It’s hard to find a climber who isn’t intrigued by the Diamond. It’s a Front Range landmark and a race with time and weather. It’s dangerous, difficult, high altitude and imposing. In short, it’s a beautiful big deal.
Most climbers choose one of three routes: the Casual Route (5.10), Pervertical Sanctuary (5.10+) or D-7 (5.11c or 5.10 A0). Each is 6-7 pitches long; however, if you choose the recommended one-day trip strategy, you’ll be up by 2:30 am.
By 3:30 am you’ll be gearing up at the Long’s Peak trailhead. On the weekend, the lot is full, as 300 people are gunning for the summit via the Keyhole, North Face or the Diamond. By 6:00 am the sun is up, and you’re at Chasm Lake.
The fun starts as you cross the Mill’s Glacier and head up the North Chimney. This “easy” 400-foot, rubble-strewn trough is often free soloed—speed equals safety when facing rockfall in the narrow chimney.
By 7:00 am you’re on Broadway Ledge. At 13,000 feet—you’ll be huffing like a chain smoker and probably standing in a line up with several teams. Remember, popular doesn’t mean easy, and “fast” is a relative term. The Diamond in summer is often wet, frozen and blindsided by afternoon thunderstorms.
In general, the climbing is a pleasant blend of face holds and jams. The belays are solid, protection is plentiful, and the sun is warm while it lasts. The climbs are classic, though the actual movement is secondary to the totality of the experience. If all goes to plan, you’ll finish the hard climbing and be at Table Ledge in five to six hours. From there, either traverse left to join the Keiner’s Route to summit or get bonus points and an additional two pitches by choosing the Forrest Finish. Regardless, it will be late in the day by the time you return to your car after 5,000 feet of elevation gain and 18 miles of hiking.
So how does one prepare for such a marathon adventure?
STEP ONE: Trad climb.
Put in lots of mileage placing and cleaning gear till your systems are dialed and you feel solid leading 5.10+ in places like Eldorado Canyon and Boulder Canyon. If you have to hang/aid on harder terrain don’t be shy, just be fast.
If you can solidly climb the following routes, you’ll be well prepared:
Your Eldorado Canyon To Climb List:
Your Boulder Canyon To Climb List:
- Castle Rock ‘Cragging’ Afternoon: Work your way left to right on trad routes starting with Skunk Crack and ending on Country Club Crack. Choose 6-8 pitches in the 5.9-5.11 range. Don’t miss By Gully and Athlete’s Feat.
- Elephant Buttress Must-Dos (also to be climbed in a day): Climb the Standard Route, Mojo Rising, Feathers, Wingtip, Left Wing, and What’s Up? for eight pitches up to 5.10+. Do FM (11+) for extra credit.
STEP TWO: Build base Fitness in the gym.
Don’t just go for those ego-boosting redpoints, but consider an ARC program with an aerobic component on the treadmill or bicycle. Since it’s hard to spend three hours on an exercise bike to approximate the 20 miles of terrain you’ll hike, train intervals to increase resistance and decrease duration.
STEP THREE: Dial your systems.
Climbing fast is fun, but overall speed is heavily reliant on gear system efficiency. Hone in your gear placements and cleaning. The goal is to lead, clean and changeover belays on 5.9-5.10 in less than 45 minutes. Practice nonverbal communication in case wind and weather make hearing your partner impossible.
STEP FOUR: Build solid partnerships.
Long alpine trad routes require more commitment than other forms of climbing. Treat your partners well, and choose them wisely. Look for teamwork, communication, honesty, trust, understanding and respect along with skill and efficiency–the latter two you can learn together. Most of all, look for equanimity. Everyone is happy when things are great, but fewer hold up well when things aren’t. And on the Diamond there will come a point when things really suck.
STEP FIVE: Complete training climbs at altitude.
Climb in Rocky Mountain National Park and/or Sundance Buttress on Lumpy Ridge and at The Black Wall on Mount Evans, which approximates the Diamond’s altitude.
Routes to Climb:
At The Black Wall:
STEP 6: Buck up and do it.
If you’ve done all of the above, you’re ready–go for it.
Takeda’s Take is a blog by Boulder-based climber and mountaineer Pete Takeda. Pete’s pretty neat.
Featured Image Credit: John Evans