September 3, 2011.
Rockpile Trail > PCT > Climber’s trail up South Ridge of Diamond Peak
12 miles | 3750′ ele. gain | 6.5 hours
Photos from this trip are on Picasa.
I had two sets of instructions for climbing the peak: one from Sullivan’s green book and one from the Oregon Scrambles book. Sullivan’s route included much less off-trail travel, and all of the “climber’s route” was in open terrain. The Scrambles route seemed to require much more off-trail navigation, and to make things worse, there was quite a bit of it in the depths of the trees. In making the switch from one backpack to another, I had forgotten to grab my compass before leaving town and I was not comfortable wandering through the woods with no directional cues. So I decided to follow Sullivan’s description.
I set out at about 7 am to enjoy the coolest part of the day during this hot streak. I proceeded to walk through a pretty forest on a well-graded trail. There was very little elevation gain over several miles of travel. It was very quiet. I stopped occasionally to observe the plants growing on the forest floor but overall I was able to maintain a quick pace. In no time at all, I found myself at the lakes. In a wave of confusion I ended up dead-ending at Marie Lake, having to backtrack my steps and return to the last junction before getting to the PCT junction and turning left.
Once on the PCT I timed myself carefully so as to not miss the climber’s trail mentioned in Sullivan’s book. As noted, there was a huge cairn about 50 feet from the obvious hairpin turn in the trail. Perfect! The trail immediately detoured uphill, a huge change from the last 5 miles or so. This was one of the best climber’s trail I’d ever walked upon; the route was clear and the tread was well worn. A great effort was put into building cairns frequently along the path as well. I stopped to rebuild several of them on my way up. As the trail left the trees, the ground turned to a steadily ascending slope of rocks and debris. Among the rock and gravel, there appeared to be footsteps all over the place as well as cairns barely discernible from the other rocky piles. It was easy for me to find the way up but I was concerned about the way down. I stopped several times to turn around and gain the opposite perspective, as well as make a few mental notes to help me navigate back down to the trail. With huge and distinct volcanic peaks sticking up everywhere as well as obvious features on Diamond Peak, it was pretty easy to get my bearings.
The slog uphill was long but absolutely gorgeous. It was like walking through an ornate rock garden. Delicate and hardy alpine plants emerged from the seemingly lifeless dust covering the rock. The hillside was adorned with buckwheat, stonecrop and paintbrush of various colors.
Upon gaining the false summit, I looked north to my final destination. A half-mile rocky, undulating ridge lay between me and the top of the peak. This interesting section of climb took me past several cliffy rock outcrops that I had to navigate down and around. Squeezing in the space left by melting snow as it parted ways from the rock wall, I pondered how much easier this would have been just a few weeks earlier with a more hefty snowpack.
The summit area was flat and broad; it was a great place to sit and relax before heading back down. In the sun and haze I was able to see several peaks including the Three Sisters (at least two of them), Mt. Thielsen (aka “Tomorrow”) and Mt. Yoran (aka “Yesterday”). It was remarkable to have this beautiful place to myself at 10:30 am on a holiday weekend.
But I knew I had to get down before it really got hot. I sadly left the summit behind, hopping across the rock to a narrow snow ridge that I walked across until it got a little too narrow for my liking. I squirmed through the moat again, returning briefly to the rock ridge before barreling down the talus and scree. I edged right to another snowfield and plunge-stepped down as far as I could before moving back to the rock. About an hour later I reached the trail, immediately encountering people. I passed another couple at the corner and then three backpackers further down the trail. After that short rush of congestion I swiftly walked out to the car in peace and quiet.
Summit 2 out of 4 for this trip is also highly recommended. The flat approach provides a nice warm-up for the climb itself, and the off trail navigation is pretty straightforward. This would likely offer an interesting snow climb for most of the year as well, although it would be a shame to miss the spectacular alpine flora during its brief bloom.