Mount Baxter, Black Mountain, Diamond Peak
By: Reiner Stenzel
These three peaks are located in the California Bighorn Sheep Zoological Area which can be entered only from Dec 15 to July 1 each year. Maybe due to this restriction or the 6000'+ climb over Baxter Pass they are not frequently climbed and a trip report may be worth while. Due to a midweek trip I could not find anyone and went solo in the last days of June.
On Wed, 6/28, I drove from the Bay Area through Yosemite to Lone Pine to pick up a permit, drove to the empty Oak Creek trailhead (UTM 40 74 391 N, 11377 132 E, NAD27, elev. 5,900') and started to hike in by 5pm. At 6pm the rain started which was a welcome cooling off. By 8:30pm I found a campsite above the Falls (10,200') on the North Fork of Oak Creek. Saw fresh bear pies on the trail, had no bear canister, slept lightly with my food in the bag and got away with it.
On Thur, 6/29, I started to hike at 5:45 am up the Baxter Pass trail. I took all my gear along since I was not sure where I would camp due to thunderstorm weather. Crossed the corniced Baxter Pass (12,200') at 7:15 am, dropped down to the upper Baxter Lke (11, 145') where I hung up the pack and continued with daypack to a small unnamed Lake (11,875', 0.5 mi NE of Baxter Lke). From there it is a straightforward climb up talus slopes to the summit of Mt Baxter (13,136'). There were patches of beautiful polemoniums whose scent filled the air. At 10:15 am I signed the peak register as the 5th and possibly last party in 2000, enjoyed the view and took summit pictures. Since the cumulus clouds began to grow I descended back to the lakes, washed up, snacked and, by 1:30pm, hiked the 1,000' back up to Baxter Pass. I left the Baxter Pass trail at the 11,200' level and went XC toward the drainage leading to Black and Diamond. Before the trees gave way to the moraine I found a suitable camp site (UTM 40 76 489 N, 11377 893 E, elev. 11,155') by 4pm. Luckily, I was prepared for the attack by hungry mosquitoes with a lightweight mesh tent. While taking a nap I was rudely awakened by the first hail balls. For the next two hours the sky opened up, I disappeared in my bivvy and enjoyed the sound of raindrops on the walls. Later in the evening the sky cleared up, it was a fresh and bug free night.
On Fri, 6/30, I was up by 5am and on my way before 6am, hiking up the talus in the drainage leading to Black and Diamond. At the steep 400' headwall I put on crampons and ascended on hard packed snow. I continued due South in a valley which narrows and steepens as one approaches a snow covered ridge. Black Mtn (13,291') is at the East end of the ridge, not obvious but readily found with a GPS (UTM 40 74 391 N, 11377 132 E) and requires a steep (>40deg) snow climb in a head-on ascent. At 7:45am I summited, found the peak register in an ammo box, signed in as 3rd party this year, and looked for elusive bighorn sheep which had left fresh tracks in the snow. After last night's rain the air was clear and the view superb, especially of Clarence King, Cotter, and Gardiner to the West. By comparison, Diamond Pk. does not live up to its name. By 8:30am I headed towards it which involves dropping down to a small glacial lake at 11,300' below the headwall before reclimbing a chute to the Diamond plateau. The descent to the lake was an enjoyable sitting glissade, but the following 1,800' ascent on scree was less exciting. The summit (UTM 40 76 324 N, 11376 098 E, elev. 13,127') is at the West end of the plateau which drops steeply off toward the North and East and has several "needles" like Whitney. At 12:30pm I signed the register and vowed never to climb this peak 6X like Doug Mantle's signature stated. Since clouds were again rising I left the peak at 1:30pm, headed down to the camp by 3pm, packed and hiked out before the rain started. The hike-out was straightforward except for some interesting routefinding of the unmaintained trail through willows and two stream crossings of the swollen Oak Creek. Did not meet a single person on the Baxter Pass trail. By 6:45pm I was back at the car with tired legs after a day of 4,000' up and 9,200' down. Later soaked into Keough hot spring, slept near Lee Vining, drove next morning to Sonora Pass and climbed Sonora Pk before heading back to Redwood City.
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