The Diamond


 

Climbers on the Casual Route (IV 5.10-). More than any other first ascent, Duncan Ferguson and Chris Reveley's opening of this line in 1977 changed perceptions of the Diamond, creating a relatively accessible route on the intimidating wall. [Photo] Jonathan Degenhardt

When the news reached me that they'd freed D1, I could hardly believe it. My own climbing on Longs was at a low point: I had spent most of the late 1970s coaching high-school distance runners. By 1980 I began climbing seriously again, and after linking the Directagonal on the lower wall and the Yellow Wall in a twelve-hour push with visiting Australian powerhouse Kim Carrigan, I felt fit and confident. D1 had yet to see another free ascent, but I had no intention of climbing Westbay's wet offwidth pitch above Table Ledge. I wanted to free the original Kamps-Rearick line. I hoped that their version would yield a high-quality, challenging pitch.

With Carrigan gone from Colorado, I was again looking for a strong partner. I had been hearing about a powerful, confident newcomer to the Boulder area—twenty-two-year-old Jeff Achey. Although Achey and his contemporaries viewed me as "elderly"—I was now all of twenty-nine and had a steady job—he was eager to go up on D1 with me.

Achey and I moved rapidly up the first five pitches to Table Ledge. The last headwall pitch, ending in a small cave at Table Ledge, is horrendously loose, with eight-foot, crumbly spikes of rock standing precariously in the way—the crux, according to Kamps and Rearick.

As I pondered this section, never before free climbed, it began to snow. But it was a dry snow, and I was still warm, beneath rock that overhung for the next 100 feet and seemed oddly inviting. After I traversed left into the Kamps-Rearick finish, a dry, bomber crack appeared in a one-foot corner. Like them, I was elated, but also a little intimidated by the wall leaning out above me, over thousands of feet of exposure.

The author, Roger Briggs, belayed by his brother, Bill, on the 5.11 crux of the Lower East Face's Diagonal Direct. Ray Northcutt and Kor established the Diagonal (V 5.9 A1) on the Lower East Face in 1959; its completion helped convince RMNP rangers to lift the ban on climbing the Diamond. Kor and Floyd Bossier pushed the route to Broadway in 1963 for the Diagonal Direct. The brothers Briggs established a variation to this—Directagonal (V 5.11c)—in 1977. In 1980 Briggs and Kim Carrigan enchained Directagonal with the Yellow Wall for the first continuous linkup of the integral face. [Photo] Glenn Randall

Powerful liebacking, devious stemming, get in some gear, try to rest, repeat. The swirling snow added an absurd tranquility, but the rock stayed dry and my hands were warm. Soon I was breathing like a distance runner, climbing at my limit at nearly 14,000 feet, yet I wanted this pitch more the higher I got. Finally, I found some hand jams, just as the angle kicked back to dead vertical.

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Drained, I settled into the tiny belay stance, leaned out against the anchors and breathed in the vast space around me. The snowstorm passed and the sun returned to bathe Mills Glacier 2,000 feet below.

Achey began the infamous last pitch by stepping right, back into the main crack, which at this point is a bomb-bay chimney. Depending on the time of year and the temperatures, the next 140 feet can be running with water, filled with ice, or—as it was in this case—both. But one finds a way to get up this pitch, because going down from here is unthinkable.

At last we emerged at the top of the Diamond and back into the sun. D1 as climbed by Kamps and Rearick twenty years earlier was now free.

Against the Grain: 1985

"Hey Jim—wanna go look at a new route on the Diamond?" I knew Logan would say yes even though he hadn't been climbing recently. Since the one-jacket bivy, our friendship had survived many adventures, including building my house in Boulder Canyon. Although Logan's boyish looks hadn't changed in twenty years, he was now a veteran of big climbs from Yosemite to the Canadian Rockies. Even so, he had no idea what he was getting into. Neither did I.

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