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Backcountry ski and snowboard gear, camping

Crystal Crag & Mammoth Crest, July 2002

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"Bag the Crag" was our fitting motto for this trip.   OzeGerg was in town from Australia, so he joined EB and I for a nice little trip up to Mammoth Lakes for some hiking and climbing.  What will from now on be known simply as "the day" began at 2am with a hungry bear visiting our campsite, and ended approximately 28 hours later at a casino in Reno, Nevada.  There was a lot of sweet stuff sandwiched there in the middle too.  Read on.  Click on the link at the bottom of the page to see the photos.

The Background.  Towering high above the Mammoth Lakes, Crystal Crag commands attention.  Looking like a massive and solitary granite tooth, the crag's clean lines exert a strong pull on climbers seeking a quick yet challenging ascent.  On a beautiful day in July 2002, we decided to take our shot and "bag the crag."

Let's start at the beginning.  The stated reason for the trip was to get some friends together and celebrate my impending transition into fatherhood.  Greg (aka OzeGerg) was in town for our third annual Tahoe beer pong tournament, so he joined EB and I for a weekend jaunt into the high sierra.  Our trip took us to Mammoth Lakes -- one of my favorite spots, and the place where Greg spent his childhood vacations.  We piled into my car Friday afternoon and battled our way over the Altamont Pass and out to Yosemite.  A beautiful drive over Tioga Pass dropped us down to Mammoth by dinnertime.  Following a pizza and a few brews, we drove up to Lake George to find a campsite.  Along the way, we saw a bear and two cubs walking along the Lake Mary Road -- a foreshadowing of what we would see later that night.

We camped at Lake George, at the base of Crystal Crag.  Not wanting my car to get thrashed by a hungry bear, we took our food and smelly stuff out of the car.  However, food storage lockers were nowhere to be found at the campground.  We decided to take our chances and stashed the stuff nearby and went to sleep.

The Bear.  2 am... sleeping soundly... snorting sounds... very nearby... what the hell?!  I finally woke up and gained my senses.  I fumbled for my flashlight and shined it in the general direction of the sounds.  Strange, I see two eyes, but no body.  Slowly I realize that the reason I do not see a body is because it is so huge and so dark and so close that it blends into my field of vision.  "Um, hey guys, I think we may have a significant bear issue here."  After a few tense moments, the bear became annoyed with my flashlight, grabbed some more food, and loped off behind our campsite.  Moments later, we were back asleep.  Shortly after sunrise, we woke up to find our food gone, but our bodies, our tent and my car fully intact.  Following a breakfast at Schat's, we returned to Lake George and started our hike. 

The Climb.  The east and north sides of Crystal Crag are relatively inaccessible to all except seasoned climbers.  However, the south ridge of the crag offers an interesting class 3 variation that can be followed all the way to the summit.  This was our goal.

The South Ridge is accessed from Crystal Lake, a short hike uphill from Lake George.  From Crystal Lake, we climbed up a steep couloir on the west face to the top of the ridge, then angled up to the summit just below the ridge on its east side.  The views from the top were sublime.

We downclimbed to the saddle between Crystal and TJ Lakes ("unbag the crag") and then continued up the steep face of Crystal Bowl to the top of the Mammoth Crest.  Along the way, I paused to do a quick boot glissade below the "jaws" cornice (which I now jokingly refer to as my 46th ski day of the 2001-02 ski season).  We descended through a chute to Crystal Lake, then picked up the trail back to Lake George.  Three dollar showers at Twin Lakes (nice!) were followed by ice-cold beers at Grumpy's and a gluttonous dinner at the Chart House.  Somewhere along the way, the decision was made to hit Reno, so we paid the check, jumped in the car and pointed it north on 395.  Three hours later, we were in the "biggest little city in the world" doing what guys do when they're in Reno.  At 6am -- a full 28 hours after being awakened by the bear -- we concluded "the day" by driving back to the Tahoe Pad while the sun rose in our rear view mirror.  What a day.

Click on the link below to see the photos.


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