Posts Tagged ‘The Diamond’

My First 14er: Longs Peak via The Diamond

December 30, 2009

…being too smart is no excuse for missing out on the chance of a lifetime.

~ me

It was the summer of 1994, and I was desperately looking for an adventure to fill the long July 4th weekend. I was new and late to the rock climbing obsession having started only two years earlier at the age of 30, but I had it bad. And, as far as obsessions go, this was more like an addiction.  Sure I liked it, but more to the point, I had to have it.

I was living in the Lincoln Park area on the north side of Chicago and was earning my climbing stripes in Baraboo, WI at the Devil’s Lake Bluffs and at the Mississippi Palisades State Park near Savana, IL. These climbing areas were 3 hours away from Chicago, so rock climbing was a weekend-only affair. And with wet weather haunting so many of the warm-enough days in that part of the country, I averaged only a few days a month. Constantly suffering from withdrawals, I regularly resorted to bouldering on the stone structures in Lincoln Park just to take the edge off.  My favorite was the black (dirty?) stone structure  housing the statue of Ulysses S. Grant (see more recent photo); it had a few surprisingly good routes, all about twice my height.

For the 4th of July, the obvious answer to the question of “what to do?” was to go to Colorado again. And the hardest, biggest, baddest climb I’d heard of in Colorado was The Diamond.

The Diamond is the sheer and prominent east face of Longs Peak and named for the shape of the cliff. The face has a veritcal gain of more than 900 feet all above an elevation of 13,000 feet. It is a world famous "big wall". The easiest route on the face, the Casual Route (5.10-), was first climbed in 1977.

I learned about The Diamond during my two previous visits to the Colorado Mountain School (CMC) in Estes Park, CO. My instructors/ guides (Mike Caldwell, the dad of the famous climbing Caldwell, Tommy, and Topher Donahue, the son of the CMC Founder) led me & my pals up graduation climbs in RMNP (Sharktooth [5.6], Petite Grepon [5.8]), which always had that wonderful sense of being the absolute limit of human capability.

These fantastic “near death experiences” always led to discussions of “what was the hardest” RMNP rock to climb; the answer was always The Diamond on Longs Peak.

My Midwest climbing pals, whom I’d met at the Colorado Mountain School, would scare each other regularly with threats of “signing up for The Diamond”. We had a shared sense that The Diamond was just out of our reach where failure felt deadly. Looking back, I think  “The Diamond” served as our inspiration for improving our skills, both physical and mental.  We didn’t dare do easy (for us) climbs when we might be forced, through peer pressure, to climb the Diamond at some point in our near future.

Joe, Mark & Jim at the Mississippi Palisades and on the summit of The Sharkstooth.

The Spring of 1994 had been especially rainy, particularly on weekends (it seemed). My climbing-withdrawal induced insanity lead me to think the unthinkable.  And, after a few days of hard self deception, I had myself believing that I could handle the 5.10- climbing and 14,000 feet of altitude.  To do so, I had to put two disturbing facts out of my mind:

  1. I had never climbed anything harder than 5.9, and nothing harder than 5.8 since the previous summer
  2. I had never rock climbed above 12,600′ and had not been above 600′ (plus a few floors) in many months

I suppose I didn’t really think I was ready. I just couldn’t think of anything else to do that would be hard and scary enough to feel like an adventure, even just in the attempt. Not knowing very much was part of the problem, or, perhaps, the key to the solution.

Perhaps it was unreasonable, but I was going to do it and I wanted my buddies to join me. I put the word out, but each had the plausible yet lame excuse of having July 4th plans already. Shocked and amazed into poor debate form, my feable attempts at guy-reason got me nowhere. Looking back, I suppose they were a bit smarter than me; but I’ll still argue that being too smart is no excuse for missing out on the chance of a lifetime.

Nothing was going to keep me from taking that step, even if I had to do it alone.  So, determined to proceed and with credit card in hand, I placed a call to the CMC to hire a guide to take me up. I was really going to do it.

Or not.  After all that buildup, no guides were available for the only weekend of the year I could make work. Noooooo!

What a bummer!

Maybe I should have been happy to spend a few uninterrupted days of romance with my girlfriend; maybe I should have been satisfied for the opportunity for 72 hours of personal growth.  But I wasn’t.  I couldn’t.  I was going to miss my chance.  And that is how the greatest adventure in my life would end…

…that is, unless something changed.

And a couple weeks later, the situation changed.  It was about noon on Thursday, June 29th, the 2nd to last day of work before the start of the long holiday weekend, when my cell phone buzzed.  It was Topher Donahue, one of the guides I knew at CMC, with some unexpected news; he’d come available for Saturday, July 1st if I still wanted to climb the Diamond.

YES!

Now all I had to do was get there in time.  I had to meet Topher at 1pm on Friday, June 30th, which was only 24 hours hence.  The easy thing to do was fly, but I had a company car with paid gas.  It didn’t feel like I had a choice.

From a previous trip, I knew the 1100 mile drive from Lincoln Park to Estes Park, CO would take approx. 17 hours driving straight through. And I still needed to get home and pack.  Well, don’t tell my boss, but my 1994 July 4th holiday started about 30 hours early.

The long drive from Lincoln Park to Estes Park.

As I drove home, I knew the plan would come off much better with a co-pilot. I prepared my case by getting a reservation for a tiny bed and breakfast in Boulder called The Briar Rose.  My pitch was that trip was going to be a wonderfully romantic Colorado getaway, during which time I would do only one climb.  My girlfriend bought it.

By 7pm, we were heading out I-290 west.  At first, the excitement of the adventure made the driving fun.  But, seventeen hours is a long time when waiting for each of 61,200 seconds to pass.  I really did try to sleep in the back seat for a few of those hours.  But no way; my racing mind never let me doze off for a moment.

As I tried to sleep, my mind hit on the biggest problem of all:  I was not going to get much acclimatization. During the initial 24 hour period, I would ascend from Chicago (600′) to Estes Park (7500′), and, then would continue the ascent, first to the Longs Peak Ranger Station (9500′), then to The Camel (~13000′).  Then, after another opportunity for sleep, we would climb to the Longs Peak summit (14259′) for a total of nearly 14k feet of elevation gain in 48 hours … not what the experts recommend.  I figured all I could do is try; I’d go up as far as I could and feel proud for daring much and trying hard.

The more I thought about how badly I needed sleep, the further away the chance for sleep ran.

It is terrible to not be able to fall asleep, but it is agony to have to stay awake.  I just hoped I could make it to dawn; I figured sunlight would ease the struggle.  But when the sun came up, I was in Nebraska, which is not what you’d call an interesting place to view from the highway.

“Hell, I even thought I was dead ’til I found out it was just that I was in Nebraska.”

~Little Bill Daggett, Unforgiven (1992)

But after a few more hours of suffering, I could see the mountains.  And the blood started to flow again. And then we were in the mountains.  And the adrenaline started to pump.  And then we were there, driving up Big Thompson Ave and then turning south onto Moraine Ave and then north onto Davis Street and, finally, pulling into the dirt parking lot of the Colorado Mountain School.   And it was done:  1100 miles and 5 bathroom stops in seventeen hours.

I signed in at the Colorado Mountain School and then went through my gear with Topher to make sure I had what I needed…I had enough gear to attempt Everest. After dumping most of what I brought, we set off for the Longs Peak Ranger Station.  Since Topher was planning to stay at the Boulderfield for an extra day of climbing, the plan was for my girlfriend to pick me up at the trailhead after the climb on Sunday.

And this is where things really started to fall apart.

Based on Topher’s advice, I told my girlfriend that she should ask someone “official” for directions and then pick me up at 6pm on Saturday.  What could go wrong?

The Approach

Without another thought, Topher and I took off for the trailhead and then we were quickly making our way up the trail.  I had no sleep and no acclimatization. But I was scared to death, and that made all the difference.

We used the standard trail, as best I could tell until we reached a junction to “Jim’s Grove”. Topher suggested we go that way to save some distance.  I continued following and hoped we’d also save some elevation somehow; my pack felt like 100 pounds.

Topher sitting in The Camel bivy shortly after arrival. Note the shelter provided by the overhanging rock.

We reached the Boulderfield around 5pm, just as I was running out of steam. I was thankful to be done for the day, but Topher looked up toward a peak above us (Mt. Lady Washington) and pointed to a rock formation on the ridge line called “The Camel”.  He indicated that we would sleep on the far side of that formation, in a comfortable and dry bivy spot.

Topher had been talking about the importance of doing everything quickly and efficiently on the Diamond. My plodding approach made me worry about Topher thinking I couldn’t do the climb, and leading him to bail on the effort. I tried to look strong.

Another 30 minutes and we were there; 3.5 hours from the Ranger Station.

It was as nice as Topher promised.  I chugged down a 1/2 liter of Gatorade (1/4 of my water supply), then felt ill for about 10 seconds before spraying my guts all over the rocks in front of me. At first glance, I could see my vomit was blood, and that made sense given how badly I felt.  But on second glance, I could see that it was just my red colored Gatorade.

Topher asked if I had ever had Mountain Sickness before; I went with the ignorance angle and responded with a “what is Mountain Sickness?”  Now I was really worried that Topher might bail on me, so I put on my best brave-face and busied myself soaking up (and photographing) my first up-close view of the Diamond.  It looked like nothing I had ever climbed.  Heck, it looked like nothing I’d ever seen.

My first up-close view of The Diamond, seen from "The Camel" bivy area

A bit later, Topher asked with a knowing look if I could eat some dinner.  I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to be hungry; all I knew was that I was starting to feel better and I was very, very hungry. There is nothing like starvation for making a meal taste delicious, even a freeze dried one.

At last light on Friday, Topher mentioned that the weather wasn’t looking good, but hoped it would clear by dawn.  I didn’t know what to think, but didn’t struggle long.  I was exhausted.  My brain pulled the plug and I was unconscious for the next 8 hours.  It was my first bivy above 12,000′, and only my second bivy anywhere without a tent.

At first light on Saturday, around 5:00am, Topher woke me with a “the weather is bad” announcement.  I open my eyes and see wet rock and fast moving, low-level clouds not too far above.  Topher suggested we call it quits and head down to climb at Lumpy Ridge.  He promised to make it an interesting day still.

I explained that I had worked pretty hard to get to the Diamond and wanted to take every chance to climb on it.  I declared I want to stay.

Topher went on to explain that The Diamond is a particularly bad place from which to bail.  He explained that climbers have to rappel down two pitches more than they climbed (if starting from Chasm View), and then they have to climb back up to the Boulderfield to collect their gear.  He asked if I was certain I wanted to pass on a sure thing. I did not waiver.

Topher then indicated that our only hope was to wait an hour and let the bad weather clear, if it would.  In my entire life to that point, I had never argued against another hour of sleep.  I rolled over and took it.

Two seconds later (it feels like), Topher woke me again.  The sky looked the same.  He announced that the weather hadn’t improved, but we could head over to the Chasm View and see if the weather had improved at all by the time we had to commit.  I agreed.

I ate a Powerbar and finished my water supply.  Then we packed the rock gear and started over to the Chasm View.  I told Topher that I needed to get some water; he said we can “get some in the Boulderfield”.  I didn’t know where that was but felt reassured that getting water would not be a problem.

The slightly downhill traverse to the Chase View went by quickly.  And, in that brief period of time, the weather started looking a bit better.  Topher futilely gave me one last opportunity to bail, and then we started down the rappels to Broadway ledge.

The climb had begun.

The Climb

We started late enough that everything was well lit, and the poor weather had chased off all the other climbers. We quickly finished the rappels down Chasm View to the Broadway Ledge and completed the traverse over to the start of the Casual Route.

Pitch 1

The climb started up some easy terrain which let me continue to believe (read: hope) that the 5.10 rating was intended to scare beginners away even though the climber is really easy.

Pitch 2 & 3 together

Climbers doing a hard route and showing the steepness of The Diamond face.

My illusions were shattered by a hard crack followed by a horrifying traverse.  The fantasy of easy climbing was utterly destroyed. I’d done one traverse before in my life (final pitch of Pear Buttress), and that one scared the fool out of me as well.  The lack of overhead protection meant I would take a long whipper if I fell. My increasing fear pushed me into some sort of zone where I don’t notice anything except the climbing.  My climbing skills became preternaturally sharp; I climbed better than I ever did in my life.  I had to.

Pitch 4

I was introduced to the joys (do not fail to note the sarcasm here) of squeeze chimneys 1000′ off the deck. The climbing moderated enough to keep me from vomiting as I made my way to the belay in a snowy inset.  By the time I reach the top of the 4th pitch, I was relaxed enough to notice some details beyond mere rock and climbing technique.  One detail I noticed was Topher’s rather thin anchor: a tricam and 2 nuts.  I was used to top-rope anchors with 6-8 solid pieces using several feet of webbing that could hold a falling Boeing 747.  While I was confidentTopher knew his stuff, my stress-level moved back up another notch.

Pitches 5 & 6

More hard climbing went by in a blur. When we reached the Yellow Wall Bivy ledge at the top of pitch 6, Topher suggested a quick break for lunch. And that’s when it dawned on me that I never refilled my water bottle.  With my desiccated mummy-mouth, there was no way to eat a Powerbar and live (remind me to tell you about an attempt to do so during a triathlon).  Fortunately, I also brought an orange, which I ate with such relish I didn’t waste a drop of fluid; and, I thought hard about eating the skin as well.

And, for whatever reason, despite every negative influence, I felt good.  I actually started to think I would really make it.

Pitch 7

More hard climbing led to another squeeze chimney near the top.  This one was a killer squeeze, as I had a pack on. I had to work my way out of the chimney and face face the remain few feet to reach the final move:  a bulge with a single finger-lock hold.  I pulled up on the finger-lock and found nothing above to haul on and no feet; I lowered myself back down.  Topher, at the anchor only 2 feet away, tells me this is the crux.

After trying in vain using a few different holds, I finally broke down and asked Topher for advice.  He said “you figure it out,” and then went on to say that he could not believe that I made it the entire climb without a fall only to fail here. But after a moment, he took pity on me and offered a nugget:  “use the knob on the right to stem”.

But I couldn’t make it work so I decide to summon my remaining strength and did a lay-back using the crack on the left.

I made it.  I actually stole a moment to be proud of myself for getting past the crux.

Pitch 8

But we weren’t done yet.  One last pitch; a traverse, crap.  Topher told me to lead as it would be safer in case I fell.  (Assuming I know how to place gear!)  I’d never led anything in my life; my first lead would be on The Diamond!  It turned out that I only had to clip a couple pins, but the sharp end of the rope felt electric.

And then I was on easy ground.  I’d made it.  I had actually climbed the Diamond.  I felt my life would never be the same (it wasn’t).

I belayed Topher to my ledge and then we scrambled a short distance up and left and then up and right a longer distance to reach and step around a corner that led to talus above the Diamond but below the summit. After a couple hundred feet of scrambling we were sitting on the summit of Longs Peak…my first Colorado 14er summit.

Post Climb

Sitting on the summit of Longs Peak, I thanked Topher for a great climb.  To my great surprise, he told me that I was his first guided client on The Diamond. It was yet another first for me, in an odd way.

Six Firsts for Joe:

  1. First bivy above 12,000 (a rare great night of sleep @ 13k)
  2. First (and second) squeeze chimney climbed
  3. First lead: the final pitch of The Casual Route on The Diamond
  4. First high altitude rock climb over 13000′ (up to 13,900′)
  5. First Colorado 14er summit
  6. First client of Topher Donahue on The Diamond (I lived; good job, Topher)

As the adrenaline started to wear off, I started to feel tired.  We sat to organize the gear, but since I had no water and only an orange to eat since dawn, a long stay wasn’t in the cards.  Topher led me down to the Cable Route area where we descended via rappel to the Chasm View area to complete a circuit begun 8 hours before.  On the way down I took a photo of some climbers that showed the steepness of the climbing.  I intended to make full use of my bragging rights.

Once we arrived at Chasm View, I insisted on some photos including posed shots before we scrambled back to The Camel to collect gear. I thanked Topher again and asked for directions to the water supply.  He pointed down to the Boulderfield and said to ‘follow my ears’ to find access to the water running beneath the big blocks of rock.  Then we parted ways.

Joe and Topher posing with The Diamond in the background. Thanks to Topher for indulging me.

The Hike Out

The lack of food and water (and altitude?) started to hit me pretty hard.  I hadn’t had any water or food aside from an orange in 9 hours, and I had only consumed 2 liters of water in the last 28 hours.  And all of this on top of gaining 14k feet in elevation in a short time, vomiting, and climbing 1000′ of hard rock. (Thankfully I was still young). After a bit of following water noises, I finally found a gap in the rocks and collected a liter of the wet stuff, which I had to put away to let the iodine pills dissolve. Using and waiting for iodine pills was another first for me; it was not the last time I’d have to suffer and wait.

Once I started hiking down the trail, I felt strangely exhilarated.  Even though I was around other people and walking on or near a well established trail, it was the first time I had ever been in the “backcountry” without other people I knew.  I felt very isolated, and I liked it. Taking in the sights, snapping photos, and watching with real interest the exploits of the local marmots, I just floated down the trail.  I felt great once more.  Everything was good.

The Casual Route and descent from Longs Peak

I followed the trail signs until I reached the trail junction for Chasm Lake. I couldn’t wait any longer for water, so I stopped and ate my last Powerbar and finished my water while admiring the spectacular views of Longs Peak. I decided it was the greatest peak in the world and that I really needed to come back someday to climb it without a guide (I did so in 1998; see The Casual Route?).

I continued down the trail and reached the Ranger Station ahead of schedule. I was going to have to wait an hour for my 6pm ride, but that was okay. Nothing could spoil my great mood, I thought.

Around 5:30pm, the weather turned ugly.  The wind picked up and rain and hail/snow started beating on me. I tried to get into the Ranger Station, but it was locked.  I put on all my clothes and huddled in the roofed map alcove to hide as well as I could. I was freezing.

And, then, my ride was late.

By 8pm, I was truly miserable.  Wet & cold with only poor shelter from the wind, I knew that my girlfriend was lost and that I was screwed. As I played out the scenarios in my head, I couldn’t see a good outcome. If she couldn’t find me in the daylight with whatever directions she had gotten, how was she going to figure it out before morning? No more light to see by and no one to ask for help; oh, I was definitely screwed.

Our route up Longs Peak (red) and my descent variation used (green)

Out of the gloom, a couple walked past me, on the way to their car.  After a polite WTF question, I explained my reasons for riding out the storm.  They offered to give me a ride to town, but I declined.  I didn’t have any place to go in Estes Park.  I needed to get to Boulder, but I couldn’t even go there without getting word to my girlfriend. And I had no way to get any word to her; I was royally screwed.

A few minutes later, as the couple drove past, they paused to make one last offer before abandoning me to the elements.  I decided I would be better served by having no where to go in Estes Park than being stuck out in the open in the middle of nowhere.  I accepted. I piled my stuff and body into the couple’s car and buckled my seatbelt, and then a pair of headlights approached.  It was my ride.

And was she pissed.  While we drove to Boulder, she explained how mad she was about having to drive all over creation, etc., etc. I said that I was sorry for her troubles, but that since I had to sit for 3 hours in wind, rain & hail I probably had the worst of it, and my vote was that we should call it even and drop it.  Uncharacteristically, she agreed.  I must have looked pretty bad.

While sitting in the car and thawing out, I wondered what my climbing buddies would think and how they’d react.  I wondered when they would decide to climb The Diamond.  But as I feared for myself, sometimes the chance to take a particular road less traveled only comes once, and an opportunity missed is an opportunity lost.

“Jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

See all Trip Reports

See all Longs Peak Massif Trip Reports

The “Casual” Route?

March 31, 2009

The Diamond.

The East Face of Rocky Mountain National Park’s Longs Peak is the greatest alpine climbing wall in the Universe.   Sure, it’s just my opinion, but read on and judge for yourself.

 

The Diamond of Longs Peak

The Diamond of Longs Peak (photo taken 7/1/94)

 

When I started rock climbing some years ago, the Diamond was a place of legend:  only the climbing Greats dared challenge the gods with an attempt on the Diamond.

It requires nearly 1,000 feet of high-altitude technical rock climbing in a lightning-filled environment over wet, cold, vertical rock that cannot even begin until completing an approach of nearly 7 miles and well over 3,000′ of elevation gain.   And the easiest route up the face requires the skill and stamina to complete two pitches of 5.9-5.10a, three pitches of 5.8, and three pitches of 5.5-5.7 at nearly 14,000′ elevation.

Adding insult to this impossible dream, the easiest route is called, “The Casual Route, ” in honor of Charlie Fowler’s description of his free solo (no rope, no protection) climb of the route in 1978…he said it was “casual” in the sense of…

…not difficult, child’s play, a cinch, easily done, effortless, inconsiderable, no problem, no sweat, no trouble, nothing to it, a picnic, a piece of cake, straightforward, and undemanding.

Uh huh.  Thanks for your opinion, Mr. Fowler.  I guess that’s one for and one against, as far as voting goes.

Back in the old days, my Midwest climbing friends and I didn’t dare admit having such ambitions; we would only talk about how amazing and crazy some climbers were, and we’d keep our true feelings of envy and aspiration to ourselves. But, over the years, as I grew into a better climber and a mountaineer, I dared imagine that I, too, could climb the Diamond. Someday.

This trip report is about the effort my buddy, Brian, and I made in an effort to climb The Diamond.

Story

Having brought ourselves to thinking that we could really do it, Brian and I decided that we’d use the Spring & Summer of 1998 to prepare our skills,  fitness and confidence for a late Summer attempt.  During the 4 month preparation, we completed the following alpine snow & rock climbs to ready ourselves physically, intellectually, & emotionally:

  1. Squaretop Mountain; snowclimb (4/98)
  2. Mt Belford; snowclimb  (4/98)
  3. Mt. Princeton; snowclimb  (5/98)
  4. Mt. Harvard; snowclimb  (5/98)
  5. Mt. Tauberguache; snowclimb  (5/98)
  6. Mt. of the Holy Cross; snowclimb  (6/98)
  7. Longs Peak via Kieners; snow and rock scramble (7/98)
  8. The Saber in RMNP; 11 pitches up to 5.9 (7/98)
  9. Jackson-Johnson on Hallets Peak; 9 pitches up to 5.9 (7/98)
  10. The Love Route on Hallets Peak; 8 pitches up to 5.9 (8/98)

We had prepared very hard and felt ready to proceed.  When the weatherman predicted good weather, we set the date:  August 8, 1998.

The overall plan was:

  1. Hike in the day before to save energy for the climbing day
  2. Camp in the Boulderfield (to avoid a free solo of the 4th class plus, 320′ plus North Chimney)
  3. Descend to Broadway Ledge via the Chasm View rappels (3 150′ rappels in the pitch black darkness)
  4. Traverse the snowy ledge to the Casual Route start, skirting the opening of the North Chimney
  5. Climb the Casual Route (7 pitches plus traversing finish)
  6. If unsuccessful, escape via many rappels down the Diamond’s face, and then ascend the Camel Route to reach our campsite
  7. If successful, traverse the Table Ledge to finish the climb via Kiener’s Route
  8. Traverse to the North Face Cable Route and rappel back to Chasm View
  9. Hike back to the Boulderfield to pack up and head home

Before it was over, we’d be sleep-deprived, starved, dehydrated, exhausted, rained and hailed on, surprised, horrified, and delighted.

 

Brian next to his tent in the Longs Peak Boulderfield

Brian enjoying a moment of rest in the Longs Peak Boulderfield

 

The Hike into Camp

We started hiking in toward the Boulderfield at 9am.  We had all day to cover the distance, so we took our time.  We arrived at the Boulderfield and setup camp; and we still had hours to kill.

We wandered up to Chasm View to take in the sights, snap a few photos, and prepare ourselves to find the rappel anchors in the dark a few hours hence. All was proceeding well until we noticed the clouds building.

 

Joe posing with the Diamond looming in the background

Joe posing with the Diamond looming in the background

 

The weatherman was wrong.

One of the key problems in climbing the Diamond is the weather.  It is east facing, so any approaching weather cannot be seen until it is overhead; and with escape only possible via multiple rappels requiring one or more hours to perform, we’d have to move very fast to have any chance.  And we’d have to be lucky.

The Approach to the Climb

We arose in the dark and started for Chasm View at 4:15am.  Using headlamps, we wandered among the refrigerator-sized boulders, orienting ourselves using the faint outline of Longs against the dark sky.

Reaching the Chasm View area, our previous day efforts paid off with the quick acquisition of the Chasm View rappel anchors.  We unpacked the harnesses and the rope and made ready for a descent into a pit of darkness.

I took the first rappel.  The light from my headlamp illuminated the canyon walls, but couldn’t reach to the bottom. It was a creepy feeling to rappel into an abyss, but my lack of sleep muted any strong emotional response.

 

A view of the Chasm View rappel area from the start of the Casual Route; 3 150 foot rappels to descend to Broadway Ledge.

A view of the Chasm View rappel area from the start of the Casual Route; three 150 foot rappels to descend to Broadway Ledge.

 

My only job besides not dying was to find the next set of rappel anchors.  I only had one chance to find them as we couldn’t go back up without losing the day.

But the day started well; I found the anchor. I clipped into the bolts and then unclipped from the rope. I called out for Brian to come on down by yelling, “Off rappel!”  Brian stepped over the edge carrying our gear pack, rappelled down and clipped in next to me.  After he unclipped from the rope, I started pulling the rope down from the initial rappel anchor while he threaded it through the 2nd anchor. As we neared the end of the process, his headlamp died.

I couldn’t believe it.  After 4 months of planning, he didn’t replace the 50 cent batteries. Fortunately, it wasn’t really a big deal.  I would just have to find the next two anchors.  Although, it was possible that we’d have to wait a few minutes at the bottom of the raps for the sky to brighten enough for Brian to accomplish the traverse to the start of the climb without falling off Broadway Ledge.

I finished getting ready for the next rappel while Brian put the dead headlamp away in our gear pack.  I heard him say, “Shit!”  With some reluctance, he explained that when he unzipped the backpack, one of his rock climbing shoes fell out and disappeared into the darkness.  Now that was a big deal.  No shoe, no climb.

If the shoe fell below Broadway Ledge, all the way down to Mills Glacier, it would take us too long to recover it even if we could find it.  We’d lose the day. Brian says, “Sorry.”  I replied, “Maybe we’ll get lucky; maybe it stopped at Broadway Ledge.”  In one part of my mind, I was mad; all this effort wasted.  In another part of my mind, I was relieved that we would be going home alive.

But we had to try to find it, so we continued down into the black pit.

At the bottom of the 2nd rappel, there it was.  Brian’s shoe had stopped on a small ledge. The climb was on.

We completed the 3rd rappel and then started the traverse immediately.  The daylight had begun, and we could see without the headlamps.  And we could see that the sky was already threatening.  Top of the North Chimney was a loose, snowy, narrow, sloping trap.  We decided to do a belay while skirting the rim of the North Chimney and then found “The Ramp” about 20 feet further.  At the top of that large sloping ledge, we started the climb with the knowledge that we had to go fast.

The Climb

 

Joe on top of the D1 pillar, about to start the 5.9 crack of Pitch 2

Joe on top of the D1 pillar, about to start the 5.9 crack of Pitch 2

 

Pitch 1: Brian gave me the pack and took the first lead up a left-facing corner, and then up and left to a ledge. I followed without incident. We were delighted to see that the weather was clearing. (5.5)

Pitch 2: I took the second lead up a short easy section to the top of a pillar, and then up a tough crack to a belay stance near the start of the traverse.  My primary concern was to find the correct traverse starting point.  The correct traverse is a protectable 5.7 while the improper one is poorly protected 5.10c.  I found it right at a spot with a nice stance. Brian followed quickly behind. (5.9)

Pitch 3: Brian took the traverse.  While technically not difficult, crawling sideways is always harder than climbing up. I found it hard to find the best route over the flakes and small ledges, negotiating past wet rock, and trying to keep the gear pack from pulling me off-balance.  We belayed beneath a squeeze chimney. (5.7)

 

A view straight up of Brian leading the 5th pitch

A view straight up of Brian leading the 5th pitch

 

Pitch 4: I led the fourth pitch up a short, challenging squeeze chimney, and then up and slightly left on easier terrain to the end of “The Ramp2.”  I made sure to continue past the initial piton to give Brian enough rope for a long 5th pitch. Brian followed without incident. The weather started worsening. (5.8)

Pitch 5: Brian then led up a long dihedral and belayed at a grassy ledge.  I followed in light rain & hail.  By the time I reached the belay, the rain & hail had stopped.  We didn’t even discuss bailing. (5.9)

Pitch 6: I took a short lead to the Yellow Wall Bivy Ledge, which was a magnificent ledge for such a vertical environment.  I could see how it would be possible to sleep on the ledge quite comfortably.  Once Brian arrived, it started to hail and rain again, but this time a bit harder.  And then it stopped again.  Still no lightning, so we didn’t speak of retreating.  We took a short break to give the wind some time to dry out the technical crux of the route.

Pitch 7: The crux pitch.  If we could get up this last pitch, we would make it. But failure was still within our grasp:  if the rock got too wet or if lightning started, we’d fail and bail.  Brian took this lead and moved very quickly.  After a short time, the slack in the rope started being pulled up.  After 3 quick rope tugs, it was my turn to make it past the several hardest moves of the climb. As I started climbing, the rain & hail started again.  I continued up through the wet, narrow inset, and then started up the squeeze chimney.  I struggled to get through the chimney with the pack on; when I finally got past it, I was completely exhausted.  I took off the pack and passed it up to Brian, then I steeled myself to move past the bulge blocking my path to Table Ledge. Then it was over.

We had made it.  I needed a short break, despite the threatening weather; but we couldn’t fail now.  We had finished the Casual Route, but we still needed to escape the face and the mountain.

The Escape

 

Joe sitting on the far end of Table Ledge, preparing to belay Brian to complete our escape from the East Face of Longs Peak

Joe sitting on the far end of Table Ledge, preparing to belay Brian to complete our escape from the East Face of Longs Peak

 

We were sitting on the Table Ledge which we needed to traverse left to link up with the Kieners Route.  But the ledge had a break in it, so we had to do a descending and then ascending traverse to find our escape.  I started by traversing left past a piton, and then down and left about 25 feet to another ledge called Almost Table Ledge.  A wet downclimb is challenging in any case, but at nearly 14000 feet and after hours of climbing, it was very unnerving.  I carefully traversed left until I could climb up to the Table Ledge again and belayed off some fixed gear backed up by two cams.  Brian followed quickly, and then we continued left, walking along the ledge until we could move above the Diamond onto the north face.

As we stepped above the Diamond, we were shaken by thunder.  To minimize our exposure to the elements, we traversed directly to the Cables Route.  We were rained and hailed upon, but no close lightning strikes.

After a short hike, we rappelled down to Chasm View, where we had started the day many hours earlier.

 

The Diamond, with key locations and pitches referenced.  Note:  the photo is from a different trip.

The Diamond, with key locations and pitches referenced. Note: the photo is from a different trip.

 

The Return Home

It seemed that the entire Boulderfield camp ground was out watching our return.  I wanted to believe that it was admiration for a job well done, but there is no doubt it was pity.  We felt like and must have looked like the walking dead, as we walked back into camp.   One wonderful fellow walked

 

Joe eating the greatest meal of all time...using a nut tool as a replacement spoon

Joe eating the greatest meal of all time...using a nut tool as a replacement spoon

 

over to our bivy site with a steaming hot dinner, which we gratefully accepted since we had no food left at all.  I had only eaten 1,000 calories during the day, and Brian even less.  That Hawaiian Chicken dinner tasted better than any meal I ever had before or since, and it got us home.

Thanks, neighbor!

It had taken us 2 days to hike 15 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain, while climbing nearly 1,000 feet of 5th class terrain and descending 600 feet on rappel.

It was and continues to be a great feeling to  accomplish such a long held goal.

So what’s your vote?

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