This past Saturday a severely abbreviated McLaughlin group headed up to the Diamond on the East Face of Longs Peak. The main issue was to climb D7. This issue was first presented in 1966 by Wayne Goss (Kor's partner on first winter ascent of the Diamond), Larry Dalke (protege of Kor's), and George Hurley (did first ascent of the Titan with Kor.) Later, in 1977, the issue was cleared up by John Bachar and Billy Westbay when they free climbed the route. Our two panelists were Mr. M. Blaster of the AAC and Mr. B. Boinger representing Billy and the Boingers. The group met at M. Blaster's house at 3 a.m. for the preliminary drive up to the trailhead.
Alpine climbing is a curious undertaking. Why in the hell would anyone like to get up in the middle of the night and trudge off into the darkness heading for an endless day of stress, exertion, fear, and danger? On your day off! This is supposed to be recreation! I don't understand it myself and it doesn't surprise me that not many climbers practice it. What surprises me is that any climbers do it. Answer: we're stupid.
The night before our planned climb, I drove home in a violent thunderstorm and hoped there would be a message on my answering machine from Blaster saying that the climb was off due to bad weather. No such luck. I pulled up to his house the next morning at 3 a.m. and we were hiking by 4:15 a.m. The trailhead parking was amazingly crowded for this time of day. Hikers start early too.
At the base of the gully, after crossing a short snowfield, we caught another party. Normally I would be worried that another party was headed for the same route as I was, but not today. D7 is at least 4th in popularity on the Diamond. By far the most popular routes are the Casual Route (10a) and Pervertical Sanctuary (10d). Not coincidentally, they are the easiest routes on the face. The party we passed was headed for Pervertical and we moved on by to solo the North Chimney.
I didn't think Blaster was too happy with the thought of soloing this route in his approach shoes. He had been carrying the heavy pack and said, "If we are going to solo this thing, you take this pack." Okay. I led upwards careful not to dislodge any rocks and even more careful not to dislodge any climbers, most importantly...me!
There are a few dicey sections on this route and it is just plain scary. We should have roped up, but time was of the essence and we needed to move fast. Soon we were on Broadway and trying to find the start of our route. After consulting our topos, we agreed on a small, left dihedral with some fixed pins in it. The first pitch was suppose to be 5.9, but this looked harder.
By 8 a.m. I was starting up the first pitch and it was immediately hard. The climbing is steep and continuous (5.9+), but the pro is good and I make steady progress. A loose flake halfway up provides some early excitement as I have to stand on it. Scary. All the belays are fixed on this route and when I arrived at the first one I found a descent, two foot ledge. The rest of the belays except for the last two would be merely stances.
I hauled up, hand over hand, our immensely heavy pack. This was the crux of the pitch for me! The Loobster, my California climbing partner, had the team Wall Hauler (mainly because it was his, but I always thought of it as "ours.") This would have eased the hauling immensely. I kept thinking about the possibility of hauling the bag all the way up and then getting tired and dropping it.
As Blaster led the second pitch I had time to observe the traffic jam over on Pervertical Sanctuary. Three parties were now bumping up against and climbing around each other. I was thankful to be where I was. The Diamond is becoming an alpine gym. We were the second party on Broadway, only the lone Casual Route party beat us to the ledge. But the next three parties (two via the North Chimney approach and one via the Chasm View Wall rappel approach) were all headed for Pervertical. We ended up keeping pace with them for quite awhile but eventually two of the parties left us behind as they were free climbing a much easier route. The last party was extremely slow and we left them far behind.
The second pitch is a pure joy to climb. Interesting climbing on steep rock with good holds, some jamming, and great, plentiful protection. George didn't have any trouble with this pitch except deciding which pins to clip. There were so many he couldn't clip them all. This pitch is very long and ends at a crappy hanging belay.
The third pitch is rated 10a and I assume this is the rating when it is...DRY! Not so today, but this didn't bother me much as it gave me any even better excuse to pull on a few judicious pieces of gear. I faced climbed left and up (10a) at one point, but this wasn't around the wide section as the topo and description indicate. The wide section was further up, dripping wet, and had to be climbed directly. You don't have to do any OW moves on it due to some face holds and a smaller crack (and a handy yank on a quickdraw), but a large camming unit comes in handy here.
This pitch was only about a hundred feet long and I set up a belay just below a ledge on a couple of footholds. Why just below the ledge? The ledge that is suppose to be a bivy ledge? Because the only anchors are in the seam where the ledge hits the wall and the ledge is about ten inches wide with a bulging wall above.
The weather had been beautiful up to this point, but now it took a turn for worse. The clouds moved in and dropped around us. I was wondering what George would think when he got to the belay. Of course things didn't faze me and he barely noticed the change of weather. George is a true alpinist/mountaineer and doesn't let a little discomfort stand in his way. I, on the other hand, was looking for a quick excuse to get off this scary face. No such luck.
The 4th pitch was soaking wet and George ended up aiding it completely. The pitch is very long and this proved time consuming for us. We had hoped for only two pitches of aid on the 5.11's and to free or at least French-free climb the 5.9 and 5.10 pitches for speed. We knew at this point that we were going to be on the face a lot longer than planned and hoped the weather would hold out for us.
The 5th pitch is the crux pitch if you are free climbing the route and probably one of the hardest pitches when aiding it also. It is very long, very steep, and has another loose flake to negotiate. When it started to snow on me I began to worry. This was my second time climbing on the Diamond and the second time it snowed on me as I led the crux pitch. This isn't the sort of streak I have a strong desire to continue. At first I moved pretty quickly as there was frequent fixed gear, but then got slower. High on the pitch I found some ground I could free climb. "Brace yourself, George. I'm going to do a free climbing move!" I yelled down to George. Three vertical feet later I was securely back in my aiders. It was a long time before I yelled down "off belay."
As George was cleaning the pitch, the snow stopped. It was never very heavy and blowing off of us, but did have me pretty concerned. As George neared the belay, a pin, not clipped to the rope, popped out of the crack fell down the face. The lead rope was pushing against it and apparently worked it loose. Obviously, some of the old pins on this route are not to be trusted. These pins are more than 25 years old and that means they have endured 25 freezing winters and 25 thawing summers. Back them up as often as possible.
As George started up the final hard pitch, I settled in for a long, cold belay. I had all the clothes I brought on me: capilene, pile, shell, hat, gloves; and still shivered at the belay. Blaster's bulldog style sometimes doesn't lend itself to the complexities of aid as efficiently as possible. Things went slowly initially, but faster as he found his rhythm. This pitch was even longer than the last one and ran out all the rope. Thirty feet up the pitch it started snowing again. Oh the joy...
Fortunately, the pitch ended on a great ledge called Almost Table Ledge, which not surprisingly is one short pitch below Table Ledge. I cleaned the pitch and struggled with some rope jamming. The next pitch joins the last pitch of the Casual Route for the 5.8 moves to Table Ledge. I belayed here and brought George up. One more grungy 5.8 pitch, which we should have avoided by just walking further left, placed us on easy ground and we unroped. It was 4:30 p.m. A bit late to be up this high.
After a quick bite, some rest and water, we trudged up the 4th class top section of Kiener's Route and down the North Face descent. We didn't continue on to the summit of Longs due to the late hour.
After descending the North Face to Chasm View, we stopped for a couple of victory photos and noticed that the last team on Pervertical was still a pitch and a half away from Broadway. It was past 6 p.m. and I was concerned about their safety.
A half an hour later strong winds brought a driving rain making the hiking pretty miserable, but I was so thankful I wasn't still stuck on the Diamond like the last Pervertical team. They were in deep, deep doo doo. What a miserable evening and night they were going to have. Luckily, for them, the rain lasted less than an hour and things started to clear up, but it probably gave them a major scare.
Hiking out I was hoping people would ask us what we climbed. I'd reply, "D7," like it was nothing. Climbers who knew about the route would hopefully assume that we free climbed it or at least attempted to free climb it and thereby conclude that we were a couple of hard men. Blaster might fit this bill, but I was definitely a marshmallow. Each time someone would ask and I would casually give my reply, "D7." The inquirers would lift their eyebrows and cock their head in respect...until Blaster would stupidly add: "We aided all the hard pitches!" Curse his foul tongue.
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