Peak(s):  Helen, Mt  -  13,164 feet
Father Dyer Pk  -  13,615 feet
Crystal Pk A  -  13,852 feet
Date Posted:  08/18/2013
Modified:  04/24/2014
Date Climbed:   08/18/2013
Author:  LivingOnTheEdge
 Crystal Gulch Loop  

Using this site for many years, I always admired those who managed to produce such fantastic trip reports. I never felt like I was climbing cool enough mountains to warrant reporting, but recently I've been feeling guilty about not contributing much to this fantastic community, so here it is, my first trip report.

Trip Stats:

Trailhead: Spruce Creek/ End of Aqueduct Road
Route Length: 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,011 feet
Time: 6 hours 40 minutes

This is the first summer that I have not spent in Colorado. I recently moved to Boston to begin work on my DPT degree at BU and I definitely underestimated how much I would miss the mountains when I was gone. As I neared finals for my first round of classes, I was far more focused on which mountains I would hit on my short break back in Colorado than I was any of my tests. My brother (Tyler) and I quickly planned a week-long trip in the Sangre's (I accidentally emailed the itinerary for that trip to a professor...embarrassing) but I wanted to do something as a warm up so I could reacclimatize. After browsing a variety of 13ers, I landed on the Crystal Gulch Loop as Bill labelled it a "difficult class 3". I figured it would be perfect to get my blood flowing again!

Tyler and I at the trailhead.

We set off from Littleton at 5:30am, a little later than we had planned (it seems like that happens every time). We arrived at the end of the Aqueduct road at about 7:30am and we were off at 7:50am after throwing on some sunscreen and packing our bags. I didn't manage to grab a picture of it, but Bill's description of when to leave the trail was pretty perfect. We noticed a small cairn on the left at the point where we left the Wheeler trail and this seemed to work out perfectly. We weaved our way around trees until we found the obvious gully in the route description and then plowed straight up it.

Popping out of treeline.

The walk up the grassy slopes of Helen went fairly quickly and before we knew it, we were at 13,164' around 9:30. 2700 feet of elevation has never gone so fast and I'm fairly sure it's because I was more worried about whether my body would hold out after coming back from sea level. Once on top of Helen, we got our first look at the gnarly ridge leading to Father Dyer.

View of the Ridge from Helen to Father Dyer.

Weather looked fine, but we didn't want to risk getting stuck on that ridge in lighting as there was no good bail-out options should we get stuck. Once we started, our only way out was really all the way around Crystal Peak and down. After a few snacks, off we went.

Off we go. Tyler heading down.

Working my way down the first part of the ridge.

Just before the low point in the ridge, there is a pointy spot with a bunch of exposure to the right; it's almost overhanging. We had yet to have any exposure on the route but skirting this certainly got my attention. It was just walking but whooooooeeeee, yikes.

Spike in the lower ridge.

Checking out whats ahead.

Tyler looking on at our route.

From here on out, I was more concerned with not falling into Crystal Gulch so most of the documentation was done via the GoPro mounted to my helmet. Basically, the route goes up and down over a series of points. Most of the time, there is a bunch of exposure to climbers right. A lot of the time, there is exposure on both sides. I expected there to be exposure, but not this much. After the first few towers, it really didn't get to me and I was more focused on the moves. This first video is the first little scramble up a point. I'm sorry I didn't clip any of these but I'm fairly limited at the moment as far as video editing. Feel free to put it on mute '' In the route description, the arrow points up the gulley to the right but we both preferred the solid rock to the loose junk that emptied into a cliff.

Working my way up the first point.

Topping out on the point.

The second video shows another point climb. The middle minute is just me watching Tyler scramble while yelling advice (none of which helped) but the rest of it gives a good idea of the exposure and terrain that defined the ridge. I was definitely surprised at how narrow it was. Oh, and this was about as close to dying as we got on the entire trip, Tyler put one of his feet in a weird spot and lost his balance for a second at the very end of the video. Terrifying. Needless to say, he locked it up after that.

The other thing that really surprised me was how many of the spires you actually must climb. I was a bit worried about route finding as there wasn't tons of beta on the route, but really the only option is almost always to go directly over the spires. Bill says that it's possible to keep this at Class 3 with good route finding so we must have missed a few easier moves because this definitely felt Class 4. Of course most of the stuff that felt that intense was the down climbs off of the spires. Admittedly, most of my Class 4 experience has been up and not down so perhaps I'm just a weenie. This next video shows Tyler and I working out way up on top of yet another skinny spike.

Looking at the route ahead. Not about to get easier.

Tyler checking out some storms in the distance.

After that, we finally got a bit of a break and could get off of the tiny ridge for a bit. The next video shows how much the ridge mixes it up.

Of course, as soon as you think you can relax, it's up to the top of another point. The ridge demands your attention for the entire time you are on it. And it is LONG.

The next video is long, but it gives a good idea of the typical difficulties along the route. In this case, steep climb up to a tiny AIRY ledge just large enough for a foot. Then you have to down climb the tower you worked so hard to climb. I will admit that I did not take the best route down this point and Tyler made it look much easier than I did. In the route description, Bill notes a loose rock which I thought I had identified at this point but looking back, I think that was in a different spot. In any case, I point out another shaky rock along the way. Don't step on that guy!

After that spire, everything got a bit easier and the last video shows a look back and then forward after past the worst of the difficulties. Although it was not a difficult move, the spot on this route that shook me the most was a short downclimb where you have to step onto this flaky reddish rock with cliffs on either side. There were no holds and I just didn't trust the rock. Turns out it was solid but it looked realllly sketchy.

Exposure looks pretty big here. It was bad, but not as bad as it looks.

After this, it's just a ridge run to Father Dyer. The difficulty never approaches the early ridge and it was really just a battle to avoid rolling ankles as we hopped towards the summit. We topped out at 11:55am, 2.5 hours after left Helen. It certainly didn't feel that long. We didn't spend long on Father Dyer because weather was coming in and we knew the only way out was over Crystal Peak A. We certainly weren't going to downclimb Father Dyer's East Ridge. Easy class 3 or no, I didn't want to deal with an unfamiliar route with wet rock.

We scurried off to Crystal Peak A and after a short ridge run we were on top of Crystal around 12:30pm. This was the first summit register of the day that was actually intact. The previous two were either wet or lacking in paper. We left a route description in the summit tube for the next luck group to get up there. Sorry we didn't have anything else to write on!

On top of Crystal Peak looking back to Father Dyer.

The weather seemed to be holding out but we weren't about to relax. Our original goal was to do Peak 10 and potentially Peak 9 depending on the weather, but the ridge wore us out mentally and physically so we scrapped both and rushed down to Lower Crystal Lake. We could see the congo line up Quandary the whole way and were really surprised to see people hanging out on top when there was a thunderhead building just above. Hopefully no one was hurt.

Back at Lower Crystal Lake, we ran into a bunch of people who came up the jeep trail to enjoy the lake. They looked at us like we were silly with all of our gear but that almost makes it better! About this time, it started to rain so we picked up our pace. I snapped a few pics of the ridge because it looked awesome and then we worked our way back to the Wheeler trail. Lightning finally popped up about 2 minutes after we were past treeline. Perhaps it wasn't so but it certainly seemed like the weather held out just for us. Soon enough we were back on the Wheeler trail and back at the car. It was an awesome way to return to Colorado after a summer away. Hopefully the weather holds out for the next week so we can grab some Sangre peaks.

Back in the gulch, Tyler checking out the route we took. It basically follows the ridge on the left until it disappears behind Father Dyer.

Tyler taking a shot of me in one of the steeper parts. Lots of air beneath!

Typical spike on the ridge.

Look back at the ridge from the summit of Father Dyer. The route cruises over most of the high points.

Crystal Peak from Father Dyer.

On top of Father Dyer with Pacific in the background.

Close-up of the ridge.

On top of Crystal Peak.

Here are a few screenshots from my GoPro that Look pretty neat!

Tyler topping out on a point.

Long way down.

Tyler loses his balance.

Tyler popping up on a narrow rock.

A look back at the route. The route skirts the first rock right side but goes over the big point on the left.

This does;t quite show it but there was a lot of air here.

Tyler coming down the last challenge.

Airy little ledge.

Final down climb.

Sorry the pics weren't all in the order of the climb. Sorting them out in the right order was a bit of a challenge. Hopefully this helps anyone looking for a little beta. Thanks for reading!

 Comments or Questions

For a first time trip report...
08/20/2013 15:35
... yours is VERY good! Looks like a fun route that gave you all you wanted and then some.

I look forward for more reports from you!


08/21/2013 04:14
forward to more trip reports. Well done for a first report!


Great report
08/21/2013 18:45
And thanks for the beta, I've been meaning to try this route for over a year now.


08/28/2013 04:37
Receiving compliments from you three is quite flattering. I recognize all of you from forums and trip reports and it's quite the compliment coming from such accomplished members. Special thanks to Furthermore whose Trip Reports are those of legend and props on finishing the 13ers too! I have another trip report coming from last week in the Sangre's/San Juans as soon as I can get the pictures loaded. It's less beta and more story, but hopefully it's still solid!

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