Lower Crystal Lake - Snowshoeing
November 28, 2020 · White River National Forest
The snowshoeing trek to Lower Crystal Lake in the White River National Forest was amazing, the weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky and a light breeze. Though it was a bit brisk at the start of the trek, it was two-degrees below zero. There were a couple of people gearing up at the trailhead, so I expected to see them on the trail. However, they ended up heading off to Mohawk Lakes. I headed off to Lower Crystal Lake, the trail is difficult in the Summer, the trail quickly jumps from the trailhead and continues at a steady incline.
It had not snowed in about a week, so the tracks in the snow were well-established, making the incline easier. At times, the canopy opens and with the clear blue sky, it felt very warm and I stopped to remove a few layers. Shortly after removing the layers, the canopy closed, and the temperature dropped quickly. The opening and closing of the canopy happened several times. Given the steep slope of the trail, you work up a sweat and when the canopy closed, the sweat was like ice water on your body - even with moisture wicking layers. The moisture wicking layers work, but it is a high-output steep trail.
Once you get to the junction to go to Francie's cabin, you are at treeline and the sky opens and the snow is so white, it is blinding, even with polarized sunglasses. There are several tracks going off in various directions and several ski tracks coming down the ridge. Behind you, to the East, Bald Mountain is a prominent feature with its large snow-covered dome shaped peak; it is breathtaking.
Thus far, I had only come across one other person on the trail. There was a woman moving faster than myself, she too was on her way to Lower Crystal Lake. There is a ridge to cross over to get into the valley for the final push to Lower Crystal Lake. I am glad others have been on the trail before me on this section. This small ridge is just steep enough and covered with enough snow, that if it were fresh snow it would have easily been a likely candidate for an avalanche, and it still could be today. Not all avalanches are the roaring epic avalanches you see on TV, many of them are on moderate slopes and easily triggered by people. Since it had been about a week since the last snow, and many people had worn a path along the ridge, I felt comfortable continuing on.
Once over the ridge and into the valley just before the last push to Lower Crystal Lake, the views are spectacular. To the West is Lower Crystal Lake, still out of view, but sitting in a bowl with the diamond-face Father Dyer Peak just behind the lake and tucked behind it is Crystal peak, both faces are stratified and cast a dramatic shadow with layers of snow and granite. Along the South wall of this valley is a peak called Mount Helen, not quite a Saint, but still amazing. Along the North wall of the valley is Peak Ten of the Tenmile Range. This wide valley is dotted with stubby treeline conifers and shrubs peeking out of the snow.
The weather here was fantastic, a light breeze and as you continue up the valley, the diamond-face of Father Dyer Peak becomes larger and larger. Stopping and turning to look back, Bald Mountain and its surrounding range grows wider and wider. The snow-caped peaks of the range are striking against the perfectly clear blue sky.
The final leg to Lower Crystal Lake is easy to discern, straight up the middle of the valley. Just before cresting the tarn before the lake, the temperature drops, and the wind picks up. It is not howling, just enough turn sweat into ice-water. There are a few weathered logs forming the base of an abandoned and leveled cabin. It is a common resting area during the Summer. The snow on the ground around the lake thins out from the wind and my snowshoes made a lot of noise on the rock as I walked towards the lake. This got the attention of the woman who was ahead of me, she was sitting out of the wind along one side of the abandoned cabin; she was sketching and doing a watercolor painting; that was cool to see.
The views in every direction from the lake are amazing and along the South face there is a thin-well-defined line filled in with snow. This is the trail to Upper Crystal Lake. By this time, I was already at 12,000 feet, and above treeline. This was a perfect day right here at snow-covered Lower Crystal Lake.
I had a quick lunch here and then moved down below treeline to continue lunch out of the wind. The woman who was doing the watercolor painting was on her way out too. Since we were the only two on the trail thus far, we talked for a while about the views and the weather; she headed out before me.
On the way back, at the cutoff for Francie's cabin was when I saw the first group of people on their way up the trail, they were lugging skis on their backs, with the intent of skiing down the trail from here. Just before reaching the trailhead, I could see the parking lot, that was nearly empty when I arrived in the morning and was now overflown and there were people everywhere. It seems the most popular place to go from this trailhead is to Mohawk Lakes, which is also spectacular, though it seems I chose the better of the two for the day. I nice peaceful day on the trail, a blue sky to write home about and spectacular views of the lower end of the Tenmile range. A perfect day for snowshoeing, that came in at nice 5.2 miles. It was worth getting up at 3am to ensure an early start.