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The Perverted Diamond


 

by Josh Janes

July 29, 2003

The Perverted Diamond (Kor’s Door & Pervetical Sanctuary):
July 26th, 2003

“We need to get the hell off this thing.”

I’m not sure who said it but we were both thinking it. Moments earlier the first gust of wind had slammed into the Diamond, marking the arrival of the storm. The party on Black Dagger had begun frantically French-freeing, while the party that had topped out on the Casual Route was zipping down the D-7 raps. We were still one pitch away from Table Ledge and the start of those same raps.

The day had started off well: We began hiking at 3 AM, were racking up at the base of Mill’s Glacier by dusk, and were climbing shortly thereafter. Our plan was to link up Kor’s Door (II 5.9) and Pervertical Sanctuary (IV 5.11a) for a Grade V day. David had never been on the Diamond before, but after our success two weekends ago on Spearhead and Chiefshead we felt confident. But now, sitting on top of the Obelisk Pillar with one pitch to go and the storm approaching very fast, we were just scared. David grabbed the handful of wires – all that was left of the rack after the last pitch – and he took off like a madman on the final stretch of 5.9 to Table Ledge. Moments later the rope came tight and, assuming belay was on, I started running up the last pitch. I topped out completely out of breath and with just a knowing glance I ran past the belay to the rap anchors. David followed and while he was tying the ropes together I fed the ends over the edge into the abyss. Thunder was crashing all around us and the sky turned very dark.

Halfway down the rappel the skies finally opened up and the hail came down; within five minutes I learned exactly how “water resistant” Schoeller DrySkin isn’t. Everything – gear, shoes, rock, and skin – was drenched in freezing water and ice.

Clutching desperately at the 8mm doubles, I worked the tangles out on my way down and squinted through the downpour for the next set of anchors. There they were – 20’ below. I continued a little more quickly now that I had them in sight; but unfortunately, a mere 5 feet from them, a knot pulled up into the ATC. The tangles in the lines that had been dropping down below me finally seized up and would not come loose, despite pleading cries of “Come on! Come on, stupid knot!” I fumbled with the knot for a few minutes, fingers rapidly going numb, while all around me the wind, thunder, and hail roared. For just a moment I panicked; my partner was out of sight and earshot above me, the ground 1500’ below, and the anchors maddeningly out of reach. After unweighting the lines with a Prussik, I was finally able to pull the knot loose enough to make it to the anchors, clip in, and get off that dental floss. I breathed a sigh of relief – only ten double rope raps to go. David practically pulled my belay device out of my hand putting himself on rappel. Moments later he arrived at the belay – shaking violently.

“Josh, I have to warn you that I may go hypothermic.” David said this with the authority of someone who could only have experienced it before. “OK,” I said, “What do I need to know?” “For now, just keep rapping first and give me a fireman’s belay.” “OK.” I made David pull the ropes to try to generate some heat.

The next few raps continued like this. I never set up an autoblock on the raps and as I remember this I feel sick because of my stupidity – how easily I could have slipped. Never again. On the last rappel to Broadway, our half-way point, I kept myself on while I traversed about 50 feet up a narrow, loose, slush-covered sidewalk to retrieve the approach shoes we had stashed there earlier. My legs were shaking wildly and on the way back I lost control and slipped, penduluming across the face, squeezing the ropes with all my strength hoping I wouldn’t hit the wall so hard that I’d let go. I didn’t, but it was very, very scary. I finished the rap to Broadway proper, and while David came down I worked to free up the ends of the ropes that had wrapped around a few blocks – one of these came loose, and tumbling down, landed on one of our ropes, cutting right through the sheath. The only reprieve from the nightmare was that, as David joined me on Broadway, the hail had stopped.

We traversed over to the Crack of Delight raps and then the hail started up again. David looked upwards at the sky and cursed loudly – For a moment I thought of the scene in Forrest Gump where Lieutenant Dan definitely challenged the raging storm from the mast of the “Jenny.” I couldn’t laugh but managed a little smirk. We threw the ropes for the last four rappels to Mill’s Glacier.

Up until now we hadn’t seen any of the other parties who had been on the wall with us earlier. We later found out that the Black Dagger party headed on to the summit (!) instead of doing the rappels, and the other two parties had rapped to Broadway just ahead of us, but, not knowing about the Crack of Fear* raps, they elected to descend the North Chimney. I could now see one of these climbers several hundred feet below me. He was standing on a narrow rib of rock just left of the chimney, about 100 feet above the glacier. A moment after I spotted him, I heard a thunderous roar and then a shout: ROCK! A split-second later a barrage of stone launched out of upper reaches of the chimney; the climber on the fin of rock looked up just in time to dodge the first few rocks, including a 250’ boulder that soared by his head. It was one of the most sickening and terrifying things I've ever seen: Rocks flying through the air while the climber swayed back and forth trying to dodge them and keep his balance at the same time. And then it happened: One of the last of the rocks struck him in squarely in the face and he doubled over on his tiny perch – only by a miracle not tumbling down the chimney to his death. I cupped my hand over my mouth in horror. His partner began screaming, “Are you OK? Are you OK?” For a moment he was motionless and then he moved a bit and looked up. Eventually he yelled, “No! I’m not OK!” I stood motionless for the first time since the storm hit. But then he got himself to his feet, and, knowing he’d be alright (and that there was very little we could do from our position), I threw the ropes for the next rappel. It turns out that the rock had broken his teeth, but that he was going to survive. Many people were very lucky that day.

No sooner then I had thrown the ropes and there was another roar – this time an avalanche down the Lamb’s Slide. I watched a 2000 lb boulder tumble down the couloir, coming to rest a mere 25 feet from our packs! It was incredible. “When is this going to end,” I wondered out loud. Fortunately, the hail began to trail off to freezing rain, and we were able to finish the rappels, kiss the ground, and hurry over to our packs.

I hadn’t stopped moving hard since leading the wide crack pitch to the top of the Obelisk, and finally the effort, exhaustion, fear, and cold caught up with me and I found myself altitude sick for the second time in as many weeks. It was slow going for me on the hike out and I didn’t stop shivering until well below tree line. Finally, at the car, my stomach was settled enough that I could drink water – I was desperately dehydrated.

I have no memory of the car ride home.

Today my wet gear still sits piled in the garage. I haven’t inspected the ropes yet and I’m afraid of what I’ll find. I curse the Diamond, and I wonder seriously if alpine climbing may just not be my thing.

*This is actually an adaptation of an email I sent to Charles Vernon describing the climb. In that email I wrote “Crack of Fear” raps – a Freudian slip referring to a hideous off-width climb in Lumpy Ridge. On Charles’ recommendation, I decided to keep the slip in the TR. Somehow it fits.

**The actual climbing on both routes was excellent and went very well. We did Kor’s Door in 3 pitches with a fair bit of simulclimbing. It’s normally done in 4-5. Traversing Broadway to the base of the Mitten (arriving at roughly 9:45 AM) was uneventful, but we stayed roped up as neither of us had been on the far south end of Broadway. David linked the first two pitches to the top of the Mitten in a great 60m lead, and I led the next 60m pitch to the Obelisk. Here David took on the crux in great form – a very sustained 30m pitch. 10c old-school is probably accurate, but at 13,500' I think the new rating of 11a is reasonable. I followed and led the wide crack pitch, about 50m. Doubles of #1, #2, and #3 Camalots, plus a #3.5 and #4, were enough for this lead – with careful back-cleaning and leap-frogging. The last pitch was short but sweet, although we didn’t enjoy it too much at the time.


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