Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Diamond Peak (OR) - Southeast Bowl

Now into summer, and with the snow rapidly melting, I wanted to get in one final tour of the season. My first thought was an overnighter into Jefferson Park, but unfortunately I wasn't able to rally the troops for that one. The next area that came to mind was the southeast bowl on Diamond Peak, which I had heard holds its snow later into the season than most. For this one I was able to enlist Ethan and Waldy, who were also eager to get in some late season turns. A couple more Oakridge locals and friends of Waldy, Brian and Hilary, would also be joining us.

With warm temps forecasted, we planned to get an early start. Ethan and I left Eugene around 5:30am, meeting up with the others in Oakridge before driving to the trailhead near Summit Lake. After some delay, we finally reached Summit Lake at around 8:30am, and soon after gearing up we were on the PCT and headed toward Diamond Peak. Waldy had warned me that the mosquitoes would be really bad and he certainly wasn't exaggerating. I don't recall the last time I used DEET, but it didn't take long before I was spraying it liberally from head to toe. As we hiked down the trail it became very obvious why there were so many mosquitoes, about every 1/8th of a mile we passed a small lake or pond. For the first mile or so we saw very little snow but eventually it became pretty patchy and hid the trail in spots. Once we reached the intersection with the trail leading to Diamond Rock Pile, we stopped for a quick break and to grab some water from a nearby spring.

Starting to find some snow along the trail

One of our first glimpses of Diamond Peak through the trees

Shortly after leaving the junction, the PCT became completely obscured by snow, although with Diamond Peak often in view and Brian's knowledge of the area we were able to continue on without its guidance. Before long we reached the base of the mountain where we began to climb up a steep side hill alternating between sharp lava rock and patches of snow. We had to be mindful of our foot placement at the boundary between the snow and rock, for dropping your foot into a hidden void beneath the snow could certainly cause a leg or knee injury.

Getting closer!

Waldy points out some landmarks to the south

Breaking through the tree line

As we broke through the trees into the bottom of the SE bowl, any anxiety over snow coverage was completely eliminated. However, it was now noon and the snow was heating up pretty good, bringing with it other concerns of it being too slushy. Now that we were on the snowfield, we threw on our skins and started traversing uphill and toward the center of the bowl. This process only heightened my concerns over the loose snow, as it was a struggle to retain grip while side-hilling, and I slid out on more than one occasion – although putting on my ski crampons did help with this. Once we reached the center of the bowl we switched over to bootpacking and climbed straight up the face toward the summit of Diamond Peak. Climbing the remaining 700 vertical feet took us around 40 minutes and finally reaching the summit brought on a huge sense of relief.

Starting the traverse toward center bowl

This side-hill was the toughest part of the approach, at least for me.
Boot packing toward the summit

The final push to the summit

The winds at the top were essentially nonexistent, which I’ve found to be quite rare during my limited time touring the Cascade volcanoes. It was quite pleasant and we spent a bit of time hanging out on the bare peak and soaking up the sun. After a bit I became restless and started getting geared up before the others, mainly because I wanted to head down and get setup for some photos in the middle of the bowl. Just below the summit was a nice flat spot to strap into my board and prepare to drop-in. As I rolled over the edge the slope felt steeper than I had expected. Luckily the snow felt perfect and I was able to hold my toe edge while traversing north across the bowl to take photos from that side. Before long, Waldy and Hilary came into view and shortly after that dropped in for their first turns of the day.

Looking out toward the Thee Sisters from the summit of Diamond Peak

Relaxin' at the summit

Waldy drops in for his first turns

Partway down the upper bowl

Dog in tow

Waldy, about halfway down. 

Hilary starting it off

Nice tracks!

After they had reached the bottom of the boot pack, I put away my camera and started my descent. Again, the slope felt steep and it took me a half dozen or so edge transitions before I started to get comfortable. Of course, once I was starting to get into a rhythm I was already looking for another place to setup to take photos of both Ethan and Brian, who were still up top. Before long, both of them dropped in, entering through a narrow path between rock features and painting their lines down the south side of the center bowl. The coolest feature on this line was the banking turn off the giant fin rock, which both Ethan and Brian railed with style! Since we were all planning to do another lap we didn’t go any lower than the boot pack, which we’d use to ascend once again.

Ethan with a sweet line, banking off the pinnacle.

Setting up for the next pitch

The crew waiting at the start of the boot pack

The author enjoying some corn turns
(photo by Waldy Torkelson)

Another rare shot of the author
(photo by Waldy Torkelson)

Even with an established line of steps kicked into the face of the slope, the second trip up felt pretty taxing and I found myself taking many short breaks to catch my breath. For my second line down I wasn’t planning to take any photos from the midway point. This allowed me to concentrate on my turns, which ended being a lot smoother and quite a bit more enjoyable. Since Ethan, Waldy and I weren’t planning to do another lap, I continued past the boot pack for a short distance, which provided some nice low angle turns to finish things up. After a couple of minutes I could see a couple small specks moving down the face of the bowl, which could only be my other companions. I fired off a couple more shots as they made their way down, capturing some nice sun stars in the process.

Ethan halfway down his second descent

Comin' in hot!

Waldy on his second lap

Since Hilary and Brian had planned to get in at least one more lap, we decided that it wasn't necessary to wait for them and instead started our journey back to the parking lot. Although we could have descended a bit further, we used our current elevation to traverse across the bowl without skinning. Once on the other side, I tied my planks to my pack and began the hike, while the other two tried to squeak out as much skiing as possible. Within a few hundred yards the snow became too intermittent for them to continue on skis, and they had to succumb to booting out as well. Instead of following our old tracks or the PCT, Waldy led us on a more direct approach using his wicked GPS skills. Within a few miles we reached the trail intersection to Diamond Rock Pile, at which point we began following the PCT the rest of the way out. The further we went down the trail the worse the mosquitoes got and even the DEET was struggling to keep them at bay. Back at the car, we wasted little time changing clothes and loading up our gear, all while being ambushed by hordes of blood suckers. It wasn’t until we were back in the confines of the truck that we could relax and celebrate our day’s adventure over a beer.

Traversing back out across the SE bowl

One final look back at the amazing terrain found on the southeast face of Diamond Peak

Diamond Peak’s southeast aspect is a fantastic late season touring destination, with many line options available. I’d say it’s just as good if not better than the southwest bowl, but of course opinions may vary. We happened to choose the bowl that drops down just to the northeast of the summit, which was an awesome line, especially if summiting is part of your goal. That said, the many lines that drop between the rock bands look awesome too. I’ll certainly be coming back here year after year, but next time I’d like to do it as an overnighter and get in at least two days of riding, especially given the fairly long approach and the swarms of mosquitoes you have to fight through to get there. On a final note, the road into Summit Lake is pretty nasty and requires a high clearance vehicle, which should probably have 4WD as well.

Our tracks:
Red = Approach
Dark Blue = First descent
Light Blue = Second descent
Yellow = hike out

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