The Diamond


 

Layton Kor on the second ascent of the Diamond, via his new route, the Yellow Wall (V 5.8 A4), with Charlie Roskosz, in 1962. Kor and Ray Northcutt had asked for permission to make the first ascent in 1959, but the RMNP officials had turned them down, and the ascent of the unclimbed wall eventually went to Dave Rearick and Bob Kamps in 1960. Kor would go on to make the third, and first one-day, ascent of the wall, via D1, followed, two days later, by the fourth ascent, by a new route: the Jack of Diamonds (V 5.10 A4), both with Royal Robbins in 1963. In 1967 Kor and Wayne Goss made the first winter ascent, via the Enos Mills Wall (V 5.7 A3). [Photo] Huntley Ingalls

In July 1962 Kor grabbed the first climber who wouldn't say no, Charlie Roskosz, and the two uneventfully nailed their way up the second ascent, via the Yellow Wall. The route was less steep than D1, with better rock, but harder aid. According to Dougald MacDonald's book, Longs Peak: The Story of Colorado's Favorite Fourteener, the only real problem was that Roskosz forgot to tell the rangers and his wife that he was going up. The rangers ticketed Roskosz for "climbing without permission"; his wife discovered his ascent only after reading about it in the Denver Post.

While Kor now dominated Colorado climbing, California was under the sway of another powerful climber: Royal Robbins. Like Kor, Robbins had an immense motivation for first ascents and was more fit and more possessed than most of his partners. By some accounts Kor and Robbins felt competitive toward each other, but when the two met up in the summer of 1963, they quickly formed one of the strongest rock-climbing teams in the world.

To start, they repeated D1, making the third ascent of the Diamond and the first without a night on the wall. After two days' rest they returned to put up the Jack of Diamonds in a single day. Today, more than forty years later, the Jack has seen few repeats, and it is uncertain whether anyone has again made a one-day ascent. Robbins wrote in the 1964 AAJ, "On my last reserves I struggled up this final pitch, topped the Diamond, and shook the hand of a great climber."

By 1964 a new generation of Colorado climbers was emerging, all heavily influenced by Kor. Pat Ament and Larry Dalke were still at Boulder High when they became regular Kor partners. That summer seventeen-year-old Ament made the fifth ascent of the Diamond with Bob Boucher, establishing the Grand Traverse. Ament recounts that during the last section—two long, overhanging aid pitches—Boucher took a thirty-foot fall. Without a sound, he replaced all the pitons that had been ripped out, and as Ament joined him at a hanging belay (two suspicious-looking pitons, with 1,500 feet of air beneath them), Boucher turned to his young partner and said merely, "Be brave." The sky darkened and the snow became a blizzard, but Ament led on to the top. Unknown to him, his parents had hiked up to Chasm Lake and were watching their son's progress through a telescope.

The author, Roger Briggs, at age seventeen, on the Yellow Wall (V 5.8 A4) during the 1968 second ascent. Over the next thirty-eight years he would would climb the Diamond ninety-eight more times, establishing half a dozen new free lines. [Photo] Mike Covington

The Diamond was not climbed again for two years. Then, in 1966, another Kor protege, Mike Covington, and Pete Robinson put up Curving Vine, a complex line with two pendulums on the extreme left side of the wall. The same year, Larry Dalke, George Hurley and Wayne Goss opened D7—the wall's seventh ascent. Following uninterrupted crack systems for hundreds of feet, this first moderate aid climb began to ease the Diamond's forbidding image.

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Kor completed his last great climb in March 1967. After John Harlin's death on the Eiger the year before, Kor had returned to Colorado questioning the meaning of climbing, and of life. He summoned the last of his famous drive to make the first winter ascent with Goss, via a difficult new line, the Enos Mills Wall. Although Kor soon walked away from serious climbing, scarcely ten years after starting, he'd accomplished more in a decade than most climbers manage in a lifetime.

New Generations

"Geez, the guy would insist on rappelling from a strand of alpine cord on a tied-off ring angle 500 feet off the deck.... After a while I'd make him go first and then sneak some extra cord onto the anchor." Kor had us in stitches, and in terror, as he recounted his first days on Longs Peak with Northcutt. A fifteen-year-old dreamer, eager and impressionable, I'd just met nineteen-year-old Ament, and through him, masters like Kor and Robbins. My sense of possibility had been blown apart.

Under Ament, I began to serve an intensive apprenticeship, and by the following summer it seemed inevitable I would attempt the Diamond. Four of us, in two parties, planned to try two different climbs: Jim Logan and I would attempt the second ascent of D7, while Wayne Goss and Roger Dalke would aim for a new line just to the right.

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