The Diamond


 

Josh Wharton on a 2004 winter ascent of D7. Wharton and his partner, Jonathan Copp, set the winter speed record on this ascent, climbing to the summit in two blocks and descending the north face in 14:17. [Photo] Michael O'Donnell

That winter I connected with someone who appreciated the Diamond as I much as I did. I'd first met Eric Guokas when he was a student in my high-school physics class. By 1986 he had become one of the best climbers in the Boulder area, with a winter solo ascent of the Diamond to his credit. Our mutual love of Longs brought us to climb together regularly and to collaborate on a free-climbing guide to the east face. Now he and I committed ourselves to the new route. In May he left for Yosemite; we'd head up to the Diamond as soon as he returned.

Steve Levin climbing King of Swords (5.12a). Roger Briggs and Dan Stone completed the first free ascent of the route (known in its aid form as Its Welx, V 5.9 A4) in 1985. When Briggs first scoped the line, he thought it might be "the last great free climb on the Diamond," but the ascent changed his perception of what was possible, and he continued to put up hard free routes over the next sixteen years. [Photo] Kennan Harvey

But he never came back. A month after leaving Colorado, Eric was killed in a long leader fall.

Writings were collected, memorials held and ashes spread at Chasm Lake, but I struggled to find the right words, the right gestures, to remember Eric. After a few weeks the only thing that felt meaningful was to complete our climb.

When I shared my intentions with Eric Doub, one of Guokas' best friends, we both knew that he would be my new partner. Doub and I fought our way up shallow, overhanging cracks, and after I took some whippers at the crux, we named the finished route Eroica, in honor of our fallen friend.

The crux pitch had still not been led without falls, so I returned the next summer with Chip Chace, and the summer after that with Michael Gilbert, both times without success. Finally in 1989 I walked away for good, letting the climb stand as it was. I needed to get on with my life.

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Diamond Renaissance

By the early '90s, interest in the Diamond started to grow again, and my friends and I began to encounter more climbers on the wall, including some modern legends. One morning, in 1991, Michael Gilbert and I were approaching the North Chimney on our way to free solo the Casual Route. We hardly expected anyone else would be heading for the Diamond at 10 a.m. Yet a lone figure appeared ahead of us. His scrawny legs, frizzy hair and floppy old climbing shoes made him unmistakable.

The great free soloist Derek Hersey on Pervertical Sanctuary, as part of his 1989 triple enchainment, when he free soloed the Yellow Wall to Table Ledge, down climbed the Casual Route, then soloed Pervertical Sanctuary, finishing before noon. In 1991 the author encountered Hersey on an outing that included a free solo of Pervertical followed by a down climb of the Red Wall (IV 5.10-). [Photo] Kennan Harvey

"Hey up, punter!" the climber shouted, with a charming Manchester accent.

"Derek!" Gilbert said, in delighted surprise. "God, they let anyone up here these days."

"Looks like it, mate," Derek Hersey said, grinning his goofy grin.

"Hey man," I said. "How's your training been going lately? Any tips for me?"

"It's going great! Best meal before a big climb? Greasy fries with a Tooth Sheaf Stout and a few fried pastries. But stay away from the veggies: they'll make you soft in the head!"

We eventually found out that Hersey was there that day to outdo his triple enchainment from 1989 (when he free soloed the Yellow Wall to Table Ledge, down climbed the Casual Route, then third-classed Pervertical Sanctuary, all before noon). Today he was planning to start with Pervertical, down climb the Casual and go on from there.

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