Climbers on D7 (V 5.6 A2, Dalke-Goss-Hurley, 1966; FFA: V 5.11c, Bachar-Harrison, 1977), the Diamond, east face, Longs Peak (14,255'), Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Colorado. [Photo] Jonathan Degenhardt

The Diamond

Posted on: March 1, 2007


The east face of Longs Peak (14,255'), RMNP, Colorado. The steep rhomboid on the upper part of the face is the Diamond. [Photo] Topher Donahue

The Day Begins

Boulder Canyon, Colorado, 2 a.m. The alarm goes off. Wha...? Oh, yeah: the Diamond.

Driving through Boulder is surreal: while people stagger home from a night of revelry, I'm just waking up, a day later in time. Crickets chirp in the warm July darkness, but we're traveling to a different world, with snowstorms and unimaginable fatigue, suspended thousands of feet above the city.

At our meeting place Eric Doub sits inside his car, motionless. I tap on the window.

"This is no time for sleep! Let's go climbing!" I'd tease Eric less if I knew he'd been up all night at a party. But he still beams with relentless optimism—the kind of partner you want on the Diamond.

An hour's drive takes us to the trailhead, where the parking lot is already full. We step out into the darkness and a cold blast reminds us of the long approach ahead. No moon tonight, so after a last-minute load adjustment, we follow the three-foot circles of our headlamps up the rocky trail. As we reach tree line, we look back to see the city lights sprawling for a hundred miles on the plains below, where millions still sleep. In the wide-open tundra, the wind turns icy, while the sky explodes in orange and red. We can put our watches away; the only time that matters now is the position of the sun.

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The last few minutes to Chasm Lake are steep, and we feel the altitude in our legs. Then our first full view of the east face appears, glowing in the morning light. I've stood here countless times, yet I'm still awed by its size and beauty. Glaciers sculpted Longs Peak over the last 200,000 years, leaving behind a 1,700-foot mosaic of gray and tan granite: the east face cirque. At the heart of it, above everything else, is the Diamond. Nine hundred feet of vertical and overhanging rock top out at 14,000 feet, forming a diamond-shaped wall within the wall—the premier alpine face in the lower forty-eight states. The left side, the Yellow Wall, is a climber's paradise, with vertical, bulletproof rock split by well-developed cracks. By contrast, the right half overhangs for 500 feet, and the rock can be choss. Water drips off the top, mesmerizing the few who venture there.

Jeff Ofsanko on Pitch 4 (5.11) of D1 (VI 5.7 A4, Kamps-Rearick, 1960; FFA: V 5.11, Bachar-Westbay, 1978; FFA [via the original line]: V 5.12a, Achey-Briggs, 1980). The line of first ascent on the Diamond, D1 is far from the easiest either to aid or free climb. [Photo] Topher Donahue

A new energy fills us: the wall looks enticing. We hurry over the talus around Chasm Lake, then up the snow to the base of the North Chimney, a 700-foot funnel of loose blocks and rubble. It's easy but dangerous, so we simulclimb to Broadway, the ledge at the bottom of the Diamond. It seems as though a whole day has passed since we left Boulder, but now the real climbing begins.

We'll have only a few hours to enjoy the sun before it slips behind the mountain. Then the temperature will plummet and a bone-chilling gray will engulf the wall. Powerful afternoon storms may build out of sight behind the mountain and suddenly swallow up the Diamond, producing anything from torrential rain to blizzards, often with intense lightning. The mountain often lures climbers like us with its early sun, then slams them with numbing cold and terrifying storms.

Welcome to alpine rock climbing, Diamond style.

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