Deadwood Lakes-Crystal Peak & Lakes Loop

In August 2016 Gary and I did a loop trip starting at the Crystal Lakes Trailhead on Highway 410. The loop included Crystal Peak, Deadwood Lakes, Sheep Lake, Sourdough Gap, and Crystal Lakes. It was a challenging 13 mile hike with 4700' of elevation gain. John had hurt his ACL and could not make the hike. Now, two years later, Gary brought up a new variation on the trip. The temperature in Seattle would be in the low to mid 90s and I was not sure I wanted to spend a significant amount of time above forests on such a hot day. By the end of the week I signed on to the trip. Gary's version started and ended at Chinook Pass. It reduced the distance by 1.5 miles and cut off 1100' of elevation gain. Now it was just 11.6 miles with 3600' of gain. Still not an easy hike on a very hot day.

We needed an early start. I was on the road at 5:20 am. I met Gary and he drove to pick up John at 5:55 am. We headed to Enumclaw and east on Highway 410. Even at that early hour there were quite a few cars going our way. We passed the Crystal Lakes Trailhead to find it mostly full. We arrived at the Chinook Pass lot at about 7:25 am. The lot was almost entirely full. At 5000' at that hour it was already warming up. We were on the trail at 7:39 am. The route begins with a pretty gentle grade. Some wildflowers were in bloom right from the start. Those included columbine, false hellebore, western anemone, tiger lilies, and more. Just short of a half mile along we found the old route up to the ridge and down to Deadwood Lakes. It is steep and not well maintained.

At the ridge top we entered Mt. Rainier National Park (MRNP). It is signed. The trail drops steeply at first. We began to see lupine and Indian paintbrush. Much to our surprise we found a big patch of avalanche lilies in bloom. That one patch was the only one we saw all day long. The grade relents and soon we were at the first lake. We saw one backpacker coming out and he mentioned another group at the lakes. We heard but did not see them. The shore is very wet at both lakes. We found only one spot where we could get to the shore without burying our boots in muck. The bugs were particularly bad at the lakes. The trail comes and goes along the lakes. At the lower lake we took stock of our position and looked to see where to go on our second leg of the trip.

From the lower Deadwood Lake to the Crystal Peak Trail there is no trail. Some animal tracks but no trail. It is all cross country. Some navigation ability is helpful as we aimed for the Crystal Peak Trail right at a switchback. Being either too high or low would have had us missing it and doing more sidehilling cross country travel before we ran into the trail. As it worked out, we hit it right at the switchback. We had .90 miles with 800'  of gain to reach the summit. Part of the way was in shade as the sun had not risen high enough yet. We had some great views of Mt. Rainier but it was pretty hazy. We reached the summit at 9:51 am to find several groups already there. The view down to Upper Crystal Lake was even hazier than Mt. Rainier. Not great photos but a fun 6595' summit. It was time for food and water.

We headed down at 10:14 am. Instead of going down the trail we descended the ridge to the saddle then dropped down to the trail. Other than the summit we had surprising solitude. One group passed us and that was it down to the Crystal Lakes Trail. The descent covered 2.6 miles with 1900' of elevation loss. Most of our hikes go uphill in the morning and downhill later on. This one has some big ups and downs. The trail up to Crystal Lakes is well graded and in the forest for the first part.  When we left the forest it was instantly very hot. A lot hotter than expected this early in the day. We passed the lower lake and a half mile later we reached Upper Crystal Lake. There were a number of groups around the lake. The open trail had small flower filled meadows. They were also at the lake.

We found a spot in the shade of of some trees not far from the shore. It was instantly 20 degrees cooler. We reached the 5800' lake at 12:23 pm. We now had most of the elevation gain done. We had just 4.1 miles to go. John and I treated water so we would have enough to finish the trip. There were bugs but with a little breeze they were not too bad. We spent about 50 minutes at the lake. Great scenery and very comfortable in the shade. At 1:13 pm we packed up and headed out. We had one more climb and it starts right at the lake. Along the shore we saw more wildflowers including some big patches of elephanthead. We also saw it at Deadwood Lakes. I think I have seen more this year than in any previous year. John and I brought light silver "chrome dome" umbrellas. It proved to be a very good idea. I was much cooler than out in the sunshine. The climb to the ridge is .80 miles gaining 525' Not a big deal unless it is 80+ degrees and rising.

We saw a huge display of floppy headed western anemone above the lake. We saw larkspur, lupine, and Indian paintbrush as well.  Crystal Peak and Lake were in view as we rose with Mt. Rainier in the background. The morning haze around the mountain was now much less. It is unusual for haze to lessen as the day goes on. With wildfire smoke it's just a matter of what the wind is doing. The past few summers that hazy smoke has become far too common. Nearing the ridge top we ran into some of the biggest crowds of the day. At the ridge top we had views to the north of Sourdough Gap. The gap is just a short drop and climb away. The breeze was also nice to feel. After a short break we dropped down and quickly met the Pacific Crest Trail. It would take us all the way back to the trailhead at Chinook Pass. A short climb brought us to Sourdough Gap. Sheep Lake was down below and reflections off of cars showed the trailhead, still some miles away. With some breeze and good views we took another break. We were not ready to end this day just yet.

On our 2016 loop in the opposite direction we had great views south to Mt. Adams from Sourdough Gap. This year we had almost no views to the south. The smoky haze blocked it out. We let all the other groups catch up and head down before we did. Crowded trail became empty trail. The trail down to the lake is gently graded with some long traverses. We met one group heading for Snoqualmie Pass on the PCT. The usual crowd was at Sheep Lake. It is less than two miles with minimal elevation gain from Chinook Pass. We saved the most heavily used section of trail for last. While we did see a number of folks coming in it was less than I expected. There was some more colorful wildflowers on the open slopes the last mile of the trail. We reached the parking lot at 3:48 pm.

Our 11.6 mile loop had 3600' of elevation gain and loss. Our total time was just over eight hours on the trail. That included a number of breaks at lakes and peaks. Considering how crowded the parking lots were, we had a lot of solitude along the trail. The lakes were crowded but not much else. The heat was much higher than I like but the chrome dome helped me a lot. Most trips are largely in forest. This one spent a long time above forest and often more than a mile high. With the cross country section this will never be a popular route. Most of it can be reached on good trails. In terms of wildflowers, lakes, peaks, and views this one is hard to beat this time of year. We all had a great time.

Parking Lot
Western Anemone
Tiger Lilies
Very Hazy To The East
Avalanche Lilies
Avy Lily Close Up
Magenta Paintbrush
A Peak At Mt. Rainier
Colorful Wildflowers
Upper Deadwood Lake
Hazy Mt. Rainier
Terrific Paintbrush
Hazy Crystal Lake
John & Gary On Summit
Hole In The Wall
Looking South
Heading Down
Forest Trail
At Crystal Lake
Heading On
Crystal Lake & Peak
Another Anemone
Field Of Anemone
Rainier Again
Crystal Lake Below
Nearing Ridge Top
Trail To Gap
Morse Creek Valley
Looking North
Sheep Lake Below
At Sourdough Gap
False Hellebore
At Sheep Lake
Bright Paintbrush
Lake & Gap
More Flowers
Backlit Paintbrush
More Tiger Lilies
Last Anemone
End Is In Sight
Deadwood Lake Panorama
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2018