Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Diamond Lake

I've often said hiking is my mental health therapy and never have I needed hiking and therapy more than the present time. My world ended with an early morning phone call that began with "Aislinn died last night". With those four words life as I knew it was shattered and my youngest daughter was gone, leaving behind wonderful memories and broken hearts that will probably never heal in this lifetime. I could certainly write so much more about Aislinn, her life, her passing, and my feelings on the subject and while I recognize this is a hiking blog and not a blog about grief, a sadness this profound will inevitably bleed into all that I do for a bit. Just four days removed from that awful morning, I was feeling pretty raw but the idea of spending another despondent day at home just did not feel very healthy, it was time for some trailside therapy in the nurturing company of John, Jennifer, and Diane, who are some really awesome friends.

The lake was calling and we must go
The original plan was to snowshoe to Boundary Springs but since I'm unable to concentrate much these days, I naturally forgot to bring my snowshoes. So, Plan B was to swing by Diamond Lake Resort and rent some snowshoes and then continue on. However, one look at the frozen beauty of Diamond Lake changed our collective minds and we, by unanimous consent, opted to hike on the lake instead.

Diamond in the rough
The day was sunny, the sky was a deep blue color, and groups of ice fishermen dotted the lake's frozen surface like flakes of pepper on a pile of mashed potatoes. Despite the seemingly warm weather (even though it was sunny, it was still pretty chilly), the ice felt solid enough under our shoes as we left the cabins, restaurant, store, and other civilization accouterments behind at Diamond Lake Resort.

View south towards Crater Lake National Park
Basically, we just followed the lake's eastern shore, eschewing the campground road running through the forest along the lake. It wasn't too long before the sharp needle of Mount Thielsen made an appearance over the eastern shore, its pointed white spire seemingly intent on poking a hole in the sky. Straight ahead were some low hills located in Crater Lake National Park, one of which I recognized as the disturbingly named Bald Crater. It was Mount Bailey on the western shore, however, that dominated the mountain scenery surrounding the lake.

Mount Bailey, ever and always
The mountain was cloaked in white and no matter where we went, there was Mount Bailey, reposing in all its snow-covered awesomeness. We had all hiked to the top of Bailey at one time or another, so we periodically stopped to admire the view and call out some of the landmarks seen on the rugged trail to the summit.

Fissures in the ice cap
As we walked, we stepped over some cracks and fissures in the ice cap covering the lake. None of us were well versed in ice and lakes or the dangers thereof, so naturally we were somewhat concerned for our safety as we hiked. All of us, at differing times, poked our hiking poles into the fissures only to find hard unyielding ice below, apparently the crack had since frozen back shut. But visually, it still was disconcerting.

We took the campground road to the pizza restaurant
After a couple miles of lake-top walking, we edged toward the large campground on the lake's east side. Grabbing the campground road and after veering to and fro for a bit, we hit the well-used road which in winter time, does double duty as the Pizza Connection Trail, so named because it connects the South Shore Pizza Parlor to Diamond Lake Resort. In winter, or at least the times I have snowshoed there, the pizza parlor is open despite there not being any clear driveable road to the restaurant, serving warm pizza to snowmobilers, Nordic skiers, and lowly snowshoers such as ourselves. From prior experience, the smell of hot pizza wafting through the snow-covered trees is its own heavenly experience.

A great place for lunch
Alas, on this day the pizza parlor was closed (it was mid-week after all, so maybe it's only open on weekends) so no sublime pizza experience for us. Bummer, but we resorted to lunch consisting (in my case) of oranges, beef jerky, and nut bars while bittersweetly contemplating the silent lake and mountain majestically reposing before us under a cobalt blue sky.

It was stark and windswept on the lake
We decided that snowshoeing across the lake was way more interesting than following the campground road, fissures be damned. By this time it had warmed up enough that most of us figured on shedding jackets and just walking in our base layers. However, upon immediately striding out onto the lake, an arctic wind blowing in our faces quickly and emphatically dissuaded us of that notion. It was cold! As we walked across the barren surface of Diamond Lake, John remarked he felt as if he was walking across a Russian steppe in the middle of winter and I pretty much agreed with him.

Mount Thielsen on the east side
There wasn't a lot of variety on the way back, just us making our way across a frozen lake with Mount Bailey on one side and Mount Thielsen on the other. The only thing that was different was that since we were facing north on the return leg, we could see the snow-covered massif of distant Diamond Peak. On the walk back, I took the occasion to bend each of my companions' ears in turn, talking about the horrible event of four days prior. They should have packed a couch so I could lie down and unburden my troubles while they take notes. However, I'm eminently grateful for having such good, kind, and understanding friends; I'd be lost without them.

Where sun and contrail intersect
I did do some thinking about where I go from here and where this new journey may take me and I did come to some resolution, which is as follows. My daughter had taken critically ill for no reason at all three years ago but managed to survive that, although it was very close to the other outcome. It was not very realistic to expect her to emerge unscathed from such a close call and the price she had to pay was that her legs were amputated. Just imagine being 28 years old and losing your legs. I know I would have had a lifelong pity party for myself but not my girl. In the three years after that catastrophic life change, not once, not ever, did I hear her complain about her lot in life or feel sorry for herself. She was amazing, incredibly strong, and utterly resilient: she unflinching stared Fate right in the eye until Fate blinked first.

Fishing party straight ahead

In a way, Aislinn embraced the whole living-without-legs experience, doing things like rowing on a competitive dragon boat team, exercising with yoga, and putting on a short dress whenever she'd go out in public. We had even talked about hiking at some point in the future! So, there's her legacy for me: look your problems (like overwhelming grief) in the eye and fully embrace the challenge and experience.

Peaceful aspen grove
There'll be ups and downs in the near future, such a huge and tragic loss cannot be so easily disposed of. But trail therapy definitely helps and rest assured I will be OK in the end: this is a journey, after all, and it will be amazing. Thank you all for listening.

We head straight to Diamond Lake Resort
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Dear Richard, I am so sorry for you deep loss. Grief after losing Ned and my Hospice work has taught me something about grief in that it must be experienced & not denied, so you are wise to do that. Remember this, tears are good & healing. But that said, I can't even imagine losing a child. You will be in my prayers my friend.

    1. Thanks Susan, I appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

  2. I am so very sorry to hear about the loss of your daughter. I'm glad you have good friends that you can lean on and will take you hiking.

    1. Thank you Linda. It's been a sad time for us but the outpouring from friends such as yourself has really helped. Thanks, once again.