Peak(s):  Mt. Helen  -  13,164 feet
Father Dyer Peak  -  13,615 feet
Crystal Peak A  -  13,852 feet
Peak 10  -  13,633 feet
Peak 9  -  13,195 feet
Date Posted:  09/09/2020
Date Climbed:   09/05/2020
Author:  daway8
 Helen to Father Dyer traverse plus a few peaks   

Route: Upper Spruce Creek Trailhead - Helen - Father Dyer - Crystal - Peak 10 - Peak 9 - Wheeler Trail - Upper Spruce Creek Trailhead

Total distance: ~8.5mi; total elevation gain: ~4,300ft, total time: ~10hrs

This trip report is primarily written to highlight the very fun ridge traverse between Helen and Father Dyer. Overall I enjoyed it more than Quandary West Ridge, Sawtooth or Kelso because it seemed like it had more and greater variety of features than those routes. This is not a step by step route description (though I'll throw in a few tips on that kind of thing) but more of a teaser of available climbing fun.

Far left = Helen. Far right = Crystal. Sharp point center right = Father Dyer. Unnamed hump between Helen and Father Dyer is where the fun is.

Trailhead and getting started

The lower 2WD Crystal/Spruce Creeks trailhead was fairly well packed out so I went on up to the upper Spruce Creek trailhead (the one right by the Aqueduct road mentioned in the Mt. Helen East Slopes route description). The road was plenty rough enough in spots to scare off the tourists but there wasn't anything that was a challenge to my stock Jeep Renegade Trailhawk. If you've made it to the 4WD Grays Peak trailhead you can easily make it to the upper Spruce Creek trailhead.

The surprising thing to me was that even on Labor Day weekend there were only a few cars at the upper trailhead which could have easily held around 15 cars or so I'm guessing, though there was plenty of foot traffic.

The only caution I'd add was that around 2am I was disturbed by what I suspected was probably some sort of marmot or something which sounded like it was trying to gnaw through some sort of metal casing or such under the engine. I popped out a few times and once fired up the engine but never spotted the culprit and fortunately never noticed any damage. Whatever it was it finally gave up after an hour or so of intermittent attempts. Not sure if that's common at this location or not - haven't yet encountered that at any other trailhead.

This is the upper Spruce Creek trailhead by the Aqueduct road on the Friday night of Labor Day weekend 2020. Didn't see many more cars by Sat.

This is the gate on the Aqueduct road referred to in the route description for Helen East Slope.
The turnoff to the left for the Wheeler trail that you start on (and which my extended loop finished on).

When you see this break in the trees on the left you're almost to the turnoff - go up a little more and look for the rock cairn.
Someone put up this small rock cairn at the spot to turn to go up Helen.

A few steps into the path up Helen - this is a faint trail at the start that grows fainter - just continue uphill.
You eventually end up in the gully described and follow that most of the way up.

I scouted the turnoff the evening before and passed it on the return, that's why there's a 'night and day' difference in the photos vs the ascent.

The terrain switches from trees to bushes to tundra.
View from the end of the day's loop of the slope going up Helen - it takes forever to trudge up this ramp.

One point to highlight about this route is the relentless, never ending slope up Helen, as seen in the photo above. Yes by definition, you always have a lot of elevation to gain in order to climb a mountain, but usually it's broken up a bit by first gaining a ridge or going up to a flat area, looping around and then continuing up, etc. Not with Helen. It's one never ending, flat, boring ramp that goes on and on and on with no variation to break the tedium. Around 2k ft of relentless up and up. It's not terribly steep and certainly nothing difficult about it, just brace yourself mentally for a slope that seems to never end. Spent close to 2 hours trudging up this mile or so.

The Helen - Father Dyer Traverse

Now for the fun stuff. The pano below shows much of the area from Quandary off to the left and Pacific's East Ridge route in front of Quandary to Peak 10 off to the right. Father Dyer stands out easily because of it's prominent East Ridge jutting out. Crystal Peak seems to jut out slightly out of place with respect to its position on the topo map. I remember using Peak Finder to try to check what I was seeing and it seemed to give me some confusing positioning as well - perhaps there's some sort of optical illusion going on here or I'm just not looking at it quite right.

Head on view of the traverse from Mt. Helen. Ridge is just left of center going to hump in the middle (Pacific's sharp point just behind to the left) and Father Dyer off the the right with long ridge coming down. Peak 10 further to the right.

I didn't document this trek thoroughly enough to provide a step by step route description, besides part of the fun of a ridge like this is making up your own route over all the little humps, towers, ledges, etc. So think of this more as a movie trailer designed to give you a small flavor of what's out there.

A useful point of beta is that I stayed on the very top of the ridge for a significant percentage of the way - always being careful not to go up anything I wasn't confident I could go back down, just in case I couldn't descend the far side. Though there were a couple times I stretched myself for the descent on the far side of some feature, I don't recall having gone up anything that I was forced to backtrack on.

That's to say this is a fairly safe ridge to explore/experiment on. Lots of fun class 3+ features and some optional class 4 or possibly harder moves that will stretch others like me who really enjoy scrambling but who haven't yet advanced to class 5 routes outside the gym. Actually I'm not 100% certain yet how to distinguish when exactly you cross the boundary from class 4 to 5 (seems like this is another of those somewhat nebulous distinctions) other than that I assume class 5 is supposed to feel kind of like you're on the wall at the gym - if so I may have done a few 5.easy moves on a couple small features.

But rest assured, as the route description confirms, it's possible to keep this route at a difficult class 3 if you prefer.

The start of the traverse is a simple class 2 stroll where you'll stay on top or just left (south) of the top.

Somewhere around the point that your near the large hump in the center of the ridge is where you'll start to find all the fun stuff. Generally speaking the more you stick to the very top of the ridge the more fun you'll have. If it gets too tough, just drop down and around, generally down to the left (south) as you head to Father Dyer.

Finger drawn path where I skipped 2 mini gullies and took an exposed scramble up on a lip.

You'll note that for the images here I was not trying to find the easiest route across the ridge but rather the most fun route that I could comfortably handle solo.

Me and my shadow checking out some neat towers.
Me and my shadow a little closer.

Looking back from near the start of the fun section - as you can see the initial part of the ridge is just a stroll.

One of the fun downclimbs
I think I skipped the middle tower since it was clear it was just a quick up/down - this is an example of how easy it is to customize your route.

Since I was solo, most of these photos lack any good size reference. I'm 6'2" and managed to do most of the features shown fairly easily but there were a few times that I got pretty extended trying to climb down some of the features. A shorter person might have to divert around some of these and/or take greater time to seek out good holds.

The nice thing about this ridge is that many of the fun walls and such are not really exposed - as in not hanging off the side of the ridge. That means the only exposure to deal with is the drop to the bottom of the wall of perhaps 10 to 20 feet depending on the feature. That fact gave me the confidence to attempt a few moves that I wouldn't have risked trying with greater exposure. That's why I say this route is so good for leveling up your scrambling skills.

Another fun tower feature I downclimbed. For reference I'm 6'2" and occasionally got fairly extended.
I eventually spotted a couple folks behind me and caught this shot of the two of them just getting to the fun section to show some scale.

More neat features to play on.
This small wall reminded me of the Crestones with its solid lumpy holds.

Overall the rock quality along the ridge is generally very good and there's also an interesting variety of it. There were a couple small segments that had rock quality that reminded me of the Crestones with its large, solid knobs that make climbing as easy as it is in a climbing gym. Other spots had rock with a totally different look and feel to it but it was all fairly solid and most all the features seemed to have a generous amount of foot and handholds though sometimes you had to look around a little.

This one I almost skipped but it was another segment of that solid Crestone-like rock and was really fun.
Looking back on the same feature from a ways down the ridge - this may have involved more work to bypass but there were some options.

Beyond the Ridge (Father Dyer and Crystal)

After you get past the far side of the hump in the middle of the Helen/Father Dyer ridge things mellow out again except for a few little ripples and then from Father Dyer to Crystal it's very tame and straightforward.

Looking back on the hump in the middle of the ridge where most of the fun is.
Looking ahead to the easy stroll over to Crystal.

Peak 10 and Peak 9

My original plan was to just go from Helen to Crystal and descend via Crystal's Northeast Ridge, as the route description for "Combo Helen/Father Dyer/Crystal" suggests since it was described as "a long, difficult" route. But upon reaching Crystal I found I still had plenty of energy, plenty of time and perfect weather.

I thought about adding on Pacific but had no beta on the north ridge approach and wasn't sure if I wanted to add the class 3 east ridge route to this day (or if I could connect it back easily to the Upper Spruce Creek trailhead). The East Slopes route looked really, really appealing until I looked across the valley at the descent from the ridge to the lakes which, from my vantage point, looked like a 1,000ft loose scree from hell kind of descent.

But looking NW to Peak 10 I could see it seemed really easy and the map made the trek over to Peak 9 look doable as well. Finally, since I had already downloaded a track showing how you could drop from Peak 9 to the Wheeler trail and connect back to the Upper Spruce Creek trailhead I decided to give it a go.

The way over to Peak 10 - easy going except all these mid-sized rocks are a bit loose.
Different angle with Peak 10 in front and much smaller Peak 9 behind to the left.

Right away I noticed a difference on the rock - everything from Helen to Crystal had been fairly stable but as soon as I headed over to Peak 10 there were wobbly mid-sized rocks all over the place. It's not steep terrain so it's no big deal and I probably wouldn't have even given it a thought if not for the contrast with the rest of the route so far.

But it got far worse after I reached the summit of Peak 10 and decided that rather than follow the road around and down (yes, there's a road that goes most of the way up) that I would just take a direct line as the crow flies. Uugghh, what a horrible, loose mess of dirt, rock, and small boulders - it probably would have been faster to take the longer way down along the road.

This road is what I should have hiked down on the way to Peak 9 if I was smart - but no, I wanted to take a direct line to save time...
20677_28 I went down this awful garbage instead. This is some of the loosest mess you'll find out there - just take the road.

After initially thinking of just going direct up the ridge I got smarter and swung over to the tundra you see splitting the right middle.
It was a hot day and I briefly considered fighting this mountain goat for his spot on the one little patch of snow that was left.

On Peak 9 I meet a guy named Steve in his mid 60's who's working on a goal of getting at least half the centennials done. He knew the area very well and helpfully pointed out the Wheeler trail (the path I took over to it is marked in the photo below) so I didn't have to fumble around with my GPS and wonder if I was on the right path back to the Jeep.

From there it was a long but easy trek back with the little hump on the horizon in the photo below being the primary uphill portion that remained (there was also one small uphill section right after crossing a creek which I dunked my shirt into which was easier to handle after that refreshing cool down).

From Peak 9 head down to the road, skirt to the right around some willows and beeline for the Wheeler trail which goes back to the TH.

My Times

5:15am start from Upper Spruce Creek TH

7:05am reach summit of Mt. Helen (approx 396,275 miles from the base to the summit of Helen - boy that's a long slope up...)

7:30am begin ridge traverse (I've found doing these longer breaks at the summit really help me keep going longer/stronger than when I used to try to push straight through)

9:07am top of ridge high point (spent a lot of time just before/after this taking on fun rock features to build up my confidence on class 3 and 4 scrambles.

10:09am Father Dyer Summit

10:38am head to Crystal

11:14am Crystal summit

11:28am head off to Peak 10

12:07pm Peak 10 summit

12:15pm on to Peak 9 (probably should have rested a little longer)

12:43pm reached saddle

12:54pm start up Peak 9

1:18pm Peak 9 summit

~1:30pm start descent

3pm dunked shirt into icy stream just past Francie's cabin (didn't divert to go see the cabin...)

3:09pm back at rock cairn turnoff to go up to Helen

3:15pm back at the Jeep at Upper Spruce Creek TH

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33

Comments or Questions
Great report
09/14/2020 02:29
I was one of the two people you saw behind you. Helen-FD was a really fun traverse

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