Home »

Crystal Crag, North Arete, 5.7

This was a memorable trip and part of the effort I have underway to get some retrospective trip reports up here.  I guess I’m getting into this blogging thing rather late in the game!  Crystal Crag was a really nice climb in a beautiful setting and it was also our first multi-pitch climb in the Sierra.  Crystal Crag sits just outside Mammoth Lakes, CA and is a rather striking peak from several angles.  It’s a fairly tall, narrow, impressive looking fin of granite.  Although not quite as impressive as some other pieces of granite in the Sierra, the close proximity to Mammoth and all the nearby lakes adds something special to it.

The North Arete climbs the steep right-hand skyline seen in the picture above, which is then followed by an aesthetic, scenic ridge traverse to the summit.  It was quite an accomplishment for us given that I was still coming off of the lower back injuries/surgery and was also having some problems with my upper back!  At the base of the climb, I was having some discomfort even when I would breathe in, so it probably wasn’t the wisest decision to go on with the climb.  Despite all that, everything turned out great.

We spent the night in Old Shady Rest campground in Mammoth and opted for an early pre-dawn start.  Rumor had it that the top of the climb was loose and the last thing we wanted was parties ahead of us kicking rocks down on us.   As luck would have it, not only were we the first ones on it that day, we were the only ones on it all day!

We climbed the N Arete in three pitches.  The first pitch is rated 5.7 and is the crux of the whole climb.  The crux move itself was pretty fun and interesting.  It required transitioning out of the chimney the climb starts in and onto the face just right of it .  However, it was actually the move shortly after this which grabbed my attention the most.  The next piece of pro I was able to place wasn’t exactly what I would call bomber.  Right after this, one traverses slightly left to gain the crack system going up the Arete.  The traverse involved a foothold, which was nice-sized, but oddly angled and a bit slippery.  Along with the bad handholds here and the less-then desirable pro, I was glad to gain the crack system, which then provided a fairly easy, fun cruise to the top of pitch one. The second pitch was mostly class 3/4, with a few small class 5 moves thrown in for fun.  Some great views of the lakes below start to open up on this pitch.   The third pitch has another small section of 5.5/6 crack climbing.  The following picture shows these bottom pitches, although it has the usual “shrinking” effect on the upper pitches, making them look shorter than they really were.  There are many variations on the climb, but it sounds like the difficulties most folks encounter are fairly equivalent on average.

We had a bit of an incident on pitch 3, which turned into one of those valuable learning lessons.  When I started out on pitch 3, the first 30 feet or so were rather circuitous followed by a move back into a deep-set chimney.  At the bottom of the chimney, I had a feeling I should bring Rebecca up and just make another pitch out of it.  I didn’t listen to my gut instinct and part way up the chimney the rope drag got so bad I could barely climb forward at all.  I ended up making an anchor and used my body weight to overcome the drag, while Rebecca lowered me back down to the bottom of the chimney.  I built another anchor here, brought Rebecca up and then tackled the chimney and with much less rope drag this time!  I guess, perhaps, this really made our climb 4 pitches.  Lesson learned: listen to gut instincts and don’t be lazy!

Crystal Crag, N Arete is Along the Sun/Shade Line

Crystal Lake

Rebecca Coming Up The First Pitch

The most talked about part of this climb is the Crystal Pitch at the top.  Crystal Crag is named for the amount of crystal quartz found on the peak and this pitch is 100% all crystal quartz.  At first, I thought it would be very slippery, but it actually was pretty gritty supplying all the friction one needed to climb through this section.  It was a pretty short pitch, but kind of surreal while it lasted!

The “Crystal Pitch” Just Below Summit Ridgeline

Rebecca At Top of “Crystal Pitch”

Next up was the summit ridge traverse, which was as much a blast as it was reputed to be.  It had one semi-long, exposed Class 4 downclimb, but other than that not too bad.  After this, one arrives at a notch for the final bit of ridge to the summit.  Rebecca and I decided to call it quits here.  There was a ferocious wind at this point, making the exposed, balancy moves rather scary.  We were also both tired and neither one of us felt like getting the rope out again!  So, we leisurely made our way down the Class 3 East Face to Crystal Lake below where we relaxed with a hard-earned snack.  The hike back was beautiful, as the trail meandered along on a hillside above all the lakes.  On the way home, were also treated to a beautiful desert sunset.  A very nice day and a highly recommended climb.

Rebecca On Crystal Crag Summit Ridge Line

We made a video for the trip, but it’s just a slide show containing several more photos not pictured above.