– Very early on in my climbing career I received a postcard that flaunted an image of The Diamond on Longs Peak. I soon become aware this spectacular alpine wall was a mere 3 hours drive from Steamboat Springs to the trailhead. For about 2 years this postcard sat on the dashboard of Harriett, my late great ’92 Subaru Loyal. Soon this image found its way onto my equipment wall, positioned below my rack of neatly organized ice screws. This image stood as motivation, someday I would stand below this wall from Chasm Lake, with a pack full of cams and rope, with the intention of ascending this magnificent Granite rock face.
I always believed this was a lofty goal, only to be achieved later in life, after years of climbing and dozens more technical summits under my harness. This dream soon became an attainable goal in my eyes as former Ski Haus “Man of Action” and good friend, Mike Paul, told me he believed the Casual Route was within my skill set. Having much respect towards this spectacular rock, I kept the dream of soon climbing it in the back of my mind with grains of fear and doubt still looming; am I fast enough? Strong enough? And fit enough to climb 5.10 at 14,000 feet? This fear and doubt could only be eased one way – by giving the Diamond the old college try.
As summer tourist season ramped up here in the lush Yampa Valley, so did my work schedule. July was full of days working at Ski Haus and guiding rock climbing with Rocky Mountain Ventures. When a reprieve from work pearled, a single day off, I texted my good buddy, “Dirtbag” Dave Taft, to see if he could escape his weekend warrior schedule and get out for a day of climbing. After he assured me he had time to take off from work, my mind began racing with ideas of climbs we could do together. Maybe Flying Buttress on Mt. Meeker? Perhaps a day on Halletts? But I let my imagination run wild and my aspirations get the best of me and I sent Dirtbag Dave a message back “Want to get Casual on the Diamond?” and he nonchalantly replied “Sure.” It’s understood that we were both downplaying the plans we agreed upon, but soon hashed out the minor details.
I was able to leave work a few hours early from Ski Haus, evade the mountains and end up in the buzzing metropolis of Denver, where I picked Dave up before heading to the trailhead where we would not camp, but bivy in the back of Huck Trouse, my newest rig.
As we began racking up our pro that evening by headlamp, we realized our water situation was lacking. A single litter between the two of us would not suffice for our looming endeavor. After failing to obtain water at the nearest campground, we decided to resort to delinquency; drive around until the nearest water spicket was located and extract enough hose water to fill my 6 Liter dromedary. Unfortunately, our efforts were futile, and our extremely early alpine start was creeping closer. After several unsuccessful attempts, the decision was to take water out of a near by creek and hopefully boil out all the containment which exist in a creek adjacent to a National Park in peak tourist season.
Sleep in Huck was minimal, sub 2 hours, after our failed aquatic endeavors. Our approach was illuminated by headlamps and filled with sightings of the ever prevalent “Longs Peak Keyhole route” hiking teams. As Chasm Lake was nearing, I would not be mistaken by the ominous outline of The Flying Buttress as the early morning light was rapidly illuminating the valley. As dawn inched its way into day our objective was soon in plain sight. The Diamond, once a picture on my dashboard, now a reality towered overhead. All the lore was true, this was an extraordinarily special place and as a climber it’s perfectly clear why it has been given the name “The Diamond.”
On our approach, near Chasm Lake, a climbing team would pass us as we stopped to sip warm steam water from our dromedary. One of the voices from this team sounded very familiar to me; I had just listened to a very interesting podcast about climbing in Patagonia with one of America’s premier Alpinist, Hayden Kennedy. We caught up with the party in the talus field below Longs and sure enough that familiar voice was none other then Hayden’s. I kept my star struck giddiness to myself and tried to play it cool, when asked what we were planning on climbing and responding with “Just the Casual Route” he would come back with “that is no just, that is real climb for sure.” Soon enough, he and his partner would disappear up the snowfield and into the bowls of the North Chimney. Excitement and uncertainty increased exponentially as we would soon follow in their footsteps and up to the Broadway Ledge, a large grassy moraine that stretches the length of the face a few hundred feet up off the deck.
Racking up was casual with 4G coverage and some Bluegrass tunes cranking from the ledge to get the stoke-ometer revved up. I blasted off the ledge up easy broken terrain to the top of the D7 pillar, to bring Dave up, and swap leads. As the day moved on, dehydration, malnutrition and sleep deprivation became evident among both of us, but we forded onward and upward. The pitch 3 traverse was extremely memorable. The 5.8 corner on pitch 5 was an exquisite rope stretching, cam eating pitch I will never forget. The fears that loomed over the crux pitch were erased when I was able to get situated into the comfortable 5.8 squeeze chimney and wiggle my way up without much hesitation. The final traverse to almost Table Ledge was slightly hard to find, but with assistance from Hayden, whom was at the rappel station, I was reassured I was on the right track.
Finishing up the climbing for the day on the classic 4th class Keeners Route to the summit was a relief from the hours spent suspended in a harness from the vertical reality that is the Diamond. Topping out on another Colorado 14er was overshadowed by the fact that I had just finished the greatest rock climb of my entire life, thus far. The hike out was horrendous. We were tired, weary and hungry and I longed for a seat in my truck. Kicking loose rocks and roots the entire way down, which was increased by the laziness to not dig through my pack to pull out my headlamp, lead to the more then occasional “Man-tram,” screaming fits where I would punch the air and yell obscenities at nothing, on the nearly wordless decent between Dave and myself.
Once cell service was reached, I had to call my boss from RMV and let him know I would not be making my morning trip as I had miscalculated how long the entire day would take. Driving back to Denver was desperate with our level of exhaustion, but there was generally one set of eyes open and somewhat on the road. After few more hours of shuteye on Dave’s couch iIwas back in Huck and en-route back to Steamboat for an afternoon of top rope guiding for Rocky Mountain Ventures.