Summit Elevation (m): 2103
Trip Date: April 18 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 900
Round Trip Time (hr): 6
Total Trip Distance (km): 15.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something – i.e. your ego
Difficulty Notes: No technical difficulties. Crossing the Red Deer River and route finding are the crux. Some intense bushwhacking just off the access trail.
Technical Rating: OT3; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
I wasn’t psyched to get out again on the Monday of the Easter long weekend after doing two laps on Prairie Mountain on both Friday and Saturday with Wietse and then skiing Storm Mountain with Sara on Sunday. BUT. It was Wietse’s turn to drive and he was going to pick me up so there was very little reason not to tag along. I was also testing out a recent injury sustained in a high speed crash at the Sunshine ski resort a couple of weeks earlier, so why not put one foot in front of the other for another few hours? Sara was thinking along the same lines and agreed to join us for a front range hike in the Ya Ha Tinda area. Unfortunately for us the recent dry spell had ended about a week earlier and rather than pleasant hiking on mostly grassy terrain, we were in for copious amounts of fresh snow.
After driving the requisite 2.5 hours from our houses in the SW we finally arrived at the designated parking spot along the Ya Ha Tinda road above the Red Deer River. (Most vehicles could likely drive down towards the river at this point but we didn’t bother trying.) Wietse and I crossed the river in our waders while Sara bravely went bare leg. We found a faint trail heading up the opposite side of the river under the cable car system and followed it towards the NE end of The Diamond. After curving around a shallow ridge the trail headed in the right direction between Minos and Diamond and slowly became more and more snowy.
After arriving at the indicated spot to head east through bush to the NE end of the ridge we plunged into the bush on 2-4 inches of snow. Soon we were at a very unexpected slope, plunging down steeply to a very manky creek crossing just under west slopes to the NE ridge above. Although relatively short, this section was much worse than expected and had Wietse and I remembering our awful time on Mount Minos 7 years earlier! Eventually we got across the drainage and bushwhacked up steep, slippery slopes to the NE end of the Diamond.
Thankfully the heavy snowpack on the ridge held our weight with no snowshoes, thanks to a heavy overnight freeze. The weather was gorgeous with zero wind and a warm sun as we started up to the first of 6 or 7 summits along the extent of the ridge towards Winchester Ridge to the SW.
I was surprised to see a huge cairn with a register already on the first highpoint along the ridge at its NE end. This is certainly not the summit of the ridge but oh well. The views were pretty good already from here and we couldn’t believe how gorgeous the weather was. Ya Ha Tinda generally sports some good winds and today was so still there was absolute silence other than the crunch of our feet in the fresh snow.
There really isn’t much else to say about The Diamond. We enjoyed hours of quiet hiking, each of us in our own minds as we enjoyed the relatively easy trailbreaking and wandering up and down half a dozen high points to the far SW end of the ridge overlooking the Panther Corners and the gap between the Diamond and Winchester Ridge. There was a lot of snow in places and we were nervous that the snow pack would start collapsing in the incredibly warm and windless conditions we were enjoying but it never did. Other than a few knee to crotch deep plunges, we managed to stick on top of the deep sections. Some old tracks assisted us but seemed to stop before the SW end of the ridge, or at least we lost them there.
It took us around 3.5 hours to traverse the entire ridge from the car to the far SW end. We made a half-hearted attempt at one final bump along the ridge overlooking “the Gap” where the Panther River runs between the ridge and Winchester but snow covered rocks and laziness turned us back.
The hike back remained pleasant, especially as the deep snow held our weight and we now had our own tracks to assist on the uphill sections. We thought long and hard about descending to a trail running past Minos Lake back to the Red Deer River but we were nervous about the snowpack down in the much warmer valley. Considering how perfect the weather was up high and how much we were enjoying the views it seemed like a no-brainer to just keep enjoying them for another few hours rather than flirt with post-holing hell below. Crossing the manky drainage was as much “fun” the second time as the first but we survived for the most part.
Hiking back to the Red Deer River in early afternoon warmth and sunshine was downright pleasant. Put it this way – I was not regretting my decision to leave the city on this particular day, despite having some reservations about it earlier. The river was still shallow and we actually enjoyed the cool water this time across. I enjoyed this early season hike mostly thanks to the great weather we had. Less snow would have been preferred but you take what you get at this time of year. It was nice to see some of the more remote peaks in the eastern Banff range as well and remember some good trips on them over the past few years.