This summer has been one of the most exciting climbing seasons that I have had in a while. After washing dishes for two months it was finally time to actually get out and get some climbing done. As soon as I got my last pay check I packed up my truck and drove north to Jackson, Wyoming and the Tetons. Last summer I was only able to spend five days in the range, so I was only able to nab an ascent of the Owen-Spalding route. My hope for this trip was the Black Ice Couloir. A classic alpine ice climb on the backside of the Grand, which was put up in 61' by Herb Swedlund and Ray Jacquot after it had turned back talented climbers like Yvon Chounard. It was a huge step forward in the Teton Range. My partner for the climb would be Joe Mohan, a good friend from Michigan.
Climbing on the Diamond - Andrew Plagens
Once we got to Jackson I was more than psyched. We packed up immediately with heavy loads intent on spending three days in the lower saddle. Unfortunately on the trail Joe started to feel the effects of traveling from sea level to an alpine environment in the matter of 3 days. We decided to stay in the caves that night and wait a day to see if Joe’s ‘condition improved. The Next day Joe felt even worse. It was becoming apparent to me that the Black Ice would have to wait until a later date. For the sake of Joe's well being we decided to pack up and head down. In the mountains you are only as strong as your partner. As disappointed as I was, the only option was to go down. We headed back down to the Front Range where Joe caught a flight back to Michigan. The next month was spent making early morning missions to Eldo and Boulder Canyon. My friend Bruno and I made the long hike up to Mickey Mouse wall and climbed Captain Beyond. It’s definitely a new favorite route.
The highlight of my summer came when Bruno, my friend Tim, and I decided to climb the Casual Route on the Diamond on Longs Peak. We hiked up to Chasm View the night before and bivied that night in the boulders being careful so that marmots wouldn't sneak into our packs and eat our food. We woke up early the next morning hoping to beat the Sunday crowds. We did three 60 meter raps to Broadway ledge and there we met up with a line to start the route. Shit. After waiting in line for what seemed like forever we finally arrived at the traverse pitch at about 10 a.m.
It was now my block and I climbed as fast as I could manage. I waited for the party above us at the end of the traverse for about 25 minutes while still on lead. I finally got onto the hanging belay and backed up the fixed mank with a piece. The next two pitches were part of my block too. The first was a shitty 5.8 to a stance under the most beautiful and perfect corner I have ever seen. Once again I had to wait to get into the belay stance to bring Bruno and Tim up. Things were starting to look a little questionable as far as the time of day was concerned. We were at the point on the route where it would have taken longer to bail than to climb the three final pitches into Kieners Route. We figured that we could manage.
Leading the corner pitch was amazing. It was one of the most quality pitches I have ever done in my life. At the top of this pitch the waiting started to get absurd. I waited on the ledge for an hour and a half to get to a solid position to build an anchor while the party above led the crux pitch. I brought Bruno and Tim up and it was now Bruno’s lead block. We had two pitches to the top and it was starting to get dark. We were still waiting for the person in front of us to follow the crux pitch. Finally Bruno got his chance to lead and fired up the pitch as fast as he could climb, which was hard considering there is a 50 foot section of 5.8 squeeze chimney in the middle of the pitch, which is pretty damn strenuous at 14,000 feet. Bruno hung in there and sent the pitch onsight with little problem. Tim and I followed. Now all we had to do was another traverse pitch onto Kieners and then scramble to the summit. Once we got into Kieners it was completely dark. We finally summited Longs at about 10 p.m. Things were beginning to look as though they may get interesting.
Our plan was to rap down the cables route on the north face. We tried to find the rap route for about 25 minutes and finally decided that scrambling around the north face in the dark, where we had never been before was going to be more dangerous than helpful. Open bivy time. We found a decent sized ledge that did an ok job at blocking the wind. We spread our ropes on the ground for insulation, put our hoods up and began the alpine spoon. We had no belay coats or extra layers besides our base layers and our shells. Bruno had also dropped a sock out of his pocket while he put his rock shoes on to lead the last pitch. Luckily my base layer had a scuba style hood so I gave him my hat which we wrapped and taped around his bare foot. We had very little food left between us and had run out of water about 3 pitches from the top. Things were officially interesting. We spooned and shivered our way through the night praying for the sun to rise so we could warm up a bit.
When the sun finally came up we started descending immediately. We scrambled down most of the face and made one 60 meter rap off of a slung block. We were finally down. All we had to do now was get our stashed gear and hike out. When we got to our packs I drank a lot of water which caused me to feel ill and then throw up. I was going to have to take it easy for a bit. We hiked out and met up with my worried parents once we got to the trail head. It felt good to be back to civilization. I obviously learned a lot from this experience. I learned to never ever climb on the diamond on any weekend in late summer! It is truly a zoo up there. I also learned that you always care for your partners just as you would want them to care for you. Climbing partnerships are a lot more than just being friends. Bruno, Tim, and I climbed well together and never had to argue or over communicate; we knew exactly what one another was thinking. This is essential in the mountains. We were also willing to do anything to keep each other safe and alive. Climbing partnerships transcend normal friendship, especially after long and miserable experiences in the mountains. This summer has been a great season and I can only hope the winter is half as good, and that I can get out and get a lot of climbing done.