There are those times where the best laid out lazy plans become a death march. And let it be known that a downhill death march is often worse than an uphill one. Your knees will let you know that gem.
The plan was a fun day at Crystal Mountain Ski Area on a sunny summer day. We’d take the fancy gondola up the ridge and have lunch, then ride down. I had all 3 boys with me.
Well….there is just one iffy part. What if someone in your party doesn’t like a gondola ride. I didn’t exactly think that gem out. The younger boys loved the ride, and while it got my fears a few times, I found it a lot of fun. The downside is the whole gondola shuts down if someone needs more time to get off. A few cars ahead was full of older folks, and one had a cane. When the ride was stopped our gondola swayed and swayed in the wind, then lurched back and forth upon it restarting. By the time we got to the top someone was very much not happy and was refusing to ride down.
Ignoring that, we went off to have a a luxe lunch at the Summit House Restaurant which sits at 6,872 feet and has an in your face view of Mount Rainier across the White River Valley.
Yes, that view.
We had a verrrrrry long lunch. You can eat in or outside, I took inside so I could play my role as the matriarch of the family and fulfill my fantasy of the Sound of Music….or something.
I really didn’t want that lunch to end. But oh yeah, this is a hiking story, not a “I ate a $15 burger” story.
As a certain man child refused to get on the gondola I had two choices. One was leaving his adult butt there or being the best Mom ever and walking down the hill with him. I had zero hiking gear and just my EveryDayCarry stuff such as a flashlight/knife. Thankfully there was a ye olde gift shop next door. So I wandered in and bought a couple drink containers, filled them up and a couple snacks. Plus a free map. You know you are in the wilderness when they take credit cards. I wasn’t too worried. I had hiked all around Crystal many times and you can see the parking lot eventually as you hike down. And I had cell phone reception.
My choice was hike right or left. Right I had hiked before, down to the many lakes. So we chose left. Hmmmmmm. Still not sure I made the best choice as that $15 burger was digesting.
As we left the top of the ridge the trail started dropping quickly. Yet, we were on a real trail. In fact one worked on a lot.
The trail dropped even more quickly (oh my knees and no trekking poles…) and one got great views and the many ski lifts hidden up there. Across the way the ridges there hold the PCT and are mostly in the Wilderness zone.
We passed a few melt ponds, that were drying up in the hot sun.
The trail zigsagged quite a bit, from one hanging valley to another.
And more hidden ski lifts!
The boys on the trail. Sometimes it went uphill even. As punishment I made the man child wear my spare bag with all the water to give my back a break.
Still it was an alpine/subalpine hike, so how could I crab?
We passed more ski lift lines.
As we dropped we crossed a couple tiny creeklets, passed cabins used by the ski area in winter and saw parts of the mountain I never knew existed.
I knew we might make it as I looked down far and could see across to the upper ski area across the way.
Looking back up the painful steep cat road, and high above one of the intersections we passed of the ski area.
And then we passed people. People going uphill. It was just simply shocking. People wanted to hike up this? I think I was more shocked I saw more than one person. Hehehehe.
Finally we reached the bottom and leveled out for a bit, then slowly slipped into the trees as the summer sun started setting against the ridge. Finally we reached the resort area, and found a cutoff near the restaurant down near the parking lot. The car never looked so good. It turned into an 8 mile day, and the small boys did fantastic. I on the other hand felt like I needed knee replacements.
Bonus side? I at least burned off the burger I ate.
Would I do it again? Probably not. While it was scenic/pretty the cat track trails were very steep. Had we taken a right it would have been steep, but also shorter and not under the chair lifts. Which in summer when hanging/swinging in the breeze are just slightly creepy looking.