Graham makes an assault on the famous Diamond Face of Long's Peak!
Colorado, USA: 07 August 2002.
Hi all. I'm just back from 4 fabulous action-packed days with Dave in the Rocky Mountains, USA.
After the hottest and driest July it finally decided to rain as we rolled into Estes Park at 6:00AM on Saturday morning. Of course it didn't last for long and we had a great day on Lumpy Ridge climbing Melvin's Wheel (400ft 5.8+) and the first pitch of Orange Julius (5.10b/c) before retreating in a lightning storm.
The storm gave us time to pick up our back country permit that allowed us to bivouac below the Diamond and to pitch the tent near Mary's Lake. Eva had packed our food basket for us and provided a detailed menu for all our meals and as Dave had bought a new Dragonfly stove he got to do the cooking.
We broke camp at 4:30AM Sunday morning and drove to the trail head for Long's Peak - the car park was already full so we had to park on the road! The forecast was suspect with the possibility of lightning for the next few days. It took us ~ 3 hours to march into Chasm Lake and pick a bivouac site.
We found a fantastic cave with a sandy floor close to the lake. We then headed up into the awe-inspiring rock amphitheatre to do a climb and acclimatise. What an awesome place!
The Diamond Face sits on top of a formidable 500' cliff. The lower cliff is bounded on the left by Mill's Glacier / Lamb's Slide - a steep dirty piece of ice, and on the right by the massive Red Wall / Chasm View Wall. The Diamond itself rises vertically for another 1000' to the summit of Long's Peak.
We could see two parties on the Diamond - one making fast progress up the Casual Route (5.10a) and another on Pervertical Sanctuary (5.11a) - the climbers looked so small and their body positions really emphasized the verticality of the wall.
The boulder field below the wall made for slow going but at least the dry winter and hot summer meant that we didn't have to cross steep snow to reach the wall. The down side was that because conditions were so dry there was nothing holding the mountain together and the constant rock fall was horrific. Virtually nowhere seemed to be safe from falling rock which rumbled and rolled down Lamb's slide whilst others whistled and whirred through the air from God-knows where.
The noise of crashing rock reverberated around the chasm so you often didn't know where the noise really came from. I took some shrapnel from one fall on the back of my neck - I hadn't heard it coming. We both really felt the effects of the altitude and coupled with the intimidating environment our plans for the day diminished rapidly. In the end we climbed the first pitch of the Crack of Delight (500' 5.7) that climbs the lower cliff to emerge directly below the Casual Route on the Diamond.
One pitch was enough and we abseiled from the bolt belay and scampered back to our bivvy cave to recover. In the afternoon we slept off our headaches and in the evening when the climbers (dudes) descended from the wall we drilled them for any info we could get. We both slept pretty well. I woke one time to see a sky full of stars and then later to see none at all. We left the bivvy with first light at 5:15AM.
The sky was filled with cloud; only one or two stars peeped out. As we made the 45 minute trek to the base of the North Chimney we felt stronger than the previous day, the sky cleared and things began to look up. The North Chimney provides the fastest approach to the Broadway ledge at the base of the Diamond but is notoriously dangerous; there was a party in front of us so we waited for an hour as they made their way up. In the meantime a Welsh father and son joined us and when the chimney was clear we all ascended together to reduce the risk of knocking rocks on each other.
The chimney was disgustingly dangerous and in places was quite tricky, requiring some roped climbing. It took us two hours to reach the foot of the Casual Route; we arrived there at ~9:00AM, 2 hours behind schedule. The Welsh team started climbing straight away whilst we weighed up the situation.
Dave was not feeling on top form and was starting to question the sanity of the proposition. Given all this on top of the lateness of the hour and the fact that clouds were already starting to build again we decided to bail. It turned out to be a very good decision!
From Broadway it was 4 long abseils back down the Crack of Delight to the bottom. As we packed our gear we could see thunderheads building directly above us and by the time we reached the bivvy cave the wall was obscured by clouds; we could hear thunder and it was starting to rain.
And man did it rain, and hail, and storm. The lightning crackle and thunder seemed to be amplified by the amphitheatre - weren't we glad to be down! We sat out the worst of the storm in the bivvy cave and chatted with the other teams as they evacuated past us. By the time we began our descent it was just drizzling lightly.
We got back to car at 5:00PM where cold beers were waiting for us in the cooler. We slept well in the tent, pitched again at Mary's Lake. The weather forecast for Tuesday was iffy again but we woke at 6:00AM to a clear dry morning. After the obligatory stop for a Starbucks coffee we headed for Lumpy Ridge again - this time to the Book and the famous 'J Crack' (500' 5.9+).
The J crack looks outstanding as it splits a featureless granite face running cleanly for ~200 feet directly upwards. Dave led up the first pitch to belay at the base of the J as the sun just struck the face. The beautiful crack pitch ran sustained finger locks for ~150 feet to a hanging belay on nuts and cams. Above the belay the wall steepened and the crack closed up to 5.11a climbing.
Our strategy was to climb high in the crack, set some gear and then make a descending traverse leftwards across the face to escape onto easier crack climbing - it was spicy, especially with thunder rolling and rain beginning to fall. Dave led the final Cave Exit pitch up a wild and strenuous overhang to take us to the top.
What a climb!
Back in the office the thunderheads are already building for another afternoon storm. Dan has already been on the phone and we are starting the think about Plan B...