September 6, 2014
Icefield Parkway (North), AB
Diadem Peak is a beautiful 11,000er just to the north of Columbia Icefield that’s usually climbed together with its higher neighbour, Mount Woolley. The aesthetic way of climbing these two summits is by doing Diadem first via the SE face (steep snow couloir straight up), down the south slopes and up the north ridge of Woolley before descending the normal route. Vern, Ben and I, however, were not that adventurous and we’d take the easiest route on both the ascent and descent. This brought us to Woolley/Diadem col first so it made perfect sense to bag the higher of the two first. Back to the col after successfully summitting Mt. Woolley, we decided to ditch a bunch of unnecessary gears before slogging up the foreshortened slope on Diadem. In particular we ditched ice tool and the winter coats.
For those of you unfamiliar with this mountain, there’re two summits. The first one on a big snow hump/cornice and the second one, 5 minutes further down the ridge, on rock. Some sources indicate the rocky summit being either at the same height or slightly higher than the snowy one. We ascended both of them and our GPS and barometer altimeters recorded the sharper rocky summit at about 2 m higher than the rounded snow hump. Thus to make sure you’ve summitted this 11,000er you have to ascend the true (rocky) summit. From the col to the false summit there’s very little to describe other than perseverance. There were a few short steps requiring brief hands-on work but nothing more than just easy scrambling. The slope did feel foreshortening though.
The true summit was a different game. With the intimidating ridge ahead plastered with snow we decided to keep crampons on and ditch backpacks. I went up first and it was quite difficult, but overall wasn’t as bad as I thought. There were a few very tricky moves requiring dedicate balancing or au-cheval technique but after that I could find decent holds, and soon I stood on top. I’d say in dry condition it’s exposed 4th class. Ben and Vern weren’t quite sure about ascending this but I checked the GPS reading and it’s indeed higher than the snow summit, so they had to climb it… The view from this true summit was significantly better than from the false one too.
Descending was even trickier and at the crux move we all had to au-cheval across. Soon we all made back, relaxing a little bit before resuming the descent. It’s a pleasant walk back to Woolley/Diadem col and then a somewhat tedious walk side-hilling down the scree/snow on skier’s left. It’s quite a long way down to the entrance of 2nd couloir.
We all had worry about the condition and we were right. With the strong sun backing this south-facing couloir for many hours, the new snow had become quite slushy. It wasn’t too bad though but pretty marginal especially for the lower part. If worse we’d had to dig down to ice and rappel and nobody was looking forward to that. Near our exit point we started to see dirt/ice which didn’t appear earlier in the morning. I went down too far skier’s right and had to cross this ice patch. I informed Ben and Vern to cut over early and soon we were all out of the couloir. Much of the new snow had melted which meant an easier descent down the series of down-sloping ledges. It’s still wet and covered with snow though, just not as snowy as in the morning. I managed to descend this section without crampons, and in short time we were back to the entrance of the key chimney. This chimney was still snow covered but straightforward to descend.
Back to the first couloir, we thought the hard terrain was over but nope, the next section would be the crux for this trip. At this point we already made the decision to traverse towards Mushroom Peak on a high level ledge and glacier rather than descending the maze of crevasses using questionable snow bridges. This was a very correct call as even just down-climbing the entire 1st couloir itself would be downright difficult and dangerous. The new snow was either totally gone revealing hard ice and dirt underneath, or thin and slushy that we couldn’t gain traction. At the meantime rock fall was a real concern now and we could hear and see rocks coming down. For the next short while we had to face inwards, having both axes out and front-pointing down and/or diagonally down. We were aiming at the lower rubble ledge on the skier’s left side. We wanted to be off this shooting gallery as quickly as possible but on the other hand screwing up a move would send us down and perhaps into the bergschrund. The hardest part was front-pointing across a debris covered ice patch. My mountaineering ice axe couldn’t even get a purchase no matter how hard I swung and it was only the front points of my crampons holding my body weight. Thankfully this section wasn’t very long and eventually we made to the rocky ledge below and out of the danger zone.
At this point the pressure was not off yet as we had no clue how bad the glacier was between Diadem and Mushroom. Based on our earlier observation from Woolley Shoulder the previous day it appeared to be heavily crevassed. But at this point we were committed to it and if we found a safe way to cross it then we knew there’s a scramble route down Mushroom Peak thank to Eric’s exploring a big time. Ben had printed out Eric’s route photo and we’d rely on that to get off these mountains. Of course, if we could get off the snow then it made perfect sense to bag Mushroom Peak as our last objective in this trip, rather than waiting till the next morning.