With a photogenic monolith rock mass that tops out at 10,377 feet, Crystal Crag is easily visible from any point in the town of Mammoth Lakes. Dramatic and accessible, it is one of the iconic must-do climb in the area. Looming over Lake George and Crystal Lake, the crag has a short approach and is a popular destination for beginning mountaineers and climbers. Though the west and south faces offer easier routes to the summit, experience moving in Class 3 or 4 terrain is still required.
The trail starts from the Lake George parking lot and shares a trailhead with the Mammoth Crest Trail, which can be pretty busy in the summer. After about a mile you will find the sign toward Crystal Lake, while the main trail continues to the Mammoth Crest Trail. Though this section of the trail toward Crystal Lake isn't very well marked, the trial isn't hard to find. Following the east side of the lake, the start of the south face climb is just to the right as you approach the lake's southern end. This scramble up to the south ridge has a few exposed areas ranging between Class 3 and 4. There are an amazing 360-views of Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding area throughout the climb, and for the peak bagger, the summit registration can be found inside an empty water bottle that is tucked between some rocks.
Winters bring deep snow that can cover the entire area and hide the trail. Strong navigation skills and good snowshoes are needed to find a way to the base of the crag. Spring is a great time to make the climb: while the snow still covers the majority of the trail up to the base of the crag, the crag itself will most likely be dry, gentler weather can make the climb more enjoyable, and generally the season remains less crowded than the later summer months. If you are hiking in the winter and spring, be sure to monitor avalanche conditions and exercise caution when crossing lakes and streams. Also, Lake Mary Road closes seasonally, which can add an extra mile to the approach.