The Diamond


The Forbidden Wall

For a long time, the Diamond's sinister appearance made climbing it nearly unthinkable. Almost a hundred years passed between the first recorded ascent of the mountain and the first ascent of this wall. In the 1950s steel pitons, efficient direct-aid techniques and a fierce new core of climbers led to the first ascents of Half Dome and El Cap. Colorado's big wall was the Diamond, and soon aspirants from all over the country were eyeing it. While not as big as some of Yosemite's walls, its weather and altitude made it much more daunting.

In 1953 Tom Hornbein and John Rensberger traversed out high on the Diamond looking for an obvious line, but found only a lot of space. A year later Dale Johnson, one of Colorado's leading climbers, was prepared to attempt the Diamond, but as he said afterward, "We did one of the dumbest things I have ever done in my life: we told [the park officials] what we were going to do. And the Longs Peak rangers said in words to this effect: 'Like Hell you are!'" Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) officials believed that rescue from the Diamond would be nearly impossible, and they put the wall off limits for the next six years.

In 1959 the best climber in Colorado was probably Ray Northcutt, an ex-Marine who thrived on pull-ups and push-ups. He was tricked into leading one of America's first 5.10ds, the direct start to Eldorado Canyon's Bastille Crack, when a friend told him that Layton Kor had just done it. The young Kor was not only Northcutt's greatest rival, he was also his best partner. When the RMNP remained implacable, the two established the Diagonal on the wall below the Diamond that year instead, creating the most difficult climb in Colorado. They hoped their success would convince the Park Service to lift the ban.

As 1960 approached, pressure was mounting on RMNP officials. Rumors were spreading that climbers from around the country were planning to climb the Diamond—with or without permission.

D1: The First Ascent

In July 1960 two young California climbers, Dave Rearick and Bob Kamps, traveled to Colorado to support another team that was hoping to attempt the Diamond. But by the time the RMNP finally lifted the ban, the original team had fallen apart, so Rearick and Kamps completed the necessary paperwork and interviews for themselves. They still had to find a support party of four, a strict requirement set down by the Park Service. Many local climbers didn't want to assist two Californians intent on stealing Colorado's gem, but finally Roy Holubar helped them recruit Jack Laughlin, Gary Cole, Charles Alexander and Charlie Roskosz. These four were promptly rewarded with the task of lugging a litter and 1,200 feet of rope up the mountain.


John Rensberger on the first reconnaissance of the yet-unclimbed Diamond in 1953. His climbing partner, Tom Hornbein, remembers that the two had finished another Longs Peak climb and arrived at Table Ledge "with a little time to kill [and] some as-yet-unsquandered energy and curiosity." [Photo] Tom Hornbein

In the 1961 American Alpine Journal (AAJ), Rearick wrote, "We knew we were well prepared for the climb, coming fresh from a month of practice in Yosemite. We had become acclimatized to Colorado's high altitude by climbing The Diagonal.... We had the latest in chrome-moly hardware, made by Yvon Chouinard. Now all we needed was endurance, both physical and psychological, luck with the rock, and most of all, luck with the weather." On the first day, July 31, 1960, that luck seemed to fail them: a storm engulfed the mountain and they had to retreat from Broadway back to the Chasm Lake shelter. "The grim aspect of the Diamond looming over us, veiled in clouds and weeping streams of water, did little for our morale."

Then the mountain gave them three days of decent weather, and they completed the climb in fairly routine fashion, apart from some large ice blocks in the final chimney, which required a cold and unusual lieback, and a "melodramatic touch... added by a brief hailstorm at the top." The ever-understated Rearick reported the climb only as the "First Ascent of the Diamond." But it soon came to be called The Ace of Diamonds, which morphed into the Rearick-Kamps Route. The modern name, D1, perhaps best conveys the stark simplicity of the line.

Their ascent was a media event of unequaled magnitude in Colorado climbing. As Rearick wrote, "The dizzy aftermath of parades, banquets, and television appearances... confirmed the [Diamond's] exalted reputation." The prize had gone to Californians, but Rearick soon moved to Boulder, where he still lives today. So much for regional loyalties.


At the time of Kamps and Rearick's climb, Kor was on his way to becoming one of history's legendary climbers. He'd missed his chance at the first ascent, but his tremendous drive insured that the Diamond would soon bear his name.

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