Friday, August 21, 2015

The Diamond with Anton

Like Mark Oveson last year, Anton Krupicka had a burning desire to climb the Diamond and once again I was their primary partner. I very much enjoy being in the position to mentor someone else and followed the same Eldo training program with Anton as I did with Mark. We started with some moderate routes like the Bulge, Wind Ridge, Calypso, and Reggae. Then we added some tougher routes like the Green Spur, the Yellow Spur, and T1.9. Then we did some link-ups and some simul-climbing before working on some 5.10’s. Because the Casual Route has a squeeze chimney, I like to climb Grand Giraffe beforehand. Grand Giraffe is much tougher than the squeeze on the Casual Route. Because the Casual Route has lots of hand cracks, I like to climb Blind Faith beforehand. Blind Faith is much tougher than the Casual Route.

With Mark we also did some great alpine training routes including the Petit Grepon, North Chimney to the Chasm Wall Traverse, and the Red Wall. This year, with Anton, we didn’t bother with the additional alpine training and instead made plans for the next good weather day. Of course as soon as we did this then the weather turned against us. We ended up putting it off from Monday to Friday and met in north Boulder at 2:30 a.m.
Where's Anton?
If you are going to climb the Casual Route on a day with a good weather report and you don’t want to be behind many parties, you need to go very early. While it is generally a good idea to get up and off this wall early in the day, this has nothing to do with the speed that your team can climb the Diamond. This has to do with how many other teams will be ahead of you, how slow they go, and the difficulty in passing another party. The real solution to this problem, the only one, really, is to “harden the F up” and climb another route on the Diamond. That’s a fairly tall order though, as the Casual Route is rated 10a and the next easiest route, Pervertical Sanctuary is 11a. The Casual Route is really quite amazing. The Diamond, when viewed from pretty much any vantage point, but especially so from Chasm Lake, is very intimidating. It’s amazing that a free route at the relatively moderate grade of 10a exists on that wall, but it does and it attracts lots of aspirants. That coupled with a reasonable climbing season that is only two months long and with many of those days either too cold, too windy, or too stormy, the good weather days are a race. A race that isn’t necessarily won by the fastest but by the earliest. While some, like myself, prefer to sleep in my bed and get up at 2 a.m. many others bivy at the base of the wall and some, including a party on the day of our ascent, sleep on Broadway - four pitches up the east face via the North Chimney.

Simul-climbing up the North Chimney
In the parking lot, we met our first Diamond climber -- a guy who was headed toward D7. This route is mostly not too hard, but the crux is 5.11d. More importantly, they would not be a rival for us, though we didn’t want to be behind them on the North Chimney approach either. We were hiking by 3:30 a.m. and within twenty minutes we hiked by Mike Schlauch and his partner. They were headed for the Diamond as well, but he didn’t say what route. 

We got to the base of the North Chimney in just under two hours, my fastest approach ever. There was a good reason for this: Anton. He’s a professional trail runner / mountain adventurer. The key word there is “professional.” His level of strength and speed is a step above even my fittest, toughest other partners. The obvious, vast disparity in our fitness levels had us splitting the loads accordingly. Anton carried the rope and rack and I carried…I think a water bottle. And maybe a jacket. I still got dropped once we hit the talus around Chasm Lake and Anton kept the same pace as he did on a smooth trail. 
Anton completing the traverse on the second pitch
The small snowfield leading to the North Chimney was rock hard and we donned our Kahtoola Microspikes for less than two minutes, yet they were crucial minutes and kept us safe. No one else was in the chimney, but we knew there was a party above us, as we had seen their headlamps on our approach. We doubled our single lead rope and I led upwards. When I drew the rope tight, Anton started climbing. We simul-climbed the North Chimney as one pitch and arrived on Broadway at 6:20 a.m. Here we found Andy and Andrew. They were waiting on the team above, Mark and Abbie. Mark was already leading the second pitch and yet the Andys were both still on Broadway. Hmmm… I asked them if they had climbed the Diamond before. Nope. Did they anticipate any trouble with it? Nope. Cool. 

And then we sat on Broadway for an hour. Andrew led up the first pitch, found Abbie still at the first belay and then just sat there for fifteen minutes waiting for her to clear the belay instead of just setting up a belay below her. Andy would repeat this behavior on the next pitch. It was maddening. But Andy and Andrew were super nice, cool guys and so were Mark and Abbie. All four were very competent climbers, but no one likes just sitting there and not moving, least of all me. 
Belaying at the start of the long corner pitch
When Andy followed the first pitch I was right behind him and set up a belay below them. Andy just had to grab the gear and go, right? Anton was probably most of the way up the first pitch before he took off. When Anton arrived we waited another 45 minutes for Andrew to leave the belay. I told Andy about an alternate belay in the slot above where Mark and Abbie belayed, but he apparently was not comfortable setting up his own belay and needed to have at least some gear there. Both climbers would use the fixed gear and add their own, which is very reasonable, but they’d take ten minutes to set up a belay. I set up a belay in under a minute. Admittedly, I’m pretty quick at this. 

Andy and Andrew were climbing with two 70-meter, 10mm ropes. The leader was just dragging the second rope. They did this because they weren’t sure if they’d rappel the Diamond or go down the North Face. When Andy led off on the second pitch, he forgot to trail the second rope. Andrew had to coil it and put it on his back. This took awhile and when he tied it on, the top coil, which should be high on his upper back, was below his butt. When I saw that, I knew he should pass.

I followed Andrew up the second pitch. Thirty or forty feet above the belay he had to clip into a piece and re-do the rope on his back. Duh. I did the traverse a bit higher than normal to keep clear of Andrew and this way it is considerably runout, but not any harder. I set up my cramped belay in the slot below the wide section and called down “on belay” to Anton. I silently willed Anton to climb fast enough to get to the belay before Andrew, thirty feet below me at the fixed belay, would start leading, as I jammed the slot completely. Unfortunately, Anton had a long way to go and wasn’t even to the traverse by the time Andrew started to lead up towards me. We got “up close and personal” as he climbed over me and up the third pitch. To his credit he was nonplussed and very solid. He did a great job climbing this awkward slot on the outside edge.

When Anton got to the belay, which is a hanging belay, we were on the verge of a full-on cluster. Anton was a bit put off by the position and full-on hanging belay. I could tell he was a bit nervous when he asked, “You’ve got two bomber pieces for an anchor, right, Bill?” Thankfully everyone involved was calm, solid, safe, and did their jobs efficiently. As Anton and I re-racked, the lead rope kept snaking up through us as Andrew finished off the pitch. I soon started up the same pitch, taking great care to keep all my gear out to the right of Andrew’s gear. Climbing this pitch with the extra rope in my way made this a bit more delicate, but I climbed fast, as I wanted to complete this pass by the end of this next pitch. 
Anton at the top of the corner pitch
We never explicitly discussed passing. I just climbed up behind them and then above them and set up a belay. This is the way passing should be done in such situations, I think. Ideally, you don’t want either party to stop climbing. No one likes to sit and waste time and good weather not moving. If both parties are competent and the climbing reasonable, there is no reason why both parties can’t climb the same pitch, at the same time. This is not widely done, but on the most crowded routes, I think it should be accepted. The key is that both parties must be very solid and very experienced to avoid a giant cluster.

Andrew, once again, had set up his belay at the fixed gear on the ramp below the long dihedral. They had discussed going to the upper belay so I was surprised by this, but then realized that the upper ledge that I use, in the dihedral itself, doesn’t have any fixed gear and the Andys don’t do belays like that. At least, apparently, if they can avoid it. From their ramp belay I don’t think a 60-meter rope will reach the next belay ledge. But, as stated, they had 70-meter ropes.

Andy had to climb over Anton at the slot belay and in doing so a burrito that had just been in a back pocket on his pack, fell out and onto Anton, who caught it. After taking a few bites, Anton put the burrito in his pocket and gave it back to them at the third belay, thereby earning us some karma points. Anton arrived at my belay only a couple minutes after Andy arrived at the belay below and I was geared and ready to climb well before them. Andrew, clearly conceding the pass now, looks up at me and says, “Okay, Bill, I want to hear ‘off belay’ in two minutes.” I told him I’d do my best.

I fired up the 190-foot 5.8 corner at all possible speed. We were in the shade now and the crack was quite cold. My hands went nearly numb and I was worried I’d slip off and take a huge fall. I slowed a bit and made sure I wasn’t taking any chances. It probably took me ten or fifteen minutes to lead the pitch. At the top I found Abbie. She was belaying her husband Mark who was maybe halfway up the crux pitch. Abbie was super nice, as was Mark, and she was three months pregnant and feeling it. She had a heck of a time with the dihedral below and she wanted us to pass her before she did the crux pitch. That was a nice gesture, but it was silly, since Mark would be done with his lead long before Anton arrived at the ledge. 

When Anton arrived at the ledge he said he felt like he was warming up the entire climb. He never fully got into the groove, as he was distracted somewhat by the rushing and the passing and the cluster belays. Finally, now on the crux pitch, he’d be able to relax and take his time.

I geared and started up the crux pitch after Abbie. I caught her in no time and offered her encouragement as she struggled up the pitch. In the 5.9 fingercrack/stem section she fought long and hard to remove a small cam and couldn’t do it. I said I’d take a look. Mark called down to just leave it. She moved on. I got it out in less than three seconds. I think she was crux-ing a bit. 

When she removed her pack (she was carrying the exact same Patagonia pack that Anton was carrying), she dumped her chalk bag on me. I thought it was more of the ice that had been regularly dropping from high on the face. In the chimney, I pushed up her pack as she climbed. I told her to relax and rest between struggles to move upwards. At the crux hand jam near the end of the pitch, she had to hang on the rope a few times, but she made it to the belay. I was right behind her and set up a belay from three cams just below the fixed belay. I had Anton on belay before Abbie was even off belay. I gave them the retrieved cam before Mark took off on lead.
Anton exiting the chimney on the crux pitch
While Anton followed the crux pitch I watched Mark and then Abbie climb the last traverse pitch over to Kiener’s. Mark was going to belay halfway across the traverse, probably because he wasn’t sure how to finish the pitch. I called over directions for him to climb up onto Table Ledge above him. He thanked me and moved on up to finish the pitch.

Anton did great on the crux pitch, though he was moving a bit slower than normal for him. I thought he might come off on the 5.9 section because of this speed, but he was solid the entire way and said he never got pumped. Our training climbs had done their job well. In fact, at one point I think Anton was going to downrate the route, but decided 10a was right. Obviously he’s climbing very strong.

Since I was already hanging below the normal belay, I figured it was easier and quicker for Anton to lead the last pitch. Since it is rated 5.8, I thought Anton would dispatch it easily. But, this pitch is confusing and a bit devious until you have it wired. It goes down and up and the finish isn’t obvious and a bit intimidating as it looks unprotectable. Anton, in fact, did a solid, safe job leading this pitch. He also balked about going up to Table Ledge and I had to urge him a couple of times to go up. 

While Anton was leading, Andrew climbed up to just below me. I was going to try and hold the pack and the loops of rope out of his way, but it was going to be tough to do that and belay Anton at the same time. Andrew decided to just wait, as I was sure Anton would be finished quickly. This didn’t turn out to be the case and, in retrospect, I should have just led this last pitch to get us completely out of the way of our trailing party. We both froze a bit waiting on Anton, but it was no big deal. I’m sure Anton would climb the pitch twice as fast on his next ascent, now that he knows its secrets.

When Anton put me on belay, I was moving in thirty seconds, just pulling the belay anchor. My hands and feet were wooden, but I knew the moves and dashed across, anxious to reach the sunlight basking Kiener’s route. When I got to Anton, I just kept moving across the ledge and up to Kiener’s proper, where we unroped and stowed all our gear. Fist bumps and high fives were exchanged when Anton joined me. It was 12:30 p.m. We were on top of the Diamond. The weather was still great and I was finally warm. 
Doing the last technical moves onto Table Ledge
The slog to the top of Longs Peak, always tough, seemed especially hard. The last time I was covering this terrain was when Charlie and I did Kiener’s after biking up to the trailhead. I was crawling then, just like I crawled here. The only saving grace was that Anton was behind me! That’s right. I got to the summit before the indomitable Anton Krupicka! Am I going to be joining the international ultra-running circuit? Hardly. I think Anton was already updating Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or all three. At least he was taxed on the summit hike as well.

We topped out just past 1 p.m. and soon Mark and Abbie joined us. They had missed the sneak-around move at the top of Kiener’s and roped up a direct finish. They wanted to follow us down the to the rappels and I said, “That’s cool. We move kind of quick, though. There are cairns and you generally descend straight down for a ways and then cut hard left over to the eye-bolts.” Mark tried to keep up with us for a bit, but Abbie was way behind and he had to stop, but he got down far enough where I could yell up to him when I got to the eye-bolts.

When I did get there I was a bit surprised to see an ice-encrusted Cables pitch, but I was horrified to see Anton downclimbing it! I’d have got the rope out and rapped it except that the rope was descending this pitch in Anton’s backpack. I focused my attention and, sure enough, it was possible to carefully downclimb around all the ice…barely.

Once down to the talus, we could completely relax, except that I had a hard deadline to meet my wife in Lyons by 4:15. This didn’t entail running, thank goodness, as neither of us (that’s right, neither of us) wanted to do that. Not with the loads we had. We stopped at Chasm View to cheer on Stefan and Brady. Stefan was in the midst of onsighting the 12b Hearts and Arrows (put up by Chris Weidner and ?). Brady crushed as well. They were still 300 feet from the top of the Diamond, but just below Table Ledge (which is just a seam where they were on the right side of the wall). Climbing in that section of the wall you’re forced to climb the complete Diamond. I’d only done that once before when Stefan hauled me up D1. I’ve never done the direct finish to the Casual Route (two more pitches up to10c), but I need to man-up and do that one of these days.

We hiked out at a nice pace. Anton let me lead the way and that allowed us to stay together. I was thankful for that. We got back to the car at 3:25, thereby doing the roundtrip in 11h55m. I think that is my fastest Diamond time. At least my fastest unsupported time. I’m sure Stefan and I were a lot faster when we did the Longs Peak Triathlon but I had so much help from Homie and Mark Oveson that I’m not sure they didn’t carry me up the Diamond.

It was a super fun day, despite the crowding. Andy, Andrew, Mark, and Abbie were all very solid climbers and super nice people. Meeting them more than made up for the frustration of waiting. I got to Lyons just five minutes before my wife arrived to pick me up and drive us to Grand Lake for a nice weekend.

So, I’ve now climbed Longs Peak via eight different routes in each of the eight months of this year. My Longs Peak Project partner, Charlie Nuttelman, has done Longs nine times, by eight different routes, but not yet in August. We are committed to doing a unique ascent each month as a team. Hence, I’m going back to the Diamond later this month with him. I hope we have as nice conditions and meet people as nice, but it would be okay to be the first party on the wall…

1 comment:

dhgold said...

Having climbed both multiple times, I don't agree that Casual Route is easier than Blind Faith. BITD I comfortably soloed the former without rehearsal but a solo of CR never seemed remotely in my comfort zone.