Norse Peak by Crystal Mountain Ski Resort and Bullion Basin / 諾爾斯峯

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Norse Peak by Crystal Mountain Ski Resort and Bullion Basin ranks #5 in Central South Cascade Crest. Norse Peak Wilderness by Mount Rainier National Park doesn’t get its name from the highest point. But many wildernesses do.

See you next year, Norse Peak
See you next year, Norse Peak

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Norse Peak by Crystal Mountain at a Glance

Access: Norse Peak Trailhead
Round Trip: 7.4 miles
Elevation Range: 3960′-6856′
Gear: microspikes, snowshoes
GPS Track: available
Dog-Friendly: yes

The Preface

Norse Peak by Crystal Mountain is my yearly Thanksgiving week pilgrimage. The peak tends to see snow right before the holiday, which turns away most hikers. For us, the weather cooperated on all but the second trip.

Like last year, I left the dogs home after hiking with them the day before. It snowed over the mountains on Monday, which meant new snow up high today. But I was hoping the fresh powder would mean a less crowded trail.

First light on Crystal Mountain
First light on Crystal Mountain

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Highway 410 to Crystal Mountain Boulevard

The drive to the resort is often icy in the early hours of this time of the year. But the roads were dry this time, with much less snow than usual. Besides a handful of cars en route, it was a smooth and relaxing drive.

Surprisingly, the typically wintry Crystal Mountain Boulevard was also free of ice. The pullout by the gate looked safe enough for low-clearance cars. But I parked on the south side along the snow-free shoulder, to be sure.

A cold start on Norse Peak
Following the animal tracks

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Norse Peak Trail

The recent satellite view showed snow above 5000′. There was ice past the gate with thin snow leading to the trailhead. Then it was a nearly snow-free trail to the 5200′ viewpoint. A few new down trees appeared before the lookout, but they were avoidable.

After a brief walk through the trees, I stepped into the 2017 Norse Peak Fire zone. As I had suspected, it was continuous snow past the next fork. Then there was the usual view of the top of Mount Rainier from behind the ridge by the 5700′ switchback.

A cold start on Norse Peak
Crossing the gully

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Broad Gully to Upper Basin

I have been following the tracks of some small animal back at the fork. The trail looked fresh, so it must’ve come out right after the recent snowfall. Soon, I crossed the broad gully in one to two inches of snow without wind.

I passed the trail fork and put on snowshoes around 5900′. The animal tracks continued as it seemed to know where “I” was heading and was leading me. The snow deepened before the switchback, where I had missed the trail.

Through the upper basin
Through the upper basin

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Final Stretch on Norse Peak by Crystal Mountain

Terrain eased in fresh snow for the next 400′ through the upper basin. It was mainly calf-deep, but I’d occasionally step into knee-deep powder. Then I walked up the west ridge and immediately met the wind gusts.

The south side barely held onto any recent snow, so I moved faster through rocks. Soon, I went onto the summer trail covered in thin ice in places. Then the animal tracks reappeared as I went through more powder past the notch up to the top.

This way to Norse Peak by Crystal Mountain
This way to Norse Peak by Crystal Mountain

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Norse Peak by Crystal Mountain Summit Views

Mount Rainier and Crystal Mountain were the centerpieces, as usual. Depending on the wind speed, I could sometimes hear crowds down at the ski resort. Castle Mountain’s south wall always looked impressive; it’s still on my wish list.

Despite the wind gusts, I spent over an hour savoring warm bluebird weather. I expected the wind chill to be much lower, but the sun seemed to have overpowered it this time. Hooray! It was surprising that no one else showed up.

West panorama from Norse Peak by Crystal Mountain
West panorama from Norse Peak by Crystal Mountain

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Ridge Traverse to Goat Lake Basin

It was still early, so I wanted to finally visit Kahuna Peak by traversing the crest. I went north above Big Crow Basin atop the west ridge. There I saw the outline of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) under the snow.

I looked at Mount Rainier from different angles on the ridgeline and through the meadow. Then I veered northwest above Goat Lake Basin and slowly dropped 500′ to the notch. Soon, I walked up 200′ to Point 6304, aka Kahuna Peak.

Castle Mountain from Kahuna West
Castle Mountain from Kahuna West

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Leaving North Peak by Crystal Mountain

Without stopping, I dropped onto the west saddle and up to the west peak. To the north were a few Dalles Ridge high points, including Noble Knob. Castle Mountain looked even more impressive now that I was across from it.

This peak had a direct view of the ski resort, as seen from the 5200′ viewpoint. I relished in the 50-degree weather before plunging 600′ on the south to meet the trail. Then I enjoyed a quiet walk back to the road with another car nearby.

Finding my way home
Finding my way home

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