|Derek traversing the last pitch of the Casual Route|
I tried a new strategy in climbing the Diamond today: start late! Why do that? You run the risk of being behind a lot of parties and getting caught by afternoon weather. Yes, but you get to climb the North Chimney without a bunch of, possibly inexperienced, possibly careless climbers bombing potentially lethal rocks down on you. Avoiding this risk was the motivation in starting late and whether that would reduce the overall chances of success I wasn't sure. Derek deferred to me, but was very skeptical of this approach. He wanted to get the Diamond no matter what and would start as early as necessary. It turned out luck was on our side.
We left the house at 4:35 a.m. with Sheri. Already it didn't feel like a Diamond day. Sheri would hike into Chasm Lake with us and distribute her father's ashes, who died earlier this year. Derek and I carried some of his ashes to distribute atop the Diamond and on the summit of Longs Peak. Sheri's father, Stewart, was a wrangler in RMNP in his youth and he climbed Longs Peak and cherished that memory.
After parking nearly a half mile down the road from the trailhead, we started hiking around 6 a.m. In the light! It felt so strange. But so nice not to be getting up in the middle of the night and not to be hiking via headlamps. We carried a rack entirely of cams and 12 slings. We carried one 60-meter rope. I threw in a few stoppers in the pack, for anchors, in case we had to bail.
We bid goodbye to Sheri at the lake and continued up to the snow below the North Chimney. We met a solo climber there, Nick. He was planning to just check out the North Chimney and then rap down. He started up slightly in front of us. As planned, no one was in the chimney (besides Nick now). The weather was perfect. All the way up from the lake we saw only one party on the Casual Route (starting the third pitch) and one party on Pervertical. Amazingly, we'd eventually catch the party on the Casual.
|Derek on the first pitch of the Casual Route on the Diamond|
When I got to the base of D1, things changed, badly. A party was just starting up the Casual Route and either a party of three or more or two parties were climbing something off to the left. They were trying to climb the Casual Route and started up the wrong route. Nick directed the other party onto the correct start for the Casual. Dammit, Nick! I was supposed to direct them there AFTER passing them.
I was afraid that if we got behind this party (Max and ?), that we'd then get behind the other party or two after they corrected. I needn't have worried as the other party couldn't have traversed to the Casual and continuing straight up to join the Casual was, apparently, not doable either. These guys eventually bailed. But in the heat of the moment, I didn't know this. Pretty much out of gear, but desperate to not get clogged up after assuming we had the route open, I continued straight up the first pitch of the Diamond, with Derek still simul-climbing down in the Chimney. The party I was climbing through said "Apparently there is a big traffic jam above, too." This made me flashback to the horrible experience Derek and I had passing four incredibly rude, amazingly slow, and astonishingly clueless climbs on the Grand Teton when they said the same thing with no climbers in sight. I pointed up at the route and said, "Just look up. There are zero climbers on the first three pitches of the Casual Route." The guy responded with something like, "Aw man, those guys steered us wrong." "Those guys" were the party that wasn't even on the route. This made me think the party I was trying to pass was going to be like those Teton climbers and I went into a slightly aggressive climbing mode. I wouldn't be a dick, but I would try my best to get by.
I could only make it halfway up the pitch, but hopefully made my intentions clear to the other party. Derek joined and we quickly re-racked and I was off leading again before their second started climbing. I just told Derek that I was going up there and would hopefully negotiate a pass.
I climbed quickly up to Max and introduced myself and said, "Hey, we're simul-climbing (we weren't at the time) and I was hoping to maybe climbing through. How do you feel about that?" He responded, very cheerily, "No problem, just keep going. I made a mistake at the start in my excitement and went the wrong way." I thanked Max profusely, offering to buy him a beer, but knowing I'd never see him again.
I moved up the next, very steep pitch, still wearing my pack. Our original plan was to combine our packs into one that Derek would carry, as the second. I climbed up to the start of the traverse and moved left. I thought I'd belay in my normal location, in the slot, thinking we were by those guys and I didn't really need to perpetual the thought of simul-climbing. Heck, Derek would be onsighting this route and to add the pressure of simul-climbing was too much.
But when I got to the slot, I kept going. I had promised those guys we were simul-climbing and if I could combine the first three pitches we'd be free of them for the rest of the climb and no one would be held up. Could Derek handle the stress? I thought so. I hoped so. Before moving on, I yelled down to check on Derek. "How's it going, Derek" He immediately responded, "Great." So I moved on. Later I would hear from Derek that at the time he was just at the top of the first pitch, just passing the other two climbers. What else could he say at that point? "I'm not comfortable with this and i want you to belay me?" Sure, he could have, but knew that would make this guys happy. He continued up a bit too quickly and had a loop of extra rope to add to his stress on the steep ground.
I climbed through the awkward slot and just above it I placed a bomber piece and my second Micro-Traxion. I called down to Derek with that information to ease his stress and continued up to the top of the third pitch. I put Derek on belay and 200 feet later he joined me. I was super impressed with what he had just pulled off - simul-climbing the first three pitches, on the Diamond, on sight, wearing a pack, and being the stressful bottom climber. It set us up for a great chance at the Diamond, but I knew I had asked a lot of him. He performed amazingly. Getting through the awkward slot below with a pack on is quite difficult.
We re-racked and soon I was off up the massively long fourth pitch. This pitch climbs a very steep, sustained dihedral that is perpetual in the shade. 24-7-365. This corner is the coldest place on the Diamond. It's rated 5.8, but it feels 5.9, especially with numb hands. Both Derek and I would experience cold enough hands to make the climbing feel quite difficult at times.
I got to the ledge above and put Derek on belay. The party below us had also decided to do some simul-climbing, thereby staying way closer to us than expected. I don't know if this added to Derek's pressure or not, but sometimes he had the other leader close behind me.
Derek took awhile on this long pitch and even experienced the screaming barfies when his hands went really numb. My hands didn't get that bad. He took extended rests to try and regain the feeling in his hands. At one point, without the rope moving for awhile I called down cautiously, "How's it going, Derek?" He called back, "I'm struggling."
|Derek at the top of the crux pitch|
Derek made the ledge, though, and soon his hands started to regain normal feeling. We'd now caught the party above us, so there was no real pressure on us. Here I left my pack behind, because of the squeeze chimney in the crux pitch above. Derek would have to combine the two packs into one and carry it up the pitch. I told him I'd try and drop a line to haul it, but if I couldn'tpack he'd have to sling it from his harness below him to climb the chimney.
I headed up the crux pitch, behind the second of the team below. The chimney pitch had felt unexpectedly hard because of the cold and I was a bit concerned how I'd do on this crux pitch. But my hands were warm now and it went smoothly. The crux moves at the top felt ridiculously easy. I clipped the fixed nut at the start and didn't feel the need to place another piece until I was just below the belay and waiting for Mike (a guy from Tennessee on his first try at the Diamond) to make some room for me.
I joined Mike and put Derek on belay. He moved laboriously up the lower stretches of the pitch, feeling the steepness and weight of the pack on his back. As soon as I got to the middle mark on the rope, I clipped into a sling, tied into the middle of the rope and anchored that, and then untied from my end of the rope and snaked it down the wall to Derek. The rope piled up in the bottom of the chimney and Derek had to climb the very techy 5.9+ section with the pack.
When Derek could reach the haul end, he took off the pack and attached it to the rope. I hauled it up on one of the Micro-Traxions, which I'm an expert at setting up...NOT! Derek was patient with me and I got it figured out and hauled the pack up to the belay.
Derek styled the squeeze chimney and then cruised the crux section. I gave him some beta so that he wouldn't struggle. When he paused at the hand jam and didn't seem to know what to do next I said, "Anton likes to grab around on the left side of that pillar." Derek did so and cruised the crux up to the belay. He was psyched. I was psyched. The Diamond was in the bag. A late start Diamond! So cool. So lucky.
I led the traverse pitch over to the rappel anchors, which we wouldn't use, and Derek followed, wearing the pack. He led on by and up to the junction with Kiener's Route and our first taste of the sun since the traverse on the second pitch. We rejoiced.
After switching to our running shoes and packing up, we trudged slowly up the steep terrain to the Step Across move. Here we paused to distribute the ashes and saw a few words. Derek videoed it for Sheri. With damp eyes, we continued to the summit, where we put the last pitch of ashes on the summit marker. Wind didn't blow these away so, after taking a photo, Derek crouched low and blew the last bit of Stewart's ashes to the winds of Longs Peak. It was perfect.
We descended the North Face to the rappel. I sent Derek down on a single line so that he could go 200 feet. Phil then caught us and I sent him down on the single line as well. I then did two rappels on the doubled line and joined Derek.
We hiked out just us two. Phil said he'd catch us, but we were moving fast enough, I guess, where he didn't. We got back to trailhead at 5:17 p.m. I had predicted 5 p.m. to Sheri. We topped the Diamond at 2 p.m. The weather was perfect all day long and Derek got his first ascent of the Diamond and his tenth of Longs Peak. I'm still feeling pretty great about how this day worked out.