Eagle Peak
Ski Heil Peak
Pilot Pinnacle
Mt. Diller P500 WSC

Sun, Jun 3, 2012

With: Tom Becht
Laura Molnar
Adam Jantz
Kevin Trieu

  Etymology
Eagle Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

It was the beginning of a week-long climbing trip to the Pacific Northwest, with a number of ambitious goals including day hikes of Shasta, North Sister, Adams and Rainier. The first day was set aside for aclimatization, an easy outing in Lassen National Park, comprising a ridge traverse of four lower peaks between Mt. Lassen and Brokeoff Mtn. Converging from four distinct areas around the state, we met up in the Sulphur Works parking lot about a mile north of the Visitor Center at the south end of the park. Kevin had slept there overnight and was just cooking his breakfast on his propane camp stove when we pulled in around 9a. While waiting around for Kevin to finish his breakfast, the others went about getting their packs together for the day's outing. There was still plenty of snow about, but not enough to bother with our skis or snowshoes, we judged. Besides the five of us, Bill Peter's car was in the parking lot, having already started on a more ambitious outing that would take in a few additional peaks. We were to meet him atop Eagle Peak where he would then join us for the rest of the outing.

When Kevin was ready, we left my van at Sulphur Works and drove two other vehicles up to the Bumpass Hell parking lot a few miles further and a thousand feet higher. This would allow us an easier loop, with a short approach to Eagle and then a straight drop down from Diller at the end of the traverse. There was only one other car in the large parking lot at 9:30a, much like the other parking lots and the Visitor Center we passed by. There just didn't seem to be many visitors for a fine June weekend.

We hiked on firm snow at the start, though temperatures had clearly not gotten below freezing overnight. There would be more postholing towards the end of the outing, but for now it was good footing. Eagle Peak is only 2/3 mile from the start and it seemed we might make it up to the top in half an hour. That was a bit optimistic as it took nearly twice as long. Traveling over easy slopes to begin, we found more snow than our first view from Sulphur Works had indicated. After ascending a moderatetly steep snow slope we reached another easy section before a rocky headwall. The whole length of the wall appeared to be fifth class, even when viewed up close, but there are easy routes around both the left and right sides. We chose to scramble up the right side exit to the summit slope where we had our first good view of Mt. Lassen a short distance to the north. A group of three skiers could be seen traversing Lassen's South Slopes to the saddle with Eagle Peak. Laura was regretting that she had left her skis in the car, noting the conditions were quite good for skiing ("hero snow" was the term she used).

It was 10:30a when we reached the summit. Though half an hour late with our rendevous with Bill, there was no sign of him, no fresh tracks to suggest he might be ahead of us. We spotted a total of seven skiers and hikers ascending from the saddle in several parties, but none of them appeared to include Bill. This was as many people as we had seen on the whole drive into the park earlier. The summit of Eagle has two closely-spaced points that appear equally likely to be the highpoint. The western point has an old register made from a lead pipe capped at two ends, the whole thing bolted to the rocks by a weak, rusty chain. The threads on the end were far too rusted to remove and it appears to have been many years since it was last opened. There are fine views from the summit including most of the southern part of the park. Mt. Lassen looms high above us to the north, Brokeoff and the day's traverse to the southwest, the massive Mt. Shasta lost partially in clouds a long distance to the northwest.

We stayed about 20 minutes at the summit, scanning the area for Bill. We called his cell phone and left a message. Hours later he would return the call and tell us he was about an hour behind us, having spotted us from the summit of Mt. Helen about a mile to the southeast. We talked briefly with the first of the skiers that ascended just behind us, then started down the south side of Eagle for the start of the traverse to Mt. Diller. The first of two intermediate peaks is called Ski Heil Peak and is little more than a rounded, snow-covered bump on the ridge, taking all of fifteen minutes to reach from Eagle Peak. After this the ridge grows more interesting with a mix of snow and bare ground, with some rock scrambling thrown in to keep it fun. The weather was starting to change as the advance guard of a late season storm began to arrive and cloud over the area. The wind was light and the temperatures very nice for hiking and I switched back and forth between just a tshirt and a fleece as conditions changed during the day.

Our group of five kept a pretty good pace, led by Adam out in front who was like the dog with too much energy to stay heeled. He'd been complaining of being out of shape in the weeks leading up to the trip but clearly his judgement was far off (or the rest of us were just laggards). Laura had been rehabilitating her knee after surgery last fall, and seemed to have it just about back to its old self. I was just happy that doing all those wimpy hikes in the Diablo Range seemed sufficient - this was the highest elevation I'd been at since October. T Another half an hour along the ridge is Pilot Pinnacle, a more interesting formation with a rocky summit and loose class 3 scramble if one follows the ridge directly. I nearly let a large bowling ball-sized rock go when I slipped just below the summit, holding onto it with one arm until I could rearrange it to keep from tumbling down on Laura who was not far behind me. We found no sign of a register at the Pilot summit, and finding the wind had picked up and grown colder, we started down the easier southwest side soon after. Thinking that we were going to descend Pilot Pinnacle the same way, Laura had left her poles below the start of the class 3 and had to return for them. The other four of us hunkered down on the leeward side of the peak while she retrieved them and then came around the northwest side to join us a few minutes later.

50 minutes further along was Mt. Diller, the fourth highest summit in the park after Lassen, Brokeoff and Eagle. It proved to be a short challenge as well with some class 3 scrambling on equally loose rock. There are easier routes we came to find on the south and southwest sides of the summit, but the short challenges we found on the northeast and east sides were all good fun as long as we took great care and went slowly to test out the dubious holds. Rock held together by dried mud seemed a good description. The partial remains of a lead pipe similar to that on Eagle were all that we found in the way of a register. We didn't bother to investigate a damp scrap of paper shoved into the open end of the pipe.

It was 1p by the time we were ready to head down. The descent was both fun and easy, initially down a long, sand/gravel slope that made for decent boot skiing until we encountered the snow cover found at the base of the summit. The snow had become soft afternoon mush and we followed this down through the trees following the drainage that leads to Sulphur Works and the parking lot. Our party split up for this last mile. I came down the west side of the creek while the other came down the east side, in various groupings. Between us was dry ground where various bubbling sulphur pots could be found feeding into the creek that carved the small canyon down the middle. The others found calf deep mud in places for their trouble while I found the Ridge Lakes Trail for the last quarter mile before the parking lot, allowing me to get back shortly before them.

We all agreed it had been a fine outing, better than any of us had expected. I'd like to come back some time to do the traverse between Diller and Brokeoff as the East Ridge of Brokeoff looks to make for an interesting challenge. After a short break to clean boots, have a drink and rest, we piled into the van to head up to retrieve our cars and begin the next leg of the adventure - on to Mt. Shasta. We drove through Lassen NP and then to the end of SR89 to the small town of Mt. Shasta where we got a motel room and dinner at the local burger joint. There was much optimism as we fueled up on burgers and made plans for the next day, even as the clouds grew more ominous overhead.

Back in the motel later, we began to check the online weather reports which did not portend well for the week's plans. A late-season storm was moving in overnight, bringing 1-2" of rain to town, snow and high winds to the mountain. 18F and gusts as high as 95mph were predicted. The two day storm would be followed by another one further north in Washington at the same time we'd planned for Rainier. After much discussion, Tom and Laura decided to head north to Oregon to wait things out and return to attempt Shasta on Wednesday after the storm had passed. Adam and I drove home (more than six hours of rain along the way), while Kevin continued north to Seattle where he needs to catch a plane to Alaska later in the month. We're going to reconvene (minus Kevin) in Yosemite later this week for some rock climbing. So far, the Sierra weather gods appear to be in a better mood...


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