I started climbing almost 16 years ago and have dreamed of climbing The Diamond on Long’s Peak for about that long. Seeing pictures of the high alpine wall has brought these words to mind, “Someday I will good enough to climb that”. It’s strange how your mind makes some things so intimidating, so big but become less so when you commit and confront your resistance and trepidation. Go time happened this past summer. It was Monday afternoon when the call came.
“Do you want to do the Diamond this weekend?” Chris Smith asked.
“Yes.” I responded immediately.
The plan was to hike in the 5 miles to Chasm Lake at the base of the wall, camp for the night, and climb the next day. The crux of the whole climb is the weather. You can start the day with blue skies and no clouds and half way through the second pitch a midsummer snowstorm rolls over the top of the wall putting you in a very serious situation. We checked the weather, packed our bags, and were on our way by 1pm Saturday afternoon.
Evergreen forests gave way to alpine meadows which gave way to a granite wonderland, a climber’s playground. We made our way around Chasm Lake and were surprised at how few climbers we saw given how good the weather was. Searching the rocks for a bivy site we came across the best spot in the park. A house size boulder with a natural undercut alcove providing shelter from the elements. All this and a stream nearby for water!!! Dinner was consumed and we turned in at 9:30pm, anxious for the next day.
2am. Even though the alarm was letting us know it was time to start the day, I already knew. I had been awake in one form or another since I laid down, skipping back and forth between reality and the dream realm. Our bags were already packed so breakfast was the only thing remaining before we started hiking. Oatmeal and fruit did the trick and we set out in the dark towards the wall. The scree underfoot illuminated by our 10 foot orb of light and the faint outline of The Diamond filled our world. All in between, blackness. We both had a general idea of where to go since we scouted the area the previous evening however the darkness changes things.
Looking over my shoulder while crossing a sketchy snow bank I spot 2 headlamps working their way towards us from across the lake. It was nice to be the first ones. We finally found The North Chimney, a 5.4 approach gulley to The Diamond that has a bad reputation of being filled with choss. Many climbers have been hurt by falling rocks knocked loose by other climbers. By the time we reached the last 50 feet of the gulley, those 2 headlamps had manifested into climbers who were simul climbing past us. As we reached the base of The Casual Route, they were already starting pitch 2. Perfect. A fast party ahead of us and no one behind us; we were free to take our time and enjoy the best alpine climb in the country. The weather could not have been better. We were graced with clear blue skies without a cloud in sight. To our delight the weather held the entire day.
At the belay for the 5th pitch, we caught up to the fast party, whose leader was struggling on the upper crux of the route. As I was searching for a place to build an anchor, I noticed the fast party’s anchor. A single 0.75 cam attached to a belay device in guide mode. The rope was coming from the locking position of the ATC to the belayer who was tied in. “I hope these guys don’t make a mistake and need a rescue”, I thought.
Chris took the lead for the crux pitch, 5.10a, and made it look as easy as walking down the street. I did not make it look so graceful. The chimney 20 feet into the start of the pitch chewed me up and spit me out; three times. The thin hands to hands section at the top of the pitch didn’t treat me much better. Do 2 moves, remove the next piece of gear, do another move, get pumped, hang on the rope, repeat. The hike in the previous day, the early morning, and the altitude finally made my limits clear. I got to the anchor and slumped over breathing hard, desperate for oxygen that wasn’t there. I was supposed to lead the next traverse pitch but opted out. We both got to the rap route and began our descent.
On the third rap down this intimidating wall, I was coming close to the end of the rope and could not find the next rap station. A brief bit of panic set in. What if I can’t find the station? Will we have enough gear to build anchors and get down? We were using thin 8.5mm double ropes to climb the route, which were now being used as our rappel ropes. What if I get so tired I can’t hold the brake ends anymore?! Stay calm. I built an anchor and told Chris to come down and swing far to the right to see if he could find them. As he was coming down he finally did find them, 5 feet above and 20 feet to the right. With a little rope work I finally joined Chris back on route and continued down. The remained rappels went smooth and we finally made it back down to the snow field.
After a half an hour of working our way through the snow and now illuminated scree field, we made it back to camp, took a little rest, packed up, and started off back towards the car. The trail spit us back at our car after 18 hours of movement. As soon as the car was pointed down the road towards Boulder, I was asleep. During the hike out, I had convinced myself that I would never need or want to come back to The Diamond. However the reality of the adventure began to sink in and with each passing day the desire to return to do more routes and repeat The Casual Route in better style grew. Now, 6 months later, I can’t wait until the alpine season returns to become better acquainted with the mountain.