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Jun 14, 2015 - 06:52pm PT
1st Ascent: Bryan Becker and Rolf Graage. 1983: 17 days.

2nd Ascent: Ian Parnell and Kenton Kool. 2001: 5 days.

3rd Ascent: Katsutaka Yokoyama and Fumitaka Ichimura. 2005: 5 days.

4th Ascent: Chris Brazeau and Ian Welsted. 2005: 44 hours bergschrund to summit. (avoided entire upper crux corner due to spindrift by moving left several hundred feet and finishing on terrain on or near to the McCartney-Roberts line)

5th Ascent: Colin Haley and Mark Westman. 2007: 45.5 hours bergschrund to summit.

6th Ascent: Kazuaki Amano, Ryo Masumoto, and Takaai Nagato. 2010: Four days. First free ascent of the route's crux pitch at M7+.

Thanks to Mark Westman

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jun 14, 2015 - 09:17pm PT
It's damn near a trade route now!

Jun 14, 2015 - 10:20pm PT
Those are the only ascents I know of. I'm sure there must be others: Watch this space!

Jun 16, 2015 - 03:27pm PT
Denali Diamond, 5th Ascent: Mark Westman and Colin Haley.

I knew the FA history which was a terrifying read, but Colin and I knew that Ian and Brazeau had climbed this route in 44 hours a couple years before us; although they had gone around the route's crux upper corner system, it sounded like the way they went- likely the upper part of the McCartney-Roberts- was not much easier. We had no idea if we could do the route in that amount of time, but we were going to pack light and were willing to find out. The big question was how long the 3,800 foot tall lower wall was going to take. We were confident it would go in 2 days max, with another day for doing the upper 4,500 feet of steep snow. But I think we started off up the route intent on climbing until we got off of it.

We timed the weather window perfectly and began climbing at just after 12 midnight just two days before the summer solstice- all the light we would need at nighttime. The lower part of the wall flew by as we found perfect ice and mixed conditions- every rock gully was plastered with sticky water ice and featured incredibly aesthetic climbing on great rock. By 9 AM we had reached a large snowfield just above the big boulder- the place we imagined bivying on the wall if we had to bivi. We didn't even discuss stopping, we brewed up and then started up into the steep corner system soaring above us. the climbing in here was spectacular- narrow ribbons of vertical to overhanging ice bordered by solid, featured granite that offered awesome stemming. After a few hours the sun finally swung around from the east and starting blazing into the slot.

At the base of the crux pitch we stopped again for a quick brew and contemplated the climbing above. For the first time things looked a little intimidating and uncertain. The A3 roof used by the first ascent party was to the right- it looked absolutely insane. I remember Ian and Kenton mentioning that they could not understand why they 1983 party went that way given the less ominous, but still intimidating, corner to the left. Like everyone since we chose the corner. Up to this point in this corner system we'd had ample ice, but now the corner reared up to vertical and overhanging for the next 45-50 meters and there was no ice at all. Fortunately, there were lots of cracks, so we knew we'd make it up by hook or by crook. Colin started climbing and after about 15 meters he ran low on gear and was forced to make a hanging belay. We had brought only a single set of cams and nuts, and this was the only pitch where more gear would have been nice to have. I came up to the uncomfortable hanging belay in front of a granite slab. Colin left his pack behind and finished the pitch with a mix of free and the occasional aid move and reached a good stance. I followed this pitch wearing my followers pack and with the leaders pack hanging from my belay loop. This was super strenuous but it had to do- we had only brought one 9mm half rope and no haul/tag line. I wouldn't bring a haul line just for this one pitch, if I had it to do over again, but the risk involved in doing a route this big with only one rope is certainly debatable. The FA party in 1983 had also done it with one rope (they had forgotten the other one) and only 2 ice screws!! Anyway, above this pitch we knew we were getting close to the end of the rock climbing and were hoping for it to ease off, but instead we had two more thuggish M5 pitches in wide cracks that took a lot of energy.

All of a sudden, a last short pitch dumped us out into the great couloir that shoots up the face along side the Cassin. It was 9 PM and we were pretty worked. Fortunately the weather was beautiful. We had hoped to find snow here, instead it was blue ice for hundreds of feet and to avoid an all night ledge chopping we continued climbing for another 600 exhausting feet up the couloir until we could exit out right into a snowfield with deep snow. 23 1/2 hours and 4.500 feet of climbing after crossing the bergschrund we found our bivi at 16,500'. We ate and drank to our heart's content and finally around 3 AM we fell into a deep restful sleep in the First-light tent. The morning brought a continuation of the perfect weather and we slept in until it was nice and warm. At 2PM we set off for the summit. The trail breaking was typically gnarly but in time we reached the Cassin Ridge at 17,500' and then continued slogging. The views were simply unreal. We stopped and brewed up at 19,000 feet, anticipating that we'd be summiting at a relatively late and chilly hour, which turned out to be a wise move. We reached the summit ridge, set down our packs, and in a cold breeze we continued up to the high point 10 minutes to the right, reaching it at 9:45 PM, a little over 45.5 hours after leaving the bergschrund. We were back at 14 camp and the cache we had left there a few days earlier by midnight, and the following night I arrived back at basecamp and some rewarding rest days in the company of my lovely wife Lisa, the longtime Kahiltna basecamp manager. The Diamond was one of my most rewarding climbs, it was the elusive 'perfect ascent' where everything goes the way you fantasize that it will from the comforts of home, and it was the finest outing that I had, of many, with one of my best partners and friends.

Thanks to Mark Westman

Thanks to Colin Haley
smith curry

Jun 16, 2015 - 06:24pm PT
So cool

Jun 17, 2015 - 12:00am PT
All the adjectives seem trite. Monstrous mountain. There was a time I dreamed of climbing that thing but my day is gone, thanks for the vicarious thrill.
I Parnell

Jun 17, 2015 - 02:19am PT
OK, Avery has done a good job on 'nudging' me, so here is Kenton at the vertical tent site from the second night? during our second ascent. I'd attempted the crux pitch that evening, and we were both beginning to get a bit cold from the spindrift flurries coming down. Unable to pitch the tent horizontally - we improvised.

I've many fond memories from this great route, which I'll post up later. One of the strongest was having summited we dropped down 'directly' into the 14k camp switching from the orient express to the Japanese? couloir. Which looked like we were staggering out of control. These couloirs also had a reputation as accident blackspots, and we had told everyone we had planned to be back 2 or 3 days before. As a result there was a little welcoming party waiting for us - I remember there being Russians there as well as the Rangers - notably John Evans waiting with a brew. All a bit emotional at the time.


Jun 17, 2015 - 07:02am PT
Mr. Parnell, thank you for posting. I, for one, will read and look at the pictures with slack-jawed awe.

agreed about Mr.Westman. More stories please!

Mountain climber
Anchorage AK, Reno NV
Jun 17, 2015 - 07:11am PT
Almost 20 years before someone managed a second ascent of this route. Thanks for stopping by to share some of the story Ian. Grats on one of the great lines in one of the great ranges of the world.

Looking forward to more of the story!

We are also very lucky to have Mark Westman as a regular poster here. Perhaps he will chime in ..although I wouldn't be surprised if he is up in the range right now doing something cool.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Jun 17, 2015 - 10:36am PT
Nice thread! I didn't know that Bryan had done the FA of this impressive route. I met Bryan in Chamonix in 1976 and we did a climb together, the North Face of the Aiguille du Plan.

Haven't seen him since; hope he is doing well and will chime in here.

Here are a couple of shots of him from the Plan.

I Parnell

Jun 17, 2015 - 10:40am PT
So a few more memories. The tent we took was a prototype designed for Sherpa Babu Chiri to camp on the top of Everest. Kenton is a tall 6ft and I'm a short 6ft, I'm sure it fitted Babu very nicely for us we could only sleep by poking both our legs out the door. It was light though. The attached pic is from our first night when the weather was still pleasant.

The big thing for Kenton and myself was the 'mythology' surrounding the first ascent - it sounded like THE definition of a badass epic and we were really keen to push ourselves that season. We warmed up with a new route on the mini moonflower, then repeated the Moonflower (a tiny amount of aid) to just above the technical stuff and then did Denali Diamond. But just to keep us in our place Stephen Koch and Marko Prezelj also did a new route on the mini moonflower, made the first free ascent of the Moonflower and then did an all new line parallel with the Diamond. They did each of these just after each of our efforts - we accused them of copying us ;-)

Jun 17, 2015 - 10:47am PT
Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
Jun 17, 2015 - 11:37am PT
I spent a lot of time on the west rib staring over at that impossible face.

Jun 17, 2015 - 02:05pm PT
Thanks Rick

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Jun 17, 2015 - 03:08pm PT
The Anasazi climbed up there with some regularity but their moki steps melted out long ago.
christoph benells

Trad climber
Tahoma, Ca
Jun 17, 2015 - 04:04pm PT
there were a couple parties up there this season trying it.

female team including jewel lund ( who has completed polarchrome, mt. huntington, and deprivation, mt hunter)

and montana badasses keenan waeschle and co., who did french route up hunter's N butt previously this season in an 80 hour push.

Trad climber
Jun 17, 2015 - 04:33pm PT
Great thread. Keep them coming.

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
Jun 17, 2015 - 08:56pm PT
Excellent job on this one Avery! IP on the taco . . . f*#kin' a right!

Colin H is one talented climber and photographer.

Awesome old school shots Mr Rick A . . . a lot of snow in '76.

Trad climber
Talkeetna, Alaska
Jun 18, 2015 - 12:05am PT
It's nice seeing Ian Parnell on here (Hi Ian!), and also seeing Kenton's mug in that sketchy tent makes me laugh. I assume Stripey Mouse was inside there with him? Haha!! I remember that glorified bivi bag, and as the storm pounded the upper mountain there was considerable mounting concern for you guys brewing at 14 camp. Those were some brilliant years for us all, eh?

Avery, reading Ian's account, it would seem that I gave you one erroneous piece of information- Ian Parnell and Kenton Cool did their ascent in 2001, not 2002 as I noted.

I'd like to take a moment to clarify something that has recently come to light regarding the history of the climbing on this face. After Jack Roberts died in 2012, Simon McCartney reappeared and- through this website-he and I met and have become good friends. Simon is just finishing a memoir about his brief but brilliant partnership with Jack, centering around the first ascent of Huntington's north face in 1978, and then their ascent of the southwest face of Denali in 1980. High Alaska by Jon Waterman had shown the line of the their 1980 ascent as being well to the left of the Denali Diamond, going up an extremely steep rock buttress that looked pretty improbable even by modern standards. Not much info was available about this ascent because Simon contracted HACE at 19,000 feet and his epic rescue (ten days getting down the Cassin with the help of many climbers, no food for a week, Jack went over the top to get help and suffered major frostbite on his feet, and the rescue team became bogged down with another accident on the west buttress) became a controversial, complex, harrowing ordeal and some conflicting accounts and hard feelings were produced. That's another story, and an incredible one at that, but no detailed account or photos of the climb ever really appeared in public. Simon completely disappeared from the climbing world for the next 30 years, and never climbed again.

I had talked at length with Jack over the years about where exactly their route went. He had always insisted it was well left of the Diamond as an entirely independent line. However, photos that Simon has shared with me recently indicate with no doubt whatsoever that the lower 2/3 of the rock wall followed the same line as what became the Diamond in 1983. Their photos show them clearly climbing some of the same pitches that Colin and I climbed. Basically, there's a huge ramp leading to the massive boulder at 2/3 height. On this ramp there are many closely spaced variations, but essentially it's one line, and it's the line of least resistance. When they reached the huge boulder, a massive feature which is plainly visible in all the photos of the wall, they had intended to continue up the obvious upper corner which the Diamond route now follows; however, they thought it looked way too difficult and decided to find another way off to the left.

This made sense to me, because when you stand at the foot of the wall, the ice-splattered ramps are so obvious, soaring up the wall and shouting out "come climb me!". Everything else looks futuristically difficult. In 1980, with this wall completely unclimbed, it would have made no sense that the FA suitors would have chosen a line of greater resistance. Simon corroborates this as well.

So...the short story is that what is today known as the Denali Diamond is actually more of a major and more direct variation to the McCartney-Roberts route. Talking with Simon, it seems clear that the Diamond's finishing crux corner is considerably more difficult, although the way they went did have 5.9 difficulties including a pitch led by Jack ("Roberts Traverse) which was apparently quite hard- Jack took off his plastic boot shells and led it in his boot liners!!! 2005, Canadian badasses Ian Welsted and Chris Brazeau did another variation. When they reached the base of the upper crux corner, just above and right of the big block, the upper corner was getting pounded by heavy spindrift and they wisely wanted no part of that action. They started traversing left to find another way around. Where the 1980 party had traversed just below the big block, Ian and Chris began traversing left from just above the block. As I recall, Ian mentioned that they did a tension traverse and a rappel to get over some rock ribs into better gully systems, and overall the climbing involved several pretty hard mixed pitches. I would have to presume that their traverse likely gained, eventually, the finish to Jack and Simon's line, as ultimately the huge rock features on the upper wall don't offer many obvious weaknesses.

To clarify all the above, here are a couple photos illustrating where everything goes:

I should conclude this historical discussion by stating that Jack and Simon started up this then-unclimbed 8000 foot wall in full alpine style. Just two men, a rope, a rack, and the packs on their backs. In 1980, the alpine style ethic was just getting ramped up in Alaska. The Infinite Spur on Foraker was the only route of comparable size that had been done alpine style for its first ascent at that time. Denali is 3000 feet higher than Foraker in altitude and the climbing on this face is technically much harder than the Infinite. Despite Simon's illness and subsequent self-rescue (made possible by many nearby teams, most notably the selfless efforts of Cassin climber Bob Kandiko) Jack and Simon's ascent was, in my opinion, one of the boldest and most audacious ascents in Alaska climbing history, and I'd like to see it given its due.

The Denali Diamond, meanwhile, straightened out the line and as it stands, it comes as close to pure alpine perfection as one can hope for in terms of the sheer quality of the climbing and position. I, like Ian, was a bit taken in by the 'mythology' around this route, and many others in Alaska for that matter. I was pleased to have not added anything more to the myth!

Colin Haley and I had done a lot of climbing together in the years leading up to our ascent, including Fitzroy and several other Patagonian towers, the west face of North Howser Tower in the Bugaboos, and the Index Peaks traverse in Washington state. The DD was the biggest and best climb we did together, and it was a springboard for bigger things to come in the next few years, for each of us independently. For me, it most notably represented a significant point of progress in my multi-year mental migration from the slower, heavier alpinism I had learned in the 1990's, to the modern, light and fast ethic. That transition had everything to do with my partnership with Colin, who was 14 years younger than me (he was 23 and I was 37 at the time of this ascent). I credit his youthful and forward-thinking influence- not to mention his raw talent- for helping me evolve my way of approaching all things climbing as I've advanced into middle age; Now 45, I continue pushing myself in the mountains and striving hard to improve my skills- perhaps more measured than 15 years ago, but smarter and more pragmatic. As I go along this path, I can only proudly admire Colin's meteoric evolution into one of the world's most accomplished and motivated alpinists.

And enough talk. Enjoy some more photos of this beautiful route.


Jun 18, 2015 - 12:41am PT
Thanks a lot Mark. Your post brings some welcome clarity in relation to the Diamond and the McCartney/Roberts line. Pics as good as ever!
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