Text and pictures © 2000-2018 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2018/10/17
"There is no place comparable to the Diamond. It is high, cold, steep, a long way from the parking lot, and most of all, intimidating." — Malcolm Daly.
I knew that Jenny wanted her Diamond, and she'd said so enough times before. Most wives want a diamond, some want it big, but the one she wanted is 600 meters tall... Diamonds are hard, so is this one. They are hard to get, this one is hard to get to. And as I'm hiking up the Longs Peak path on saturday afternoon with a big pack, I'm asking myself why a little stone on a useless ring wouldn't suffice. Maybe because she's a climber and climbers don't wear rings, they only rap from them.
Left: Vertical panorama of the Casual Route on the Diamond, Longs Peak, RMNP
Right: Jenny on the traversing 3rd pitch of the Casual Route
It's not the first time we go up Longs Peak, but between knee problems, weather and nearer routes, she still hasn't made the summit. And I've climbed Kiener's and Stetner's ledges just left of the Diamond, but not the Diamond itself. During those previous trips we had the opportunity to have a close look at the face and take plenty of pictures. One thing is certain: it's a lot steeper than most other climbs in the Park. We won't be taking it as easy as Lumpy... We'd had this route on our ticklist for almost two years, but at that altitude the season's short and postponing is so easy. It was finally Brad, as usual, who tipped the balance: "I have a 6 people campsite reservation at the Boulder Field in August. Wanna climb the Casual Route ?"
Right: Brad and Pina at the campsite of the Boulderfield, the night before our ascent. The diamond is visible by moonlight in the background. It's not a campfire but a flaring MSR.
Between his partners bailing on him and Jenny's knee getting a little better, he was eventually victim of his planning: his other friends grounding him while we took of from the tent at 4am. The iodine water topping a Nalgene of red wine and a bottle of good Sauternes makes heading up from the Boulder Field a particularly forgivable experience. After reaching the base of the north face, we find the rappel chain off Chasm View after a few minutes of grappling in the dark. As I step over the rim and let the rope slide between my fingers I tell Jenny: "Now we are committed". That first (of 3) rappel in the dark starts so steep that she won't even look down to take a picture. A few rockfall later we cross the large ledge system of Broadway to get to the start of our route. She gives me the xerox and I read the description of the Casual Route for the first time ! I never read route description before being at the actual start; I've found it saves a lot of worrying. Before that I only knew it doesn't need large gear, there are two traversing pitches, the crux is an 'easy 5.10' and the other pitches are more like 'hard 5.8'. Whatever.
Right: Rappel in the dark off Chasm View in early morning.
The first pitch gives us an inkling of the rest of the day. Rated at 5.5, I have to grunt to pull a few steep moves and my fingers get cold as soon as I jam them. Two rusting pitons as a belay. Lots of rappel slings hooked all around on protruding rocks, probably during hasty retreats. Only one pitch up and already full exposure, Chasm Lake a good 500 meters below us. The second pitch sets the definite tone for the rest of the route: a vertical 5.9 crack, with plenty of tiny holds on the sides, sustained and airy. A piton far on the left tells me when to stop going up. We hear some screaming and rock falls down in Field's Chimney (aka the Error Chimney [*]), but the rock where we are is solid and well featured. I'm surprised to find that some holds are actually polished by too much traffic on this classic route. We are lucky: it's sunday, the weather is good if cold and, apart for two screaming rock targets down bellow, no one else is on the face.
We hoped the sun would warm us up quickly, but a layer of clouds is forming on the horizon at the same rate than the sun rises. It won't make good pictures either... The traverse pitch is not too bad: a very balancy move as a first step but then it's either easy or well protected. I take a bunch of pictures of Jenny traversing: even with the 20mm there's no way I can fit the exposure in the frame. All the belays are uncomfortable and my feet can't get the break they deserve. The 4th belay is at the base of a right facing dihedral, hiding us from the sun which is now shining in earnest on the rest of the face. That pitch, only rated at 5.8+ is just as involving as the crux. The crack inside it hesitates between hand size and finger size, with a couple crimpers thrown in for good measure. It's dead vertical and there aren't any rests. Lots of good moves that make my arms slowly die out. After 40 meters I can tell there's still a long way to go and decide to save on my middle sized gear, I try to use TCUs instead. At 50 meters I reach a tiny ledge and almost mantle on a smelly 'pyramid'. No good belay here so I do one last piece of crack, trying not to fall on the 'deposit'. Arms are done, running length 57 meters and Jenny has to untie part of the belay to let me finish.
Left: Start of the 2nd pitch. The D1 crack is visible above.
Right: That's me on the traverse of the 2nd pitch. We did an intermediate belay before the traverse to avoid rope drag.
The next pitch is short and easy but impressive in its own right: one has to climb on top of a 3 meter high flake sticking vertically out of the ground. The quantity of chalk all over its edge tell me that it's not gonna fall if I hang on it. I hope. Jenny doesn't like it and makes delicate face moves above the void to avoid it.
Left: End of the very long and strenuous 4th pitch.
Right: Jenny trying not to grab the flake of the short 5th pitch.
Here we are below the crux. 5.10. Easy 5.10. Well, maybe, because by now the altitude has taken its toll and we are pretty blown. We find the 5.9+ start easy, a couple face moves on good pro. But then the 'narrow chimney' proves to be a damn squeeze. I yell profanities as my helmet gets stuck as soon as I get inside. I back off, remove helmet, hiking shoes and waterbottle and connect them to my harness via a double length sling. Let's start worming my way up what is supposedly a 5.8. Where's a BigBro #4 when you need one ? With convulsive motions I manage to grab a cam off my rack to protect the end of the squeeze, it's not quite the right size, but there's no way I'm going to put it back on my rack in this position, I far prefer to get out of that thing. Little rest, let's put the helmet back on, it might come in handy for the crux yet to come... 3 vertical cracks, the central one having two stuck stoppers. There's chalk everywhere. I try to rest my forearms but it's too late to whine about the lack of training this summer.
Right: Table Ledge reaching Kiener's. You can take the rope off and put the comfortable shoes on.... Chasm Lake visible in the background.
Left: Jenny traversing the last pitch of the Casual Route.
The other party, down on our left, doesn't make for good peace of mind when I hear the leader yell: "Watch me", then scream it twice more, increasingly louder and desperate. I first try the central crack but there's no feet. I then try both left and central at the same time, but it's awkward. Then I move to the right one, grab a chalked up knob and see a good finger jam higher up. I stem and reach high but not high enough. I have to readjust the stem position as my forearms are giving way. I pull against 45 meters of rope drag before reaching an excellent finger jam. The route is over. Almost. Jenny hand-jams the central crack instead and we are left with the final traverse pitch. We look up at the direct exit which looks interesting, but it's already 13:00 and aiding at that altitude is no fun. Not that we need excuses anyway.
I make a rope drag monstrosity traversing those overlapping ledges and finally we are on Table ledge and then onto the well known Kiener's and its well deserved sun. Jenny's all happy with her Diamond ! Two climbers are coming up Kiener's and we finish together. I had told Jenny that there would be hundreds of hikers on the summit, but no one's there, probably 'cause it's already late: the sun didn't last long and the weather's turning windy, cloudy and colder. She gets her ski pole out and starts the excruciating walk down the north face. An hour later we find Brad and Koren at the base of the rappel: "I'd been calling you on the radio", "I forgot". Let's go finish that bottle of Sauterne before I hike out and go to work. At least they have 2 more days here before hiking out, maybe they'll climb the Diamond again tomorrow, who knows.
Left: Alone on the summit of Longs Peak (with a nosebleed)
"I don't own a helmet, but North Chimney is the one place I wanted one. A lot of stuff falls off that cliff." — Paul Wolf.
[*]: 6 days later I went back up there to climb the Casual Route again with Brad. We started at 2am from the car and got to the base at 4:30. We are idiots: we climbed Field's Chimney instead of the North Chimney. We soloed the first two pitches in the dark before realizing our error and by then it was too late. The rock is covered with dirt, very slippery and you don't want to do the 3rd pitch without a rope... And above all you don't want to be in it if there's someone crossing Broadway above. Trust me on this. So even if it's dark make sure you are right below Chasm View before you start climbing.