Islip From Crystal Lake

Dave Braun ascending Mount Islip from Windy Gap

I assume you don't need me to tell you, but there is a lot of snow out there right now. Yesterday Dave Braun and I drove up to Crystal Lake for a low-expectations scouting run.

We were delighted to find the road plowed all the way to the Windy Gap trailhead, elevation 5830', but the parking lot was jammed when we got there. Luckily we managed to squiggle between two cars back near the Crystal Lake Cafe.

So we began our day around 5680'.

You don't hear much about Crystal Lake as a ski destination. Everything here is south facing, and typically there just isn't any snow. But I've often though with snow, Crystal would be an obvious spot for good touring: a short drive from downtown L.A., and easy access to Mount Islip, Mount Hawkins, and Throop Peak.

At the Cafe I'd say there was easily two to three feet of snow on the ground, and the snow depth increased rapidly as we ascended. Unfortunately, the first thousand vertical feet is heavily brushy, and even with a lot of snow covering it, skinning through this area was not fun.

I think I'd recommend either staying on the Crystal Lake road, and looping around first to the east, and then to the west, or just try veering east and then traversing back below Windy Gap when things open up.

Either way, expect a lot of grief. If you're familiar with these snow-buried-shrubbery conditions, you know it's a real pain to navigate.

It was cold. I don't get the sense there's been a melt-freeze cycle yet, even at these elevations, even on south aspects. I was frankly expecting horrible snow quality; instead, things were quite pleasantly wintery.

Below Windy Gap we did notice a debris pile from a large-ish slide which obviously happened during the storm cycle. So do take note: in those big SoCal storm events, yes, storm slides are possible, even on south aspects.

When we reached Windy Gap (which was, indeed, very windy), the sheer quantity of snow was just astonishing. I'm going to say easily six to eight feet. Maybe more.

Dave and I realized the snow to our north was still quite powdery, which put a descent down to Highway 2 on the agenda. But first, we climbed Islip, traversing across Islip's north face.

We saw occasional streaks of graupel, but no signs of reactivity in the snowpack. I wouldn't fearlessly charge rollovers or critical-angle terrain right now on north aspects, but otherwise on moderate angles there were no surprises. The biggest threat was probably having an ice chunk come down off a tree. There is a lot of rime up there.

The views in all directions were just stunning. We are so lucky to have the San Gabriel Mountains—and luckier still to have them covered in snow.

— February 11, 2024

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

Matt D February 11, 2024 at 9:40 am

Looks like an awesome time. Crystal Lake is sneakily a decent destination for touring because of the access through Windy Gap and Snowslide Canyon. I have been to Windy Gap a few dozen times and no it had never not been windy! It's pretty nice on those dead calm summer days :)

Bill February 12, 2024 at 9:40 am

Checking in from the French Alps, where we moved to 3 years ago. The snow drought helped motivate the move. Figures that Cal would have epic snow years after we left. But I love vicariously experiencing them through you Andy. Keep on charging!

Andy February 12, 2024 at 5:28 pm

Bill your sacrifice is very much appreciated!