Crystal Crag - North Arete
I want to tell you guys about my favorite climb I've done so far this year! Two weekends ago Michael and I headed off to Mammoth Lakes, CA to go climb the alpine route North Arete at Crystal Crag.
This was one of my goal climbs for the year, because I've been reading it would be a good intro climb into Alpine Climbing, and I love, love, loved it! Besides the fact that we were the only people on the climb the day we went out and we had perfect weather, this climb was that perfect mix of long but easy fun (rated 5.6)... and the views were fantastic!
Crystal Crag is easily accessible from Mammoth Lakes and provides a good opportunity to practice skills needed for Alpine routes. We dedicated our Saturday to the climb. I borrowed the picture below from mountain project to show a picture of the climb and the route we took. We went all the way to the true summit, as shown in the picture.
The approach to the climb was easy, but took us about an hour and a half or so.
We started out at about 8am Saturday morning... I forgot approach shoes, so I had to wear my flip flops on the hike up. :(
The climb started in a small chimney (there's a good picture of the start on mountain project), and Michael lead the first pitch, which had a crux move over a bulge, but nothing too scary and good placements.
I lead the second pitch, and had so much fun with it! It was super fun learning to navigate and making choices on the best route to follow and where to put gear placements in, because in Alpine climbing the route is not always obvious. Being inexperienced though, I didn't make the second pitch very long, I think I placed my pieces to where I had too much drag... so I set up an anchor and brought Michael Up.
Michael lead a 3rd pitch up to what should have been my 2nd pitch belay, and then I lead a final short pitch to the top of the peak.
All of that was super fun and relatively stress free. The climbing seemed true to the grade and the protection was all there. There was a bit of loose rock toward the top, but it was easy enough to be careful about. The last pitch to the top was neat because it was on this huge section of quartz crystal... Like climbing on diamonds.
The next obstacle was climbing the ridge traverse to the true summit. This involved going down and up and down and back up again until we reached the other end. We figured we'd give simul climbing some practice since there was no one else on the route and we had the whole day to practice. (Simul climbing means that both climbers climb at the same time on the same rope. The leader places gear and the follower pulls it out, but they are both climbing)
We read that the more inexperienced climber should lead in a simul climbing situation, so I lead most of the simul climb, which was also really fun, and I learned a lot.
There were a few times where I got "stuck" because I wasn't sure what to do on a simul "down climb", so I stopped and set up and anchor and brought Michael to me. We'd talk it through and then continue.
There was one final section towards the end that I got spooked from the exposure on too and ended up having Michael pitch it out instead of simul climbing it.
If we could go back and do the climb again though I don't think we would need to pitch out any of it. Most of the times the sections that looked hard ended up being much simpler than I imagined.
It was so incredible up there! The exposure, the simul climbing, the view... all of it was exhilerating!
Michael reaching the true summit!
There was a vague pathway leading to the bottom through a rough trail of scree. By the end we had drank all 3 liters of our shared water supply, it was about 5pm and our toes were killing us having been in climbing shoes all day long.
The hike back felt long, but it was just nice to be back in flip flops again.
We threw everything into the back of the car and headed promptly to the local Thai restaurant to stuff our faces with spring rolls, fried rice, and curry. Then feeling extra glutinous we ran across the street and bought cookies.
It was an awesome day and an awesome climb. I'm really glad we had it all to ourselves because it allowed me a lot of time to learn and practice different things about simul climbing and trad anchors.
I can't wait to get out to do more Alpine, and I'd love to come back and do this climb again. :) I definitely recommend you doing it, if you are into this kind of thing!