Saturday, September 4

The big D

The Diamond. Cool enough to have a Mountain Profile in Alpinist and the most badass big wall that I can see from many of my bike rides. Marni and I scoped it out from Chasm View last year when we climbed the north face of Long's Peak and it looked big bad and intimidating. And you know what? It still is big bad and intimidating, though also now infinitely cooler and I can't wait to go back.

Aaron and I had wanted to climb the Casual Route on the Diamond all summer. We did a couple grade III walls and the harder but shorter Good Evans on the Black Wall of Mt.Evans. We felt like we were ready, the weather was improving after the monsoon cycle and all signs pointed to go. But by this point it was late August and JJ's arrival was getting close. Marni and I waited until a doctor's appointment to make the final call. It was nerve wracking but we didn't *think* JJ was going to come on that Friday so Aaron and I packed two small daypacks with as light of gear as we dared to take and left my house at midnight for the Long's Peak trailhead. We figured that busting the route out in a day was the best plan. The night before I talked to Stefan and he agreed to be on standby should Marni go into labor. He would run up to Chasm View and yell across to us so that we could hopefully rap and make it back to town in time.

We left the trailhead at 1:50am, the first group on the register heading to the Diamond, but no guarantee we were really first since many parties bivy at the base, on Broadway or at Chasm View. On the hike up another party caught us and briefly passed us having started just behind. One of them knew my name from Mountain Project and they seemed friendly enough. We caught them again at the Chasm cutoff and we all left the last privy site together. Aaron and I quickly pulled ahead until contouring around the lake where we all ended up helping each other find the best path in the dark. From there Aaron and I powered ahead and found the base of the North Chimney, pairs of headlamps stretching back far below us from other groups. It took us exactly 3 hours to get there despite a couple short stops. The only problem was that it was now still almost an hour until the sun came up and we weren't 100% sure we were in the right spot. However since we were first to the base it would work to our advantage all day long.

While we gave the sun a bit of time to rise we donned our puffy coats and geared up. By the time the next party's headlamps made their way to the North Chimney we were ready to rock. Luckily that party was headed for D7 and they had climbed the Diamond before. We followed them up to Broadway in 3 rough pitches with some simul-ing. We could have easily simuled the whole thing if they hadn't been in front of us but it was best to give them space in the loose areas. I barely kept one giant rock from plummeting downwards after hardly touching it. One party headed for the Casual passed us soloing up the chimney but they had done it before and we assumed they'd move quickly and know the way.
Before long we were standing in the sun on Broadway at the base of the Casual Route, roped up, ready to go and just waiting for the experienced party's second to make it to the belay. I had led the North Chimney and blasted up the easy first pitch of the Casual, trying not to waste any time, running it out between pieces and generally ignoring the fact that we were launching head first up the biggest rock climb of my life. When I got to the end of the first pitch the party ahead of us still had both climbers there so I set up an alternate belay wherever I could find below them. It wasn't my favorite belay ever but I had a good stance and the climbing was easy and I knew Aaron would blaze up it.
And blaze he did. He arrived in no time and we swapped the rest of the gear. Neither of us are sling wearers but we've been practicing belay transitions all year. With the exception of a snafu on the lower part of the Culp-Bossier we've been making good time climbing all our routes lately. He led off on the 5.9 finger crack and right into the 5.7 traverse. I laughed when I watched him wave the rope at me near the end of the traverse, a mandatory big runout section that I was going to have to deal with too. Luckily I trust that he knows my climbing and if he ran it out there then I knew that I could to. He stopped when he ran into the prior party again and started to belay me across.
I cruised the finger crack which Aaron and I both felt soft for 5.9. We sort of hoped that trend continued on the later pitches. I even bootied a nice nut with no problem at all. I fired into the traverse and made it across with only minor hesitations.
The exposure was already really cool and while the wall is probably the steepest we've done yet, it's not 100% vertical so all the climbing felt nice and controlled with minimal ticking of the pump clock, at least so far.
The great thing about the Diamond is that other than the traverses, all the climbing follows major crack systems. This means generally good jams (secure) and awesome protection. We swapped the rack again and I led off into the first of the 5.8 pitches. The climbing went great except for the short squeeze section. While I was secure deep in the chimney, progress was difficult wearing the pack and it was a good fight to mantel out of the slot onto a small ledge to rest. I must have stopped there to breathe for a good couple minutes and I knew we faced another offwidth section above us. Thank goodness for my offwidth training this year. I finished the pitch to an obvious sloping ledge and the next corner loomed above me. I brought Aaron up and realized that I lost my hydration tube nozzle during the fight with the chimney. Luckily, haha, I was almost out of water already so it didn't much matter.
We were making good time but the sun leaves the Diamond early in the morning and now that we were in a large right facing corner it was as good as gone to us anyway. From here on out the belay jackets would make occasional appearances. We decided to split the next 200 foot pitch in half to give Aaron a rest before the crux pitch. We figured he would be a stronger and faster leader on the crux and in return I tried to lead more pitches overall. He climbed solidly to the ~100 foot mark and went off belay. I followed cleanly on the steep corner. Several times I thought about hanging on the rope but I always fought onward to a good natural rest stance.
I got to his belay and slowly grabbed the gear. Starting to get tired I offered my lead to Aaron but knowing he had the crux pitch shortly I sacked up and led off to finish the 5.8 corner. The climbing was utterly fantastic and I tried to place good gear as I got tired working hard at nearly 14,000 feet. We brought double cams from BD 0.5 to 2 and that was awesome, always leaving at least singles for any given pitch and nuts placed really well too.

Soon I popped onto a little ledge, made a powerful move onto another one and one last step brought me to the Yellow Wall Bivy ledge. I laughed. This dirt and grass ledge is all of eighteen inches wide though long enough for two climbers to sleep lengthwise. It's home to a solidish flake and one less solid looking bolt. I'm not sure how sleeping there would really feel. Regardless I put Aaron on belay and brought him up while inspecting the crux pitch above.

We swapped the rack again, ate and drank a bit and Aaron got psyched up for the battle ahead. My stomach had been bothering me all day and I still wasn't able to eat much but I drank a bit more and I was happy enough. I put Aaron on belay and he fired off. The thin crack went quickly enough and he was soon in the infamous squeeze. He left his pack clipped to a slung chockstone and battled his way up and out of the chimney. It was tiring work and he made it to the top of the pitch with a couple short hangs.

Now it was my turn to follow and figure out how to get the packs up. This is the only thing I would change next time. Climbing the crux pitch pulling one pack and pushing another up the chimney was not that fun. It would have been easier to bust out the tag line and haul for one short pitch. The thin crack was good climbing but definitely more difficult than the earlier 5.9 section. Lots of hip and shoulder scumming helped keep me in balance. I got to the squeeze and relaxed a bit, feeling more at home despite having to deal with the packs. Exiting the squeeze I got one of the packs stuck and finally gave up and hung to fix it. I pulled out the bulge and took another short hang at the crux before pulling the moves cleanly with a little beta from Aaron. Hanging on the rope on this pitch was the only points of aid I'd use all day and something I'm looking forward to cleaning up next time. Thanks to the splitter weather all day, we didn't have to hurry a bit and one last traverse would lead us to easy ground.
The last belay location wasn't very comfortable (but bomber gear) so once Aaron grabbed my pack off the sling at my feet, I took some gear and headed right into the exit traverse. The people who rap the route definitely have an advantage here as there is much less climbing to get down to the rap anchors as opposed to our intended destination of the summit.
The traverse, while extremely exposed with 2000 feet of air at your heels, is not that poorly protected. I found gear frequently and played follow the pins to find my way across. The first move is pretty intimidating but a high piece keeps you on top rope and it eases up slightly after that. I did royally screw myself with rope drag for the only time all day here and ended up bring Aaron across at a couple of bolts before finishing leading the exit onto Kiener's route.
On Kiener's I pointed out the way ahead to Aaron and let him start off up mostly 3rd class terrain on the edge of the Diamond while I cleaned up the gear and belay. I told him to stop if he wanted more than a running belay and I followed him up when the rope came tight. I belayed him at one spot before the summit and then scrambled up behind him. We topped out tired and happy around 4pm. Since we had the summit to ourselves we took a couple pictures, ate a little bit and cleaned up the gear. We put on our hiking shoes again and stowed most of the rack. Finally we rousted ourselves off the summit, if only because we still had no cell service and I was eager to check on Marni. A bit tired, I led us the wrong way toward the north face raps and luckily Aaron wondered aloud why we could see Glacier Gorge. Ooops. I righted our path and soon we were scrambling down to the raps. "If it doesn't look like easy 3rd class, it's not right". I found the main cairn quickly and we rapped as far as humanly possible down towards the boulder field. Other than a quick stop at Chasm View to admire the wall we just climbed we headed down to the usual stares of the boulder field campers.
All that remained was the death march. Somewhere in there we found cell service and we knew that Marni was doing okay and the girls were going to a movie. They now knew we were okay and would undoubtedly see the SPOT moving back to the car. Out of water and with my stomach still upset we death marched through Granite Pass, down Jim Grove and out the Longs Peak trail. I thought we might pull off not having to extract our headlamps but we didn't quite make it. Perhaps 40 minutes of slogging in the dark with a couple sit down breaks led us back to the car some 19+ hours after we left. Our first grade IV climb and a successful Diamond day.

Gear notes:
60m 9.2mm Sterling Nano dry rope
6mm Mammut ProCord tag line (for bail rappels, never needed) thanks to Erik
BD C4 0.3 to 3, doubles .5 to 2
BD C3 00 to 2
Assorted nuts large and small
~12 trad draws/slings
Only daypacks each, tag line in my pack and lead rope on my back. Rack in Aaron's pack. Personal tech/rescue gear, food, water, rain jacket and light belay parka in each pack. I climbed in lightweight long underwear with softshell pants (Pati Trav) and jacket (Pati Ascen).

EDIT: I forgot to include this link. Fabulous picture of the Diamond and parties on many routes. The Casual is easy to pick out of you can find the major features (first broken pillar and long right facing corner). There are at least 2 parties on it in the photo. Click here.

1 comment:

Derrick said...

That is an awesome account of your climb! I was absorbed the whole time while reading it. Makes me want to start climbing again this winter!