The Diamond, Long’s Peak

Long’s Peak, at 4,340m, is the highest in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a shapely enough mountain and draws numerous hikers for the challenging “keyhole route” to its summit, but it is the spectacular sheer cliff on its eastern flank which is the magnet for climbers.Ancient geological forces took a scalpel to the conical peak and cleaved a magnificent 1,000ft high wall – inevitably christened The Diamond and the iconic image of RMNP and of Colorado climbing. I first caught sight of more or less the above view on our family Big Trip about 15 years ago and The Diamond immediately cemented its place on my lifetime To Do list.The Casual Route features in the North America’s 50 greatest climbs and is the “most casual” route up The Diamond. With 8 pitches of HVS to E1 climbing it’s certainly not desperate, but all those pitches lie above or around 4,000m!There are a couple of approaches and numerous strategies to access The Diamond. We chose to walk up to Chasm View and rap down to The Broadway, the ledge the base of the routes (our original plan being to bivvy here). After a quick recce at the NP visitors centre,we set off on our approach. It’s about 7 miles and 1,200m of ascent up a very well made and graded trail – just as well with sacks stuffed full of climbing and bivvy gear.Typical RMNP weather, afternoon clouds building towards likely storms around 4pm – The Diamond becoming visible as we leave the tree line. Sure enough, an impressive electrical storm kicked off “bang” on schedule, but luckily its centre passed a mile or so to our south so we only got damp, not drenched (or fried!)We’d planned to keep weight down by filling a 5 litre container as near to our bivvy as possible, but got increasingly worried that we’d stuffed up and missed the last source. We chatted to a young couple heading down from their hike up the regular route to the summit “You’re going to climb The Diamond – Jeeze!” and they assured us there was running water at The Boulderfield, but offered to fill our drinking bottles from the couple of litres each they were now lugging unnecessarily down the hill – how nice was that!The Boulderfield is a real surprise as you encounter it above the somewhat barren slopes – a near-flat bowl of (you guessed it) boulders with streams trickling through and verdant pools – a sunny Shangri-la at 4,000m and an ideal bivvy spot for those hiking Long’s Peak. Spots are highly sought after and rationed by permit – one couple I spoke to had booked their place in March.Great views across to The Diamond.We filled the water carrier and headed up towards Chasm View, with the altitude and extra weight really making themselves felt for the last few hundred metres of ascent. It was 6pm by the time we reached the Ridge (and rap point) overlooking Chasm Lake and The Diamondand we decided to exercise some good mountaineering judgment and bivvy there rather than make the 3 raps down to spend the night on The Broadway, figuring that a jammed rope this close to sunset could make for a miserable evening.There are a few flat bivvy spots on the north side of the ridge, with the added benefit of catching the last of the rays and enjoying spectacular views down to the Boulderfield – we settled in for what would have been a very comfortable night if it hadn’t been for a mini-disaster – in the final shuttling of loads to the bivvy spot, the water container had slipped out of the top of my sack and split. Swift action saved the last litre or so but left us with only a couple of litres for the evening, breakfast and the route. Time to go into camel-mode…Wrapped up warm, we retired for an early night.Bill sounded the 5am wake up calland a procession of lights was already visible on the hiking route across the Boulderfield below.We were making the first of 3 50m raps by 6am as dawn was approaching, but the magnificent sight of first light on The Diamond was somewhat offset by the pinpricks of torchlight making their way up North Chimney (just about visible in the bottom of the photo above). Looking like we’d have company and most likely be in a queue on The Casual Route.The rap points were pretty easy to find and shiny and new… and the walk across the Broadway straightforward, so we were soon joining the back of the “line” at the foot of The Casual Route.Happily the two teams ahead of us were both friendly and capable, so apart from a delayed departure and the occasional wait at stances we were barely delayed, and the belay banter and conviviality more than made up for this.P1 is a bit of an introductory scramble, and here’s Bill on the thin 5.9 crack on P2 with Rudyard above on the airy 5.7 traverse of P3 and Ryan visible at the far left on the belay at the end of P3Here’s Bill following P3 with the Chasm View rap route in the background.Pitches 4, 5 and 6 follow a long 5.8 corner / dihedral (sustained VS/HVS)Which brings you to the 50m crux pitch 7, which could easily be a 3 pitch classic in its own right. It starts with some great moves up thin parallel 5.9 cracks (here’s Rudyard showing the way)Before a heinous 5.8 squeeze chimney (normally I manage to contrive events so that Bill gets these – I must be going soft!) here he is following…This leads to the 5.10a crux – a bit of a boulder problem which would probably feel easy if it wasn’t at the end of a 50m pitch, after a thousand feet of climbing and well above the 4,000m contour. Stiff pull required to arrive at the belay, where I was greeted with “nice work!” from Ryan.The final pitch traverses left again along the Table Ledge crackTo reach the D7 rap route. This gets you back down to Broadway (and your sacks and bivvy gear in our case) and a further 4 raps take you down to Mills Glacier and the walk off via Chasm Lake. The first rap point is not obvious – follow a zigzag path down beneath the start of The Casual Route to end up at a triple bolt rap station about 100ft directly beneath the start of that route. Here’s a shot to help you find it.This gets you down to a bit of slushy snow (no doubt a different proportion earlier in the season)and a morrass of huge boulders which we totally failed to find a good way through. More flailing continued as we struggled to find a good route round the lake, and a last view of The Diamond (at least on this trip)Then just the 4 mile slog down to the Ranger Station (thankfully all down hill!) and we were done. Time for some rehydration!!… Apart from having to find a campground with some space on a Friday evening (Meeker Park) and put up tents etc. By the time we were ready to cook we’d lost the will / energy. A fine dining experience of “chips n dip” washed down by a welcome beer saw us in our Pits by about 9pm.

8 responses to “The Diamond, Long’s Peak

  1. As I remember shortly before your rap point down to Broadway is the start of the original ‘tourist’ route up Long’s Peak. I managed to find part of the original via ferrata hawser and then followed the same line up to the top including taking one peek over the edge to the Diamond Face. I came back down the current tourist route and the whole made a great day out. I remember popping over the edge onto the summit plateau much to the surprise of the ten or so people assembled there! Enjoy the holiday. Jim.

  2. Brilliant. Well done Dom, Bill. I can certainly relate to this being on the ever growing wish list – spotted over 20 yrs ago and still a burning desire to climb the Diamond

    Well done

    Good beta

  3. Dominic, it was a pleasure climbing with you. Very generous assessment that you were only “barely delayed”. The route ended up being a significant challenge for the grade, and we were hustling to stay ahead of you two, not with complete success as it appeared to me. Glad it worked out.
    Nice writeup. Keep climbing strong!

  4. Pingback: RockAroundTheWorld Retrospective – The 2004-5 Big Trip part 2: The US – from Boulder to Smith | RockAroundTheWorld·

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