Type: Trad, Alpine, 4 pitches, Grade II
FA: unknown
Page Views: 17,939 total · 140/month
Shared By: littlemike on Jun 26, 2008
Admins: Aron Quiter, Euan Cameron, AWinters, M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes

You & This Route

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The North Arête Route starts in a small chimney in the back of a corner and is not the prominent dihedral which will be to the left. For the first pitch, head up the small chimney (5.6) and then up a broken face (fourth class). The second pitch appears to have choice of two chimney systems. We headed up the left side and stayed closer to the edge of the arête. It looks like there is a second chimney to the right. In either case this ends below a huge section of white quartz, hence the name Crystal Crag.. A short half pitch of this put us on the ridge. A couple hundred feet of mixed third and fourth class climbing with the occasional fifth class move thrown in the summit.


Crystal Crag is directly behind Crystal Lake and is easily visible from the parking at George Lake.


Typical Sierra Rack, many solo this route, but I don't
M. Morley
Sacramento, CA
  Easy 5th
M. Morley   Sacramento, CA  
  Easy 5th
A really fun, easy romp with a short approach. Two and a half pitches of 4th/easy 5th class climbing. Aug 9, 2010
As Croft says, a tiny mountain-climb! IMO the 5.easy ridge traverse to the summit is the best part of the route...great rock and absolutely stellar position. Aug 22, 2012
South Lake Tahoe, CA
timmaly   South Lake Tahoe, CA
Did this a few weeks ago. Really fun, easy climb, with unique features (crystal gulley/dihedral), awesome setting and a ridge traverse that reminded me a bit of Mt Conness or Matthes Crest. The start was a little tricky to find so I am posting a photo. Basically look for a ramp leading up to a chimney that is climbers-right of the base of the arete. Climb up a pitch and then break left for the arete proper. We did three pitches up to the ridge, three more pitches along the ridge to the summit and then one descent pitch (continuing along the ridge) before we could exit climbers-right and scramble down the west face. We found the descent to be pretty loose. Have fun!
Sep 12, 2012
Chris Owen
Big Bear Lake
Chris Owen   Big Bear Lake  
I really liked the ridge traverse, pity it doesn't get a more eloquent description. Jun 1, 2013
There are three worthwhile things about this climb: the traverse along the narrow summit ridge, the short high section of bright-white crystal, and views over the lakes.

The first 3 or 2 pitches upward are a means to get up high to those three things. As a climbing route section, those pitches are just a "one move wonder" 5.6 with lots of loose rock that is not on narrow ridge/arete. So the game is just to get through them quickly and safely, with plenty of time and energy left over to enjoy the great stuff up high -- including traversing along summit aretes at least as far as the (highest) South summit.

Simpler route description: Start in the right place, by using the photo above in these Comments (or if you want more/harder moves, start in some other place), follow the line of least resistance (don't worry about staying close to the arete). Getting near the top keep looking to the left for the brighter white crystal and then move left to the true ridge for that - (or if you arrive at the N summit and see that you missed the brightest crystal with the remarkable mini-tower, just climb down to it).

Actually most of the best arete climbing is beyond the highest summit, on the South ridge (with several fun 5.6 moves but which are not obligatory). The problem finishing this route on the South ridge is that most of that great climbing then has to be done in the downward direction, which most people find less fun and more intimidating and more difficult (some obligatory down-climb moves will likely feel like class 5).

Strategy to make sure not to miss out on the great arete climbing on this peak in the most fun direction (and without so much loose rock): Try this route Aug 18, 2013
The name of this climb is misleading, since most of the upward climbing is not on the arete. The first 3 (or 2) pitches are on the W side of the arete (not warm if starting early in the morning).

The summit arete as far as the Middle summit (where we and many parties down-climb off the ridge) is welcome + nice, but not in the same league as the high-ridge granite of the Tuolumne Meadows aretes. The really good arete moves + rock start just after the notch between the Middle and South summits. So from an "arete" perspective there's little reason to do this climb unless you're planning to go at least as far as the (highest) South summit. It is possible to down-climb the W face from near the S summit (starting a bit north of it), though I felt it had a more difficult and sustained and exposed (and interesting) section - and was overall longer - than the W face descent from just S of the Middle summit.

Overall: A few nice moves. A short section climbing on remarkable bright white crystal. A great setting overlooking the lakes. Mostly easy approach hike (and the Crystal Lake trail is very pretty going back down). Some great arete moves + rock if continue south along the ridge past the Middle summit to the South summit -- even more great moves + rock if continue past the South summit all the way down base of the S ridge (which I explored a couple of days later).

Lots of loose rock all along the way (including the belay stations). I wouldn't climb anywhere near underneath another party (though most of the climb slants, so if they other party is high enough above, the rockfall might go off to the side). Next time I might bring along some guidebook pages for the half-pitch routes on the base of East face, so we could kill some time if we found another party already ahead.

Best rock and climbing moves were the down-climb of W-SW side of Middle summit. But after that the descent of the W face from between the Middle + South summits was mostly loose and dirty, with lots of slopy moves -- not fun.
At least one guidebook warns not to try to down-climb W face from between North + Middle summits, and from looking at W face back a ways from the bottom, I agree.

The photo in the Comments above was very helpful. The main description above was not so helpful for finding the start, since the correct start is a more prominent dihedral than anything within sight of it.

Crux move exiting the first chimney was very closely protected with a 3-inch cam. Above that seemed more like a ramp than a broken face. For good communication with my follower on the crux, and stopped P1 after about 30 meters to belay at a rock horn below a little scraggly bush. Then another 30m pitch to a flat area below two gullies (didn't look like chimneys or chimney systems).

We chose (unlike the main description above) the R gully, because it had more white rock, and I thought the theme of the climb was the white crystals. But it turned out that much of the white rock was not crystal -- just not-great rock that happened to be whitish and not much protectable. Higher up in the gully we did get to some white crystal with an interesting couple of moves (and an old piton embedded in the crystal rock). Checking later I saw that we made a mistake by then exiting toward R from top of L gully. If we had made a Left turn a little below the top, we could have found an even better deposit of bright white crytal -- at last on the actual arete -- and could have gone up directly over a mini-tower of white crystal on our way to the N summit.

Solo might be a better way to enjoy this route (I'm wondering how many of the people who gave this route 3 or 4 stars did it as a solo) ... because of the loose rock on the upward climbing, loose rock at the belay stations, and the hassle of rope-protection traversing through the ups + downs on the summit aretes - and making sure to have time for the summit aretes. The crux move is low so you find out early how you feel about it before you're much committed - (to me that move felt pretty solid, but I had excellent lead protection for it). Aug 29, 2013
Timmaly's photo is perfect beta. Notice especially the two dark knobs on the left wall above the ramp. The below photo shows a party at the top of the ramp as seen from below.

Oct 25, 2013
Seth Largo
Kearney, Nebraska
Seth Largo   Kearney, Nebraska
The photos above saying "top of the North Arete" and "near the summit" seem to be in the crystal band, which is really the half-way point to the summit. That and the erroneous beta suggesting it's only a "couple hundred feet" to the summit after gaining the ridge make it look like some parties bail shortly after the crystal by heading down right toward the visible descent route. But if you don't do the ridge to the summit, you're missing out on a neat alpine experience (minus the alpine approach and length!). Up towers, down-climbs into notches, howling wind, some loose rock, a couple scary step-across moves with plenty of air beneath you, all of which will make the "crux" chimney at the bottom seem like a piece of cake. Climbing is mostly 3rd/4th with occasional 5th moves, 3-5 pitches of it (depending on rope drag), but if it's your first time up it, the setting makes everything feel more committing. You'll completely forget you're just a couple miles from the car. I imagine soloing this ridge would, as someone mentioned, make the route feel even more classic.

A bit of beta: First, to reiterate, the route beta above says it's only a "couple hundred feet" to the summit after gaining the ridge. Ha! Second, look for foot traffic down and to the left when you come to a certain section of the ridge that you, if you're most people, wouldn't want to down-climb directly. Third, if the last block before the summit looks too scary to attack head on, a somewhat loose 4th-class down-climb to the right will take you onto an easy scramble on the low angle face and then up to the summit (watch the rope drag if you take this option!). Lastly . . . bring long slings! Aug 14, 2014
Agreed, you MUST go to the true South summit, otherwise it doesn't count :P. The 5.8 dihedral variation is good and worthy if you're looking to add a little extra technical climbing to the otherwise scrambly route. Aug 14, 2014
Robert Hall
North Conway, NH
  5.5 PG13
Robert Hall   North Conway, NH  
  5.5 PG13
Classic! After the opening "chimney" (that you don't have to chimney) we took a rising traverse to the right, then straight up to the crystal band a bit to the right of the route photo, mostly to avoid the wind.
My recollection of the traverse was: two (2) 70meter "pitches", plus some simul-climbing, [ALL BEAUTIFUL CLIMBING, SOLID ROCK, Cl 4 to about 5.4] so it's AT LEAST 500-600 ft to the main summit; then, starting at a point 20-30 ft BEFORE the main summit, an easy 100 ft downclimb [climber's right, then cut back left] to a pine tree and easy class 2/3 scrambling. Aug 26, 2014
Las Vegas, NV
J W   Las Vegas, NV
Pretty fun, although I will say that if this had a longer approach or didn't have the crystal bands up high, I probably wouldn't recommend what is essentially four moves of technical 5.5-ish climbing paired with a fairly serious descent.

We did not go to the summit, but instead dropped down the first gully at the start of the ridge. This was probably harder climbing than coming up, but still pretty tame by alpine descent standards.

All in all, the crystal at the top was fun, the approach is mellow, so maybe worth doing if you're looking for an active rest day. Jul 25, 2016
The descent has VERY loose rock. I watched a human size boulder fall out.
8/2/2017 Aug 3, 2017
Mikhail Simkin  
Free soloed it July 25. Here is the video:
youtube.com/watch?v=obhTD42… Aug 9, 2017
Dude! Yikes, sketch fest. Not trying to be a dick, you looked in over your head. Aug 9, 2017
Jeff G.
Jeff G.   Lyons
That video is horrifying. You must be the worst climber I've ever seen. You really shouldn't free solo up a flight of stairs. And what is the bright orange webbing for? Crazy shit. Sep 21, 2017
I have to agree with Jeff^2 here.... Might want to practice a bit more with a rope? Jan 14, 2018
jt newgard
San Diego, CA
jt newgard   San Diego, CA
If you liked this crag, there is a Lake Tahoe version as well!

The Eagle Route (5.5) has better climbing up to the ridge, but the Crystal Crag ridge traverse blows the Eagle Route traverse out of the water. That's the real highlight here on Crystal Crag...

Totally agree with Ken, you gotta bag the true summit! Don't be tempted by the nice looking descent gully in the notch, haha. As you head to the true summit, the rock becomes amazingly clean (refreshing since the first pitches are littered with loose rock) and knife edge.

The high point offers a great move, either squeeze in on the left, or slab it up on the right. Then stand up and gaze upon the Minarets and Ritter Range....ahhh....sweet day May 29, 2018