Type: Trad, Alpine, 650 ft
FA: unknown
Page Views: 3,532 total · 55/month
Shared By: kenr on Aug 26, 2013
Admins: Aron Quiter, Euan Cameron, AWinters, M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes

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Fun interesting moves on good ridge-top granite comparable to the famous ridge climbs of Tuolumne Meadows (but with a shorter easier approach). Wonderful setting in the midst of mountain lakes.

Approach: See Crystal Crag alpine / multi-pitch area
for how to get to parking and trailhead and hike up to Crystal Lake --> see overview map

Then hike about 0.25 mile / 400 meters S around the east side of Crystal Lake, which some ups and downs to reach a flat clearing. Then head cross-country SSE about 0.3 mile / 500 meters on a rising traverse to reach the col on the south side of the Crystal Crag.

Turn sharp L (N) and start scrambling up the South ridge (with moves of class 3 and some rock-hopping opportunities) about 600 ft / 200m to the first tower. (This point could also be reached by steeper climbing up the W side of the ridge - see Aretes of Crystal Crag direct )

Climb: Up (with some downs) along the narrow ridge / arete distance about 600 feet / 275m (low class 5, mostly class 3+4) to the (highest) South summit. Possibly with careful navigation, might be able to keep all the climbing moves at difficulty class 4 or less, but if descending (or retreating) the same way, some of the moves likely will feel like class 5.

In some sections it might be possible to find an easier way below the crest of the ridge on the east side (one guidebook recommends doing this higher on the route), but be careful since this could send loose rock down on the Sport climbers below.

Descent: Return the same way.

alternate Descent: From a little N of the South summit, go down the West face. One guidebook suggests going straight down a short ways, then diagonal Right (NW). We started that way, but then aimed aimed overall toward a little N of the S end of Crystal Lake ... From the crest at first straight down (steep thoughtful moves), then diagonal down + S (thoughtful moves, exposed) into a gully, and down that. In the middle section we hit a dirt track, then lots of loose rock, down to a wide ledge, where we turned SW to get down to the talus field near a large multi-trunk tree.
. One guidebook suggests that this overall section of the W face is class 3, but especially the top section (also a little at the bottom) seemed to require so much thought to find the moves in descent that it should be graded as class 4 (even if it feels like class 3 when climbing up) - or perhaps the guidebook author just knows a better easier route.

alternate Descent: Continue N along the arete, down-climbing to the notch between the South summit and the Middle Summit (low class 5). Perhaps this section can be done at class 4 if done in the upward direction, but some moves as down-climb likely will feel like class 5). From the notch, go down the West with loose rock and dirt. Mostly class 3, but likely a class 4 move will be encountered, especially near the bottom.

GPS: All latitude/longitude waypoints along with other helpful waypoints and tracks are in a GPX file linked from this page

Totals for approach hike + climb to S summit:
  • on Trail hiking distance 1.9 Miles / 3.1 km with vertical gain +725 ft / 225 meters.
  • Off trail hiking distance 0.8Mi/1.2km with vertical gain +500ft/155m.
  • Climbing up + traversing length 650ft/200m with vertical gain +325ft/100m.

Grand Totals for approach + climb + descent S ridge + return hike:
  • on Trail hiking distance 3.8Mi/6.2km with vertical gain +900ft/280m
  • Off trail hiking distance 1.6Mi/2.4km with vertical gain +330ft/100m
  • Climbing + traversing length 1300ft/400m
  • Climbing + traversing vertical gain +450ft/140m
  • Down-climbing + traversing vertical loss -450ft/140m
  • Total horizontal distance = 5.6 miles / 9 km
  • Total vertical gain = +1375ft/420m

For a longer harder version of this route, see Aretes of Crystal Crag direct


Rope less than 30 meters and long slings for the arete sections (possibly a selection of cams). The leader should be skillful in protecting by running the rope around different sides of rocks and horns along the arete.


3-4 miles SW of the town of Mammoth Lakes --> see overview map

Getting here: see Crystal Crag alpine / multi-pitch area
Preston Rhea
Mammoth Lakes
Preston Rhea   Mammoth Lakes
An imposing tower along the South Ridge can be easily bypassed to climber's right (east) at loose 3rd class. Bypassing the tower keeps the whole ridge in the 3rd class range with maybe a couple slightly more exciting moves. Jul 6, 2014
Approaching from Crystal lake head up right/ South and good luck finding a trail beyond the lake, there are many - just go right and get to the south corner of the crag.

we brought our trad gear just in case and were glad we did. The climb is not hard but this crag has a tremendous amount of loose rock.

There are 3-4 summits before you get to the tallest summit of the crag, the walk off is after the 4th summit on the left, we thought to downclimb the way we came up which was a lot harder than the "walkoff" eventhough nothing looks like a walkoff on this rock, its all very loose and should be taken seriously. If you are not comfortable with high winds, loose rock, and class 4-5 climbing reconsider. We took this route to get a simple alpine climb in and werent challenged by the climb but more by the elements.

Still worth trying if you like the excitement! Aug 10, 2016
Mammoth Lakes, CA
davefaus   Mammoth Lakes, CA
This is the perfect mini mountain climb that can be done in just a couple hours car to car. The imposing first tower is airy 5.6 if climbed direct Jun 29, 2017
master gumby  
After finishing this I have a few comments.
1. Ignore the directions listed in the description above, actually ignore the entire description, approach climb decent etc... Anyways, as you approach stay on the right (west) side of the crag, you will avoid all of the loose scree and talus.
2. This is not a rock climb. Leave the gear at home. The first "tower" is most definitely NOT 5.6, closer to low 5th or 4th class. And the rest of the ridge is 3rd probably.
3. A fun few hours if your trying to hang out and hike or run etc... But don't expect a rock climb. Oct 18, 2018
Caped Baldy
Used car lot
Caped Baldy   Used car lot
Find a different way up Crystal Crag. This ridge is boring and all 3rd. Oct 18, 2018