Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Journey Is Over...

Mission accomplished. Quest complete. Diamond tamed.

Nine months ago Mark decided he wanted to climb the Diamond. Today we did. Yeah, baby!

Last November Mark started joining me at the Movement Climbing Gym in Boulder two days per week. He went from hanging on 5.8 to redpointing multiple 5.11 routes. In May we transitioned to outdoor training and climbed a couple of mornings in the week. We did Touch and Go, Bolting for Glory (three times), Blind Faith (three times), Outer Space, Yellow Spur and Green Spur, Grand Giraffe, Ruper, Anthill Direct, Over the Hill, West Buttress of the Bastille, etc. Then we did some alpine climbing. We did the North Chimney to Broadway to preview the approach (and finished with the cool Chasm Cutoff Traverse). We climbed the Petit Grepon, the Penknife, and Sharkstooth in a day. We climbed the Red Wall on Chasm View Wall.

And the weather moved in. Rain and snow shut down the Diamond and then I had to do the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. We kept up our training and when the weather looked perfect today, Mark flew back a day earlier from a family reunion in Utah and, last night, we headed to a friend's cabin four miles from the trailhead.
Microspikes rock!
The alarm went off at 3 a.m. and we didn't move quickly. This almost cost us. I had the breakfast of champions: a Frappuccino and a package of mini-chocolate donuts. We weren't hiking until 3:40 a.m. Another party started at nearly the same time and we hiked a lot with them on the way in. They were two guides (male and female) from Estes Park. They stopped at Chasm Cutoff to eat and we stopped at the privy to...anti-eat, but we ended up in front. We saw one set of headlamps heading around Chasm Lake and since it was a Tuesday, we figured maybe one or two parties might be ahead of us.

What we saw when we arrived at the North Chimney was ghastly. Oh, the humanity! There were eight parties in various stages of climbing the North Chimney. At least three of them were struggling to get up the rock-hard snow to the base of the wall. I'd never seen such a cluster on this wall. Apparently it is just getting more and more popular and everyone was watching the weather just like us. For a brief moment, I thought our day was done, but then I transformed to an earlier, more competitive version of myself, one that embraces a good race to the base of a route.

Mark and I were already, wisely, both wearing our Microspikes. If you don't own a pair of these...what's wrong with you? Seriously. This allowed us to crunch right up to the rock as if there was a staircase cut into the slope. To our right climbers batmanned up a fixed line and flailed on the slick surface. Once on the rock, we quickly transitioned into our harnesses and climbing shoes. We both wore packs and climbed on a doubled 60-meter rope. I took off. Mark said, "You're not on belay," and I responded, "I don't need one." I was planning to pull out a hundred feet of rope quickly and then Mark would need to start climbing anyway.

It seemed that no one knew the right route up the North Chimney and this worked heavily in my favor. One party was too far to the left, most were too far to the right, staying how too long on the snow and then in the chimney. I split these teams, powering up the middle. A couple of parties further up were pitching it out and that was our plan, but conditions changed things. We were glad for our earlier preview and we motored up the 4-pitch North Chimney in one simul-climbed, 30-minute pitch. We passed all eight parties and found ourselves on Broadway with a completely virgin, sun-drenched Diamond above us.
Mark arrives on Broadway at 6:30 a.m.

We re-packed into our haulbag and pulled out our haulline. We got a quick drink. We tied into the ends of the lead rope and I was off, up the initial 5.6 pitch. This didn't take long and I hauled the bag and belayed Mark at the same time using a Wall Hauler and an Petzl auto-blocking belay device. Mark soon arrived at the belay and after a quick re-rack I was off. We have the change-overs dialed.

The next pitch goes up the 5.9 thin crack and then does the 5.7 traverse across the face to the next crack system. This pitch, like pretty much every pitch, is super fun. The traverse is specatular, with so many great holds out there. At the end of the traverse I went up a bit to belay in a cramped alcove on a sloping shelf at the base of the wide slot. There were slings thirty feet lower, but it didn't want to climb down to a belay. This pitch was about 190-feet long.
Mark on the great traverse pitch
Mark arriving at the crack system at the end of the traverse pitch
Each time I'd get to a belay, I'd have my routine and I was very conscious of the time pressure with parties behind us. I also wanted to give Mark as much time to climb so that he would not feel rushed. I was stressed about the hauling on this pitch, though. No other party on the Casual Route was hauling and I didn't want them to later say, "We had to bail because there was this slow party in front of us and they were hauling and everything." Hence, I really didn't want the bag to get stuck. On every other pitch Mark would be able to easily free the bag, if it got stuck, while he climbed the pitch. He did this on the first pitch. But on this long traverse pitch that would not be the case. Since the pitch was so long, we didn't even bother lowering it out. I didn't really prep Mark on that procedure and it wouldn't have bought us much here since there was hardly any extra rope. When Mark let the bag go, it careened across the face and came to a stop below me. I started hauling and for awhile it went smoothly and then it got stuck. I had to release the Wall Hauler and give myself some slack on the haul line. Then I repeatedly yanked up the bag into the obstruction until it bounced over whatever was in the way. This worked and it was with great relief that I was able to haul the bag all the way to the belay. I even called out to Mark, "The bag's up!"

All the while I was belaying Mark, of course. With the bag up, my work wasn't done. I had to get the bag secured and the Wall-Hauler back onto the other end of the haul line and clipped to my harness. Unlike on the Red Wall, this time I never left the belay without the haul line.

Mark loved this pitch and even called out halfway across the traverse, "This is aswesome! And a lot easier than it looked from the last belay." Mark was relaxed and seemingly well within his physical and mental comfort range. Our preparation for this route had been extensive and it was paying off. 

As soon as Mark was at the belay, I had him clove-hitched into the belay. He immediately sank onto the anchor and went to work re-racking. He'd rack onto the sling on his side and pass me gear for the other side. I took him off belay and he put me on belay. In just a couple of minutes I was setting off up the next pitch, which I didn't think would be very long, but instead ending up being at least 150 feet. All the pitches we did seemed to be quite long.
Mark cruxing on a difficult section at the end of the third pitch
This third pitch started with a wide slot. I know this sometimes gives climbers a tough time, but we had prepared for wide climbing and this slot was short and easy, involving just a couple of secure squeeze/offwidth moves and then I was able to reach some jugs. This wide section is absolutely nothing compared to the squeeze on the crux pitch. Moderate, fun climbing led up to a ramp with some fixed belay anchors, but I continued above it, knowing that if I went high on this pitch, I'd be able to do the long dihedral above as one pitch. The climbing off the ramp to the ledges where I belayed was cruxy. I think it involved some 5.9 moves and Mark concurred when he passed this section. In fact, when he got to the belay, he said, "That was close. I was on the very edge." Yet, he was controlled and focused.

The fourth pitch is the massive dihedral pitch, which took 190 feet of rope to reach the Yellow Wall Bivy Ledge. Many people call this their favorite pitch or the greatest 5.8 pitch they've ever done. I can't argue much with that. It is a spectacular pitch that is really fun to climb, but I like every pitch on the Casual Route. Every pitch is solid. Every pitch protects well. Every pitch is fun and exposed. This dihedral can feel hard if you try to climb it too fast, as the climbing is burly, steep, and, as I said, very long. There are frequent good resting spots, though, and these provide low stress locations to place protection. I was trying to move fast, though, and I tried to move fairly continuously. Hence, I was quite out of breath when I arrived on the big ledge. My fingers were also quite cold. This dihedral is perpetually in the shade, no matter what time of day you climb it. No matter what month of the year.

I was thankful for the big ledge was it was easy to just pile up the rope on the ledge, instead of having to coil it across my belay tie-in, like at every other belay. Once again, I hauled and belayed. Mark had to free the bag for me about halfway up the pitch, but it was right on his way. I had brought along two pairs of Hand Jammies - crack climbing mitts - but neither of us got them out of the bag. And we didn't have any issues with scarring up our hands. I'd say it was due to our great technique, but it was much more due to the friendly jamming on the this route and the multiple opportunities to use face holds. If we were on Pervertical Sanctuary instead, I would have availed myself of these aids.

I had been trying to take some sips from the Camelback hose we had snaking out of the top of the haul bag, but I probably drank less than 20 ounces on the entire climb. I also didn't eat anything at all from the base of the North Chimney until we got to Kiener's Route. That's about 1500 feet of technical climbing and ten pitches. I wasn't bonking and just constantly felt the pressure to keep moving.

Starting up the awesome, super long, dihedral pitch
We were now at the start of the crux pitch. This is the money pitch. It is the hardest pitch, true, but it also the best pitch. It is so beautifully varied, long, really airy, and challenging. A pair of climbers from Telluride had been following us up the route and the woman of the team arrived at our ledge just before I took off. I knew climbing this pitch from this ledge would make for a long pitch, but I knew the rope would reach.

I climbed up easy ground and then surmounted a huge flake. Above the flake the "box" section started. This is a tiny, two-and-a-half-foot-wide inset on the face. It is only inset by about six inches, but it is enough to use some chimney technique as you negotiate the shallow, thin, intermittent finger crack that forms in both corners of the box. The hardest parts are when the crack pinches to nothing and  you are dependent on your feet. The rock here is bulletproof, like pretty much everywhere, but it seems particularly polished and slippery here, when you need your feet the most.

I inched up, placing a stopper and a couple of small cams, concentrating and working hard. I was relieved to grab the big holds at the top of this section. A few easy moves led me to the squeeze chimney. This chimney is big enough to get inside, but not a lot bigger. In order to turn my head from looking at the back of the chimney to looking outside of it, I had to pivot my head straight up and over, as my helmet did not allow me to turn my head normally. This was a bit annoying, as I'd looked into the back of the chimney to assess protection possibilities and then pivot my head up and over to select the proper piece from my rack.

Mark at the crux of the route

This section is quite tricky if you aren't experienced at squeeze chimneys and even if you are, this is pretty strenuous. It isn't very runout, but you do get a ways above gear. There is a hidden crack on the left face that accepts a small cam and, at the top, you can place a bomber #2 Camalot. I carried a #3 and a #3.5 Camalot up this route and never needed either. The wide sections are way too wide for these cams, as they are chimneys and the hand crack sections have many possibilities for smaller gear.

Arriving at the top of the crux pitch

I inched slowly up the chimney, climbing it right-side in and using a combination of feet-knee technique and chicken wings to move up. At the top I exited to the left and some steep climbing brought me up to the crux move. There were a couple of fixed stoppers here and I clipped them both. I got myself in a slightly awkward position here and burned a lot of effort trying to hang onto the marginal fingerlocks. I thought I might have to grab some gear for a moment, but then figured out the balance and got my feet right. Relaxed, I was able to decipher the crux, which, for me, involved reaching up high and getting a pretty solid, though thin, hand jam with my right hand and then matching my left hand into a jam directly above it. With both hands set, I was able to pull up and get my feet over the bulge and onto some nubbins. That was enough for me to let go with one hand and reach higher for better jams and eventually big holds, where I placed one more piece before reaching the horizontal crack known as Table Ledge. A hundred feet to my left, this crack was indeed a nice, two-foot wide ledge. Getting there was the final 5.8 pitch.

I set up a belay via a couple of fixed pieces and a couple of my own. I was pleased to find a small stance here, as I had remembered it as a pure hanging belay. In fact, all the belays on the route were better than I remembered them. Only the one atop the second pitch was a bit awkward and mostly a hanging belay. All the others provided at least a good stance.

The pitch had been about 170 feet long, but it is so steep that the bag came up easily and quickly. Mark had a bit more trouble, but I was impressed when he onsighted the tricky 5.9+ inset climbing. Some people view this as the crux section. I yelled down "Right side in!" when he got to the chimney and assumed he heard and heeded my advice, but I couldn't see him as he squeezed into the slot. It turns out that he went left side in. That proved to be an issue. Mark thrashed and thrashed and got about halfway up before realizing his mistake. Turning around to face the other way proved to be a challenge and he was now anaerobic. He briefly weighted the rope making this maneuver and the finished off the chimney.

As Mark faced the crux jamming moves, he was only twenty feet below me and I gave him the beta that I used. He was pumped and having trouble getting correctly established, just like I did, but he reached high and got the jams with both hands. At that point he completely pumped out and slumped onto the rope. These jams are a bit technical and by the time you get them most climbers have been worked over a bit by the lower 150 feet of climbing. After a brief rest, Mark was able to get the jams to stick and he pulled the moves, arriving at the belay shortly afterwards.

Our Telluride party, the guy this time, was hot on Mark's heels, so we didn't waste any time with the change-over and soon I was hand traversing left. The crux moves of this traverse at right at the very start, so the leader is exceptionally well protected. I tried to put in gear immediately afterwards so that Mark would be taken care of as well. The rest of the pitch continues hard left with a combination of downclimbing, upclimbing, and traversing. This combination makes the pitch as exciting to follow as to lead.

Right after I got to Table Ledge I found two fat, shiny bolts connected with a shiny chain anchor. It was first bolts I had seen on the route. I belayed here so that we'd be able to lower out the haul bag and Mark managed tying the back in short and lowering it out expertly. In no time I had the bag at the ledge with me. Mark followed nicely with some direction from me: "When in doubt, climb down." And then he was at the ledge. We'd done it! We'd climbed the Diamond. 

We were both elated, but wanted to keep going a bit further to get to Kiener's Route and the unroping spot. The climbing to get there was easy, 4th class or 5.1 or 5.2, but the exposure was nearly two thousand feet and we decided to say roped. I pulled Mark's pack out of the haulbag and put it my back. While I scampered left to Kiener's, Mark put the straps back on the haulbag, so that he could wear it as a pack. I put in one solid piece for a belay and Mark soon joined me. We sat down to take a well deserved break. We changed shoes, ate, drank, and packed up most of our gear. It was just 12:20 p.m. I think this was my second fastest time climbing the Diamond - the one faster ascent was with Stefan when we did the Longs Peak Triathlon.

The final 5.8 traverse pitch
The party that we had partially hiked-in with topped out at nearly the same time. They had come up Pervertical Sanctuary. Another party that did the Yellow Wall topped out as I was belaying Mark up the crux. They rapped the face to climb another route (!), but the PV team continued to the summit with us. The PV climbers were both climbing guides, so we topped the face at the same time as a couple of very experienced teams. 
This is me climbing the 5.9 inset on the crux pitch. Photo taken by Eric Fowles from Chasm View
The climbing had gone nearly perfectly. Mark did quite onsight the Diamond, but nor did I on my first trip up it. Nor the second or the third. I didn't completely free the Diamond until I did the Yellow Wall with Mark Hudon. I've since freed the Casual Route three of the five times I've climbed it. I haven't completely freed Pervertical Sanctuary (11a) despite two ascents. Nor have I freed D7 (11c/d) despite two ascents as well, but both were planned to be aid ascents, including one in winter with Phil Gruber. I felt great and the climbing felt really solid, safe for the those moments before I got situated at the crux. The keys to this ascent were our great preparation and waiting for the ideal weather day, no matter when that came. If you climb the Diamond in ideal weather, when it is dry, it is a great experience. Climbing it in less than ideal weather...not so much.
Climbing the last steep part of Kiener's Route
We were both dragging up Kiener's to the summit and quite happy to stop going uphill. We hit the summit at 1 p.m. We ate and drank some more on the summit, before descending via the North Face. After a couple of rappels down there, we finally stripped off our harnesses and put the ropes away for good. The hike out would take another two hours, but we arrived back at the trailhead at 4:10 p.m., making for a 12.5-hour roundtrip. That'll do.

On the summit of Longs Peak


Anton said...

This is awesome! Congratulations, guys! I need to get my act together and follow suit in the next year…


Charlie said...

Nice photos and write-up! Love that super long dihedral pitch. Congrats.

Bill Briggs said...

Nothing like having a winter dream, planning and training passionately as a team, and then pulling it off! What a gorgeous Diamond day you got. Goo job to both of you. You'll remember it forever.


Chris Weidner said...

Great work! Thanks for sharing such a cool journey with all of us.

Mark Oveson said...

Thanks all for the kinds words. This was a lifetime achievement for me, and I couldn't be happier. Charlie, a couple from Telluride that we climbed right in front of knew you and Max. Their names were Julie and Dave. Do you know how to get in touch with them? We have some photos that I'd like to send them.