets this climb apart from the others is that there was no play-by-play description of each pitch and there is not a defined route to follow. It really is a choose-your-own-adventure style climb. That was both rewarding and mentally challenging at times. There were a couple of times that we had done some fairly committing moves, hoping that things would work out and the route would continue around the next corner. It seemed like whenever things were starting to look grim, a new weakness in the rock would present itself and we could keep moving up.


Without giving you all a play-by-play (so that you can go have an good adventure yourselves!), I’ll say that we started left of the toe of the ridge and simul-climbed to the bottom of the prominent slab ridge in 3 simul-leads taking 3 hours to reach the ridge. Much of the terrain was fit for simul-climbing here, but we still did find a few difficult sequences and stopped to belay the second when this happened. From the base of the ridge we pitched out the remainder of the climb. After this ridge, the difficulty increases and the route-finding becomes more thought provoking. There are some excellent pitches in there, there is also some choss. We topped out a little more than 10 hours after starting.


Flagpole in the morning light:



The prominent slab ridge that marked the end of simulclimbing:





Fun face climbing pitch:



Rounding the corner at the top of the face climbing pitch. Great exposure here again. I'm really glad that the route kept going after this!



Final summit tower comes into view:



Fantasia pond and Nightmare Needles:






Chessman from the summit:



The descent is very straightforward. We walked the ridgeline toward the First Chessman and there is an easy walk-off to Crystal Lake.


Easy walk-off from just before reaching the first Chessman:



We thoroughly enjoyed the walk through the rest of the Enchantments, soaking up the scenery in the fading light. This is paradise. We would need these happy thoughts for the next 9 miles of dark trail that would follow. We reached the car at 2am, exhausted but happy for a trip well done. I’m so glad that Kyle is the kind of guy that would pick a big climb over getting a good night’s sleep any day. Thanks for the trip!



Gear Notes:

Double rack to #3 was plenty


Approach Notes:

7 miles to Crystal Creek. Why did I let myself think otherwise....

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  • 2 years later...

Sweet, I missed this the first time around.  I liked Crystal Lake Tower, I need to get back in to Crystal Basin again this spring.  I'm not sure I agree that Aasgard is the best way to get there though, Crystal Creek really isn't bad if you find the right drainage!  It's the 7 miles on the Ingalls trail that kinda drags on. 

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