The Diamond


Armed with proper permission (this was the last season that the Park Service required it), we fixed ropes in the North Chimney, then returned home. A week later, we hiked to Chasm Lake with monstrous loads and spent our first night at the shelter cabin. Logan and I (combined age: thirty-six; combined experience on the Diamond: zero) had given no thought to where we would be spending the next night; our bivy gear consisted of a single down jacket.

Kevin Cooper on Broadway, Longs Peak. This ledge marks the division between the Lower and Upper East Face, where the Diamond begins. [Photo] Topher Donahue

After a long day, we reached Almost Table Ledge in the dark, exhausted. To make matters worse, Logan had broken his hand when he dislodged a block on the fifth pitch. We settled in on the tiny ledge and spent a long night shivering together in a tug-of-war over the down jacket ("I thought you were bringing the other jacket!")—the beginning of a long friendship.

When we finished our climb, we had made the ninth ascent of the Diamond. At sixteen, I was the youngest person to have climbed it (fifteen-year-old Kordell Kor broke that record a few years later, and now Tommy Caldwell holds it with an ascent at age twelve). Goss and Dalke, who had been smart enough to bring full bivy gear, still spent an uncomfortable night on a tiny stance. They topped out the next day and named their new route the Black Dagger Chimney.

As the '60s drew to a close, D7 became a trade route, and by the early '70s its lower half was virtually a fixed piton ladder. At the same time, new innovations for direct aid like copperheads, rivets and specialized hooks made thin seams and blank sections possible, and climbers began to explore the Diamond's intimidating right side. Now that any piece of rock could be aided, where could climbing go?

Free and Clean

To the young climbers of the '70s the point of climbing began to change from what you climbed to how you climbed it. When Chouinard began selling hexes and nuts, a completely new genre—free and clean—emerged, and prolific communities of its practitioners formed in the Gunks, Yosemite and all over Colorado.


Although I had grown up using a hammer and pitons, I quickly saw the simplicity and beauty of the new ways. Most of the Kor aid lines in the Boulder area had by now gone free, and conversations were turning to the big walls. Would Half Dome, El Cap or even the Diamond go free as well?

By 1973 the Diamond had become the most coveted free-climbing prize in Colorado, but it presented daunting problems. First was finding the right line. One school of thought, which I subscribed to, was that the D7 would be a good choice because it was the easiest aid climb. (Had we chosen instead the unlikely looking line that Duncan Ferguson and Chris Reveley discovered in 1977—the Casual Route—the Diamond would have gone free much sooner.) The second hurdle was the time and energy required for an attempt: one or two tries per summer were about as much as anyone could muster. A final barrier was psychological: the mere thought of free climbing the Diamond was intimidating as hell.

Charlie Fowler on a winter ascent of D7, in 1978, with Dan Stone. By the end of the 1960s, D7 had become a trade route, with fixed pins making its lower half "virtually a fixed piton ladder." Winter ascents such as this, however, remain significant even today. [Photo] Dan Stone

Goss and Logan finally made the first free ascent in 1975 using a line that combined the lower part of D7, the middle part of the Yellow Wall and the final part of the Black Dagger Chimney. Within a week Jimmy Dunn and Chris Wood had freed a similar line, staying a bit more to the right. At the end of that summer, Tobin Sorenson and Bruce Adams freed Pervertical Sanctuary. Over the next few years, most of the lines in the Yellow Wall area would go free.

In 1977 John Bachar, a Californian famous for his bold free solos and blonde, bad-boy image, freed the entire D7; in spite of our initial expectations, it turned out to be the hardest free climb on the wall. That same season Ferguson and Reveley found the easiest one, piecing together the start of D1 and the middle of the Grand Traverse. They originally named this the Integral Route, but it soon came to be called the Casual Route because most of it went at 5.9 or less. The next summer first Charlie Fowler and then Steve Monks free soloed it. More than any other first ascent, the Casual Route transformed the Diamond. The once impossible and forbidden wall had become, for strong climbers on good-weather days, a relatively "casual" outing.

D1 Revisited

But the Diamond would never be an entirely welcoming place, and there were other lines that remained far more serious. With four overhanging pitches in a row, three on crumbly rock, D1 did not seem a sane choice for the next free climb. Nonetheless Bachar came back in 1978 with Billy Westbay to make this outrageous attempt. The two, however, had a serious disadvantage. Convinced that the line was obvious, they hadn't read a route description. In the AAJ Rearick had written about reaching Table Ledge only to discover the main crack system had become a black, mossy, overhanging offwidth, running with ice-cold water. Disheartened, he and Kamps had leaned out and looked ten feet left, where they found a small, hidden, left-facing corner in perfect, dry rock. Bachar and Westbay, unaware of this alternative, assumed that the line continued up the nightmare central crack. Westbay fought his way up the wet, runout 5.11 offwidth for 100 feet, performing the greatest lead ever done on the Diamond, and one that will probably never be repeated.

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