We woke up early on the second day of our loop around Diamond Peak and as the Sun was coming up we realized that it had gotten a little hazy overnight.
Diamond Peak in the morning.
Our plan for the day was to leave camp and hike to the summit of Diamond Peak then come back, pack up, and continue on our loop. We hoped to make it as far as Blue Lake but were also ready to stop at Corrigan Lake if necessary. We took breakfast with us as we set off to the north on the Pacific Crest Trail.
We followed the PCT for approximately 1.2 miles to a rocky viewpoint where we stopped to cook breakfast.
The viewpoint from below on the PCT.
We should have been able to see Summit Lake and Mt. Thielsen to the south from the viewpoint but after a smoke free hike the day before our luck ran out.
Summit Lake and a lot of smoke.
At least the sky above Diamond Peak was still fairly blue.
The north flank and route up Diamond Peak.
After eating we continued 50 feet up the trail to a bunch of cairns marking the summit path.
Fireweed catching the morning sunlight.
Cairns on the left side of the trail marking the route.
Chipmunk inspecting some bleeding heart.
We turned up the well worn path and began to climb steeply through the trees and then onto rocks.
Summit Lake and the route up through the trees.
Here come the rocks.
The path soon split into multiple user routes with cairns, flagging, and green paint marking the way.
Cairn on top of the big rock on the right.
A carin and paint on a rock along the route and some pink flagging on the tree down to the left.
It was approximately a mile between the PCT and the false summit of Diamond Peak and over 1800′ of elevation gain. After leaving the trees the climb got even steeper. Through the loose rocks a few flowers could be found.
Looking up at the false summit.
Patches of penstemon.
Seed heads of Drummond’s anemone
As we climbed we passed a couple of small snow patches and gained more views which were all dominated by smoke.
Dark smoke to the SW
A snow patch below the false summit.
Final pitch to the false summit, still pretty blue.
At the false summit we were at 8421′ and could finally see Mt. Thielsen, at least the very top of it’s spire at least.
We had been backpacking there just two weeks prior (post) and were thankful that it hadn’t been this weekend. Looking around, it wasn’t just smoky to the south.
Looking west to a wall of smoke.
Smoke to the east.
Smoke to the NE too.
NW also equals smoke.
Smoke starting to drift in from the east.
We were still .4 miles and 350′ from the 8777′ true summit of the mountain and to reach it we would need to pass three gendarmes that block the ridge between the summit and false summit. Sullivan describes having to use your hands and “lots of caution” to work around them to the clear path on the other side. We started out and got to the first gendarme where I got up too high following a path. I had to back track and work my way down to Heather who had taken a different track but we still seemed too high. By this point the uncertainty of the best line to take had given us time to really think about where we were and the nerves kicked in. We wound up listening to them and headed back to the false summit deciding that it wasn’t worth the risk on such a smoky day where we wouldn’t get much in the way of views. We expected the view north that we would have had from the summit to be just as smoky given the fact that from the false summit we could see the top of the South Sister which was also appeared to be surrounded by wildfire smoke.
After making the decision to turn back we were able to relax and enjoy the jaunt back down to the PCT focusing on flowers and critters along the way.
One of several Clark’s nutcrackers.
Basin with a number of flowers.
It was slow going but we made it back to the PCT where we noticed the smoke a little more than we had earlier that morning.
A little smoke in the trees.
When we got back to camp we packed up and realized that we’d consumed quite a bit of our water already so we decided to stop by Rockpile Lake again to refill our reservoirs before continuing on our loop.
Slightly smokier Rockpile Lake.
After refilling our water supply we continued to the junction with the spur trail to Marie Lake (.5 miles from the PCT) where we turned left to stay on the Rockpile Trail (at a pointer for the Diamond Peak Trail) and climbed steeply up the side of Diamond Rockpile.
It wasn’t as much of a rockpile as the named implied as it was mostly forested with a single viewpoint near the high point along this portion of trail.
Summit Lake out there in the smoke.
The trail then dropped a bit on the west side of Diamond Rockpile to a 4-way junction with the Diamond Peak Trail 1.2 miles from the Marie Lake junction.
While there were plenty of signs along the trails they often didn’t identify the trail itself but rather pointed you in the direction of other trails or features. This junction was a good example as one sign identified the Rockpile Trail while another directed you to Rockpile Lake and Road 2160.
There were no signs naming the Diamond Peak Trail but there was a pointer to the south for Ruth Lake and a pointer to the north for the Pioneer Gulch Trail (which we thought was the name of this trail at first).
We need to go north so we followed the pointer for the Pioneer Gulch Trail and headed north.
The Diamond Peak Trail rolled up an down for nearly 1.5 miles before arriving at a junction with the actual Pioneer Gulch Trail on the left.
One of the uphill sections.
Note again that the sign is letting you know what is in the different directions but not identifying the trail name.
We stayed on the Diamond Peak Trail heading for the Corrigan Lake Trail which was just over 2 miles further along. These two miles had not been maintained so there were a few obstacles to get around but nothing too difficult. We also regained a view of Diamond Peak along this stretch which was now behind a thin layer of smoke.
Typical obstacle for this stretch.
We turned left down the Corrigan Lake Trail when we arrived at the junction.
It was a little over half a mile and 300′ down to the lake which had a nice view of Diamond Peak.
Lots of insect husks on the plants along the lake.
We took a nice long break at the lake where another couple of groups of backpackers appeared to be planning to spend the night. Our plan was to push on and try and find a spot for our tent near the Diamond Peak Trail junction with the Blue Lake Trail. We were hoping to get down to that lake in the evening but didn’t want to haul our full packs up and down the steep 400′ of elevation change.
We left Corrigan Lake to the other backpackers and climbed back up to the Diamond Peak Trail and continued on our clockwise loop around the mountain. This next section of trail was clearer and in just under a mile we came to the Bear Mountain Trail junction.
Bear Mountain Trail junction.
Look a named trail!
From the junction the Diamond Peak Trail climbed a ridge before leveling off above Blue Lake which was hidden in the trees.
The Blue Lake Trail was .8 miles from the Bear Mountain junction and just before reaching it we spotted what we had been hoping for, an open flat spot for our tent. We set up camp between the Diamond Peak and Blue Lake Trails and then headed down to the lake for dinner and to get more water.
There was a decent amount of blowdown along the upper portion of the .9 mile stretch to the lake which followed a ridge crest (with a view NW down to Happy Lake) before dropping steeply down the opposite side of the ridge via a series of switchbacks. The hillsides had quite a few wet areas and several flowers were still in bloom.
Starting to drop off the ridge.
Pearly everlasting and fringed grass of parnassus
Aster and fringed grass of parnassus
The trail brought us to an open hillside on the east side of Blue Lake where a landslide left a large meadow.
Lots of coneflower
Fireweed and coneflower
We appeared to be the only humans at this lake but we were greatly outnumbered by a legion of little frogs.
Dragon fly and a bunch of frogs
We spent most the evening at the lake before heading back to the tent when the Sun started dropping.
Despite not making it up to the summit of Diamond Peak, and it being too smoky to get any views even lower, it had been a good day. It had also been a long day. We had been planning on it being somewhere in the 14.5 to 15 mile range assuming that we made it all the way to the summit but our GPS units put us just over 16 miles for the day without the extra .8 out and back between the false summit and summit. We slept well apart from me waking up for a moment when I heard some coyotes followed by a couple of hoots from owls. They weren’t bothering me I just stayed up to listen to them for a bit until they stopped. Happy Trails!
Flickr: Diamond Peak Loop Day 2