This trip starts as one of my feather brained ideas….I thought to myself (while patting myself on the back ahead of time), that I’d take the boys on a trip up to Crystal Summit on the gondola. We’d have a fun ride up the mountain, in a quick 12 minutes time. Then we’d have lunch at the Summit Restaurant. And of course, I was addled with visions of my perfect children all sitting in suits or something….
The gondola is pretty cool. It’s sealed up and gives an awesome view the whole way up. Yes, $22 is pricey for a ticket per adult – but what a ride! 2500 feet up in 12 minutes time. No sweating. Nothing. You get to sit on your butt. It’s even wheelchair friendly! It’s leashed dog friendly. It takes you up to nearly 6900 feet, making it as far as I know the highest accessible area here in Washington.
However….if someone is in a wheelchair, or needs disability help, they have to stop the gondola. Which means the whole line stops. And the unit you are in starts swinging. As you sit in it. One of my three offspring did NOT like that (and no, it wasn’t the youngest. He thought it was hilarious….)
Well, once the car ahead of us unloaded, we got going again (with more swinging action) and finally reached the top. The view from the summit is amazing though. It is a view of Rainier you won’t get elsewhere. With the elevation you are looking down, where you normally look up. The view is of the White River Valley, looking up to the mountain. To the right of the middle the road to Sunrise snakes up, with Sourdough Ridge the green belt at the top. I can place Burroughs and other peaks as well.
Mt. Adams was visible, with the Goat Rocks (though the clouds were flittering in and out).
The Summit Restaurant was quite nice. We opted to eat inside, although they have an outside patio. No thanks on sun if I don’t have to! It’s small, but they have a varied menu. It isn’t cheap…but lest one forget, you are at 6900 feet and no actual roads up there. As we ate, I watched a group come in, with their grandma along. She was on oxygen and in a wheelchair – and she was able to enjoy the wonderful view! That right there says it all: it gives nearly everyone the chance to enjoy the splendor with a bit of civilization.
The mountain is massive in person as you enjoy your meal…..but all good things come to an end, and I wandered over to ye ol’ gift shop under the gondola to buy a few containers for water (they have filling stations for free) and some snacks, plus snagged a non-technical map. I’ve hiked many of the trails at Crystal, but not this part, so I asked for advice. Maybe I should have listened to my brain and ignored it….but I took the guy’s input. His was to take Green Valley Trail down.
Green Valley, in the winter, is a short run that is up high. There is a chairlift that runs this hanging valley. The trail is well….recently rebuilt into an actual trail, but is very steep. Thigh burning steep. This is not a normal trail steepness. Had I known just how steep it was, I would have gone the other way, and taken the longer, but the trail I had hiked before, years ago. However, it did prove the little ones are capable of this.
They have really built up the area, that is in the ski resort boundaries.
I did get to see a lake I had not seen before, though it is drying up quickly for the year. It was 100-200 feet below the ridge.
You could see the old trail as we hiked down, and the new version – which has more switchbacks.
The one really level section of trail, as we crossed under the chairlift for the valley. It had a spring, that was flowing a bit. The wild flowers here were quite pretty.
Looking back up, the summit is to the far left.
As we dropped to the bottom of Green Valley, we got watch a military jet do turns over the mountains.It is a speck in the clouds. In the far distance, across the way, lies the PCT.
At the trails end, is the start of the Kelly’s Gap Road. By “road”, it means a ski cat track that is at least wide, although very steep. Looking back as the summit gets smaller.
On the last photo, looking far down, as the road wound down. The road was just as steep going down as the trail before. Finally it kicked us out onto the well-groomed service road for the ski resort (which is paved), coming out mostly behind the Alpine Inn. We went right, and the road curved around to the back of the base area, leading to the bathrooms and back to the parking lot.
My knees paid for it today, but in the end sometimes you make choices for your children and stay as a family so no one is unhappy. And I got a bonus hike in, in an area I hadn’t hiked before. The wild flowers were gorgeous, the views too.
On a side note….Crystal is the one area where if you have T-Mobile phone service you can oddly enough get service in the mountains around Rainier. If you are ever up in the area, just drive up the few miles, and you can check email and whatnot.