Diamond Peak Graduation Climb
June 11, 2005
Co-Leaders: Rich Peevers, Brian Hamilton
Seven climbers shared two vehicles for a two-hour drive to reach the Rockpile Trail at 7:30 a.m. Although the air temperature was warm, it was raining as we shouldered our packs. We fully expected some clearing of the clouds as the day progressed, but we only had a couple glimpses of sun and blue sky throughout the day. Shortly after the intersection with the Pioneer Gulch/Ruth Lake trails, we began hitting patches of snow—much softer than the week before when I had scouted the climb. It had rained frequently the previous week in Eugene, but quite a bit of spring snow had fallen on the trail, with snow levels ranging from 4,000 to 7,000 feet since Sunday. The first three miles to the intersection with the trail linking Rockpile and Marie Lakes went quickly. We made a short stop to put away rain gear at a spot where, on a clear day, there is a great view of Cowhorn Mountain, Sawtooth Mountain and Mt. Thielsen.
Crossing the creek linking the two lakes, we turned northwest toward Marie Lake and stopped at the upper end of the lake for a break and to check our maps. The short steep climb up the north bank of the lake took us to our cross-country route sloping gradually up toward tree line. Normally, Diamond Peak looms large directly ahead at this point, but low clouds hid the mountain from view. Without the view of the mountain to guide us, we relied on compass bearings, heading more or less due north while trying to skirt the deeper snowdrifts. Apparently, it didn’t take much more than a few degrees on the compass for us to end up one ridge farther to the east than I had intended, but we quickly got back on track.
At 7,080', close to the tree line, one climber, having recently undergone knee surgery, felt his knees were not strong enough to endure a steep descent and decided not to continue. After ensuring he had enough warm clothing, rain gear, food, water, map & compass, we decided he could stay put until we returned in 3½ hours. We advised him that if the weather became too unbearable, he could follow the group’s tracks in the snow back to the lake where he would be more sheltered from the weather. Two of us took GPS bearings on his position and left him with a roll of orange flagging ribbon to mark his trail in case he decided to head downhill to the lake.
The remaining six of us continued, mostly on snow, since it was usually easier than traveling on loose, bare rocks. We often encountered hollow spots next to buried rocks where the person breaking trail would sink to the knee and sometimes to the waist. Postholing to our boot tops was the norm. Ice axes were out and assisted in self-arrest for a couple of us when we hit thin layers of snow over steep rocks and scree. We stopped for lunch at 12:30 below the false summit. For the remainder of the ascent, visibility dropped dramatically, often down to 25 yards; the wind picked up and we began to get snow and ice pellets driven horizontally into our faces. With the low visibility, we could barely make out the large cornices overhanging the steep east slopes, but we saw enough to know we needed to keep below the ridge top and stay on the wind-scoured west side. We reached the summit at 1:30, but with the temperature at 40 degrees and a stiff wind estimated at 30 to 35 mph, we only stayed for 15 minutes, time enough for the obligatory photographs.The descent was quick, with some good glissades on soft snow. By the time we began to approach tree line, we took bearings on the location of our 7th climber and realized he was 0.45 miles and two ridges to the northeast. We had to backtrack slightly by traversing across the ridges and located the spot where we had left him, but instead found a note marked with an orange ribbon, saying he had headed back to the Marie Lake once the snow began to fall. Following our earlier tracks in the snow and his flagging ribbons, we easily found him back at the lake, where it was finally sheltered enough for us to fill out summit cards and write some notes in the summit register. We were thrown off our “lost” climber’s trail a few times by older flagging left by past hikes—a reminder for future groups to be sure to remove any ribbons they leave in the woods!
The hike from Marie Lake back to the trailhead was uneventful, but wet. We made it back to the cars at 5:30 and traded our packs and boots for comfortable shoes for the ride home. Four of us made it back to Eugene by 7:30 and the other three stopped in Oakridge for a warm meal. Climbers who reached the summit were non-members Matt Rodrigues and Tato Sumantri; Obsidians Craig Renkert, Daphne James, Rich Peevers and Brian Hamilton.
—photos by Brian Hamilton