Our group was five, including Eddie Sudol, Dot Reilly, Arun Mahajan, and myself - all veteran climbers, except for me, a rank novice. Sure, I'd done a little scrambling here and there, with some brief class 2, but until then I was mainly a backpacker. I had only taken an ice axe / crampon class (billed as "basic mountaineering") up at Shasta two weeks before.
Our first day was about 3500' and 6 miles. Weather was pleasant and sunny, though the wind picked up a bit. Streams were flowing high, flush with spring snowmelt, and while at first I thought about taking my boots off, I saw Bob hop across logs with impeccable balance. I would continue to be amazed all weekend long. Some snow was present on the rocky canyon walls above, but the trail was clear. We enjoyed a pleasant mosquito-free evening, cool and clear.
The next morning we awoke to temps in the low 30's, cooled by a steady breeze. We watched the sun rise, and by 6:30 Bob, Arun, Eddie, and myself headed up the trail (Dot stayed in camp and read a book). We stayed on the trail to get up above a bluff and some falls, and then just followed the creek drainage across hard snow and occasional rock. Our goal was the southeast face of the peak.
While I had been looking forward to a snow climb, the snowpack in the southern Sierras was rather low, and we ended up going up some class 2-3 rock just to the east of a plateau around 3900 meters. I was extremely grateful to be coached by Arun and Eddie on the class 3 parts. Afterwards was one really exposed traverse on a band of snow just above steep rock with very little chance to self-arrest.
After this we sat and had a snack, then marched across the snowy plateau to the summit ridge, ascended another rock band, and finally there was about 50 feet on snow to get up to the summit. I put on crampons for this part because I was feeling winded and vulnerable, but everyone else just walked up in boots.
Hooray ! By the time I had my straps done and carefully stepped up to the summit, the guys were already naming peaks, pointing out features, etc. The views were just amazing, and I took lots of pictures. The summit register came out, and we read some interesting entries.
Bob mentioned that we had to get down before too long, so we descended to the plateau, and from there prepared to glissade down a few hundred feet through one of the chutes we had seen on the way up. I felt rather nervous about this, but the class had given me preparation. Some practice sessions with hiking buddies in the snow made me realize that steep slopes generally look worse when one is looking down them.
Still, I couldn't see the runout on this slope. Bob actually had stopped his glissade just above the place I couldn't see, and traversed left, over to a patch of scree. Eddie and Arun did the same. Finally it was my turn. I gripped my axe and down I went. Whee !
The dirt patch was above a steep chute, which led to another dirt patch. Bob and Eddie slid down, and then I saw Arun have kind of a rough landing, but he appeared to brush himself off, and so I headed down after. This slope was a little more steep and slippery than the first one, and I went into self-arrest a couple of times, since I was afraid of building up too much speed and hitting the scree too hard, but I finally made it.
The tough part was over. The remaining glissade was on a gentler slope, and had kind of a twisty bobsled feel to it. I gleefully watched Eddie and Arun demonstrate standing glissade while sliding on my backside.
From there we traversed quickly-softening snow and headed back to the Baxter Pass trail a good ways above where we had left it. On the return to camp I thought about how I would apply what I had learned on future backpack trips with early-season snow cover.
After breaking camp, we made short work of the downhill, and said goodbye to that section of the Sierras for the time being.
Pics can be found at: rhysw.com/diamond_peak2004
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