Jul 11, 2012
- Type of Outing
- Day hike
- Read More in our Hiking Guide
- Hike: Crystal Lake
- Region: North Cascades -- Mountain Loop Highway
- Trails: Crystal Lake (#638)
- Avg Rating: 3.20
- Why You Should Go Now
- Wildflowers blooming
- Be Aware Of
- Snow on trail
Last year the Whitechuck road was reopened to the Meadow Mountain road and the Meadow Mountain and Crystal Creek Roads were brushed out. The brush on the road in 2007 was the stuff of legends. Up to 10 feet tall and as thick as blades of grass. It was an epic fight to get through that with four day sized backpacks. I wanted to come back and see the Whitechuck road repairs and hike the unbrushy old Crystal Creek Road.
We reached the parking spot for the closed Meadow Mountain road/trail at 9:30 am. There was already one truck there. By 9:45 we were on our way. The road tread has softened over the many years it has been closed. The grade is gently uphill at first and then downhill to the Crystal Creek/Meadow Mountain junction. It was it that junction that the road really began to be overgrown in 2007. Now it is completely open. No encroaching brush. What a difference. I've included a few before and after shots in the photos on my website. The day was rapidly getting hotter. The forecast for Darrington was around 90 degrees. Most of the road/trail portion was encased in trees which provided shade. Much appreciated shade.
The grade was steadily uphill but never at all steep. We had a few peek a boo views out to Mt. Pugh and Lost Creek Ridge. Their north sides still held a lot of snow.Towards the end of the road we encountered snow. There was almost none on the hillside above but snow on the shaded road. It was up to several feet deep in places and back to dirt in others. Not enough to slow us down much. A number of creeks cross the road near the end making it a bit muddy.
At long last the road came to an end. There were lots of trillium and yellow violets blooming here. I remembered the uphill section to the lake as being short and steeper. Short it is at about .67 miles. I had forgotten about the steeper part. It is very steep for a short distance. At one time the trail traversed above where the road went in. Clear cuts chopped up that trail. A short fire line goes straight up and intersects the old trail. Fortunately the steep climb was shaded. Per my GPS we gained 370' in .21 miles. That is very steep. There were a few short snowy spots but most of the steeps were bare. In the middle is a very loud waterfall. There are too many trees to get a good look at it.
When the straight up grind turned right and suddenly looked like built tread we were on the old trail. The route continues to follow along Crystal Creek to the lake. More snow along here but it will be melted out in a few weeks. Crystal Lake sits at the base of a ridge to the south. This minimized the sunshine and meant a lot more snow in a hurry. A few inches became a few feet as we neared the lake. A few bare spots had march marigolds in bloom. The snow near the outlet was much deeper. We found a tree that formed the base of a big snow bridge that allowed us to cross to the right side of the lake. it looked so much different that when Kim and I had camped there.
As true Northwesterners we headed to a shady spot near the lake shore. The lake itself is still 95% snow covered. Just a little open water at the outlet and some tin blue snow near the edge. A really beautiful place to spend the afternoon. Also a place that provided cooling. A little breeze over the snow when sitting in the shade and it actually felt cold. Step back out into the sun and instant heat. We arrived at the lake at 1:20 pm. The conditions were so ideal we were in no hurry to leave.
Phyllis arrived at the same time as us and to nobody's surprise both Dawn and Kim knew her. Her 14 year old dog still had plenty of energy to scamper all around the lake. Craig and Dawn headed to the end of the lake. Phyllis did a loop all the way around. The rest of us got to work making a snowman. Just the thing for July at only 4485'. In places at the lake the snow drifts must have been over six feet deep. I doubt it will all be gone before mid August. We wiled away the hot afternoon in our refrigerator. At about 3:00 pm we headed down. The steep section was not too bad. Back on the road it felt 30 degrees warmer than at the lake.
The walk down seemed long but was not hard. There is that 200' climb after the junction with the Meadow Mountain road. Not fun but it was mostly in the shade. We made it back out to the car sometime after 5:30 pm. Dawn and Gary were nice enough to host a barbeque on our way home. A great way to end a long weekend of hiking. I enjoyed getting out of town on a hot weekend. Good company and very different conditions for a return to Crystal Lake.
I have posted 30 annotated photos on my website located at: http://www.hikingnorthwest.com. Go to "Trips - 2012" on the left margin.