(Climb 1:) My primary objective in the Park was the Diamond, which is the vertical wall of granite on the east side of Longs Peak, quite renowned for its climbing and full-on nature of the routes. I made a post on MountainProject.com looking for a partner. While I waited for a response, I hiked to the top of Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route (2nd class). This was a great way to acclimatize and familiarize myself with the area, as well as bag the highest summit in RMNP (which is also a 14-neer). Morevoer, since most routes on the Diamond top out on Table Ledge rather than the summit of Longs Peak, this relieved the pressure of tagging the summit after climbing a route on the Diamond (you can continue on to the summit from Table Ledge). The hike to the top of Longs Peak took me 6 hours car-to-car and was much more fun than a morning run.
(Climb 2:) My MountainProject.com post for a Diamond partner generated a few interested climbers, and Nate was available right away. We met at the trailhead parking lot that evening, got acquainted, chose a route, organized gear, went to bed, woke up, and then spent the next 16 hours climbing the Diamond. While my partner post on MountainProject.com had mentioned an interest to climb The Casual Route or Pervertical Sanctuary (the two "easiest" routes on The Diamond), Nate voted for a more difficult undertaking: Ariana, a Grade IV+ 5.12a route on The Diamond; Ariana ascends the awesome thin crack splitting the Obelisk column on the left side of the Diamond wall. Ariana shares three 5.9 pitches with Pervertical Sanctuary and has two crux pitches (5.12a and 5.11c). This would be my first "alpine 12a". The climbing was superb. Moreover, the athletic nature of the climb (burly 4+ hour approach, non-trivial route-finding, vertical rock, long sustained pitches, 5.12a and 5.11c cruxes, cold and windy belays, brief hail storms, 9-double-rope-rappel route, 16-hour car-to-car-I'll-sleep-well day, strong partner) was just the sort of thing I love. Thanks Nate for a great day!
(Climb 3:) After a rest day, I was eager to climb something else in the Park. Eric (who I'd been climbing with in Wyoming prior to this trip) had been off acquiring a Sprinter van in Boulder. Used Sprinter acquired, he drove to RMNP and we met up to do a climb. We decided to climb The Spearhead, a hunk of white granite whose 800-foot northeast face is reputed to have some of the best rock in the Park, featuring flakes, thin cracks, and face climbing. We tossed around various route ideas (the 10c The Barb and the 5.9+ Sykes Sickle being the primary choices, both 3-star routes), and following a recommendation from Nate of the Diamond climb we decided on Sykes Sickle (III, 5.9+). This route is a time-honored classic that goes straight up the middle of the NE Face, breaking through the obvious feature for which it was named. Since the approach is just under three hours of pretty mellow hiking, mostly on trail, we decided to climb the route car-to-car, leaving the trailhead in the morning darkness to give ourselves the best chance of avoiding any afternoon rain/hail when we were on the route. This was a really fun climb, mostly 5.7 climbing (the exposed and varied kind that makes you think) with a spicy 5.9+ exit over the top of the Sickle. Eric nailed the crux!
a. You don't want to be anywhere near the summit during a thunderstorm.
b. The trail ends and the Keyhole route begins just before the Boulderfield. There are tent sites and an outhouse in this area.
c. Hikers at the Keyhole.
d. There is a shelter at the Keyhole. The sign reads: "This shelter commemorates a Colorado mountaineer [Agnes Wolcott Vaille] conquered by winter after scaling the precipice January 12, 1925 and one [Herbert Sortland] who lost his life in an effort to aid her."
e. The route from the Keyhole to the summit is marked by bulls-eyes.
f. Traversing the Ledges. There was a party ahead of me who had started at the Boulderfield camp.
g. Looking up the Trough.
h. Some climber left a smelly mess in the Trough. Right on the route too! Scared crapless I guess.
i. Looking across the Narrows.
j. Looking up the Homestretch.
k. On the summit! In the photo are a couple of guys who had also started at the Boulderfield camp.
l. There are a few signs that help on the way down, as the route can be a tad difficult to reverse if weather moves in.
m. A view of Longs Peak and the Diamond from the trail.
n. Another view of the Diamond, as clouds moved free of the face for a few minutes. Hope to climb this tomorrow!
a. Sunrise. Rocky Mountain National Park had been experiencing a lot of rain storms, so it was nice to see the sun in the morning. The forecast called for 10% chance of rain and thundershowers, and we hoped nothing significant would materialize during our climb.
b. Morning alpenglow on The Diamond.
c. Clouds can move in quickly on Longs Peak. Fortunately these blew out just as quickly as they came.
d. Looking over at North Chimney (4th to 5.5) from the base of the Lower East Face. This is the standard approach to climbs on The Diamond.
e. Looking up Field's Chimney (5.5) from the base of the Lower East Face. You can get to routes on The Diamond this way, but it has a lot of lose rock and the North Chimney is the preferred access to routes on The Diamond.
f. Nate at the talus field below North Chimney. We had a section of snow to negotiate to get into the Chimney but it was short and it had not frozen overnight to we were fine with just approach shoes.
g. We began scrambling up North Chimney unroped, but roped up when it got slabbier and steeper.
h. At the top of North Chimney. Here it is steep and a bit lose, so it was nice to have a rope.
i. Looking up the Casual Route, the most popular and moderate (10a) route up The Diamond.
j. Looking over to the even steeper walls on the left side of The Diamond. Ariana is on the left end of this.
k. On Broadway Ledge hiking over to the base of Ariana. We left our shoes on the grassy ledge in the photo, and climbed a bit of 4th class up to the upper ledge in the photo, where the route starts.
l. Nate on the crux 11a section at the start of Pitch 1. This seemed a bit harder than 11a (I think I've seen some descriptions that say 11c). It is a tough start to the route, but short and protected by a few bolts.
m. Ariana shares a couple of pitches with Pervertical Sanctuary. Here we are climbing up Pitches 2-3 of Pervertical Sanctuary. This is fun steep 5.9 crack climbing.
n. Looking down while climbing Ariana. There was a party (Brian and Mark) climbing Curving Vine (11a) just right of us. This route also intersects Ariana/Pervertical Sanctuary a few times.
o. The vertical walls of The Diamond. Sometimes the climbing is a bit overhung even, like on the crux sections of Ariana.
p. Looking up at the first of the two crux pitches of Ariana, sustained crack climbing with a crux lieback section. The sustained nature gives it a 12a rating even though perhaps no individual move is 12a. Pervertical Sanctuary is the crack system on the right, while Ariana is the crack system on the left.
q. Looking down from the belay between the two crux pitches. Great exposure!
r. Nate leading the second of the two crux pitches of Ariana, strenuous 5.11c crack climbing. We agreed that this pitch was just as hard as the previous 12a pitch. Pervertical Sanctuary is the crack system at the right corner of the photo.
s. It hailed on us a couple of time during the climb, but fortunately these storms were short and no lightening was involved.
t. Mark, Brian, and Nate at the belay below the last pitch. Mark and Brian were the party climbing Curving Vine. Several routes (Pervertical Sanctuary, The Obelisk, Ariana, Curving Vine) intersect here.
u. Climbing the final pitch to Table Ledge. This is 5.9 face and small cracks.
v. To get to the rappel route, we traversed right at the top of the last pitch. The traverse is perhaps 5.7 but it was a bit exposed and wet which made it spicy.
w. Looking up from the first rappel. Note the roof above that marks the top of the rappel route.
x. Looking down from the third (of five) rappel on The Diamond. These are all double rope rappels. We had a 7mm tag line we used as our second line.
y. All nine of the rappels have bolted anchors. If you don't find a bolted anchor you have gotten off the route.
z. Looking down at Mark on the first (of four) rappels down the Lower East Face.
a2. The bolts at the first rappel down the Lower East Face.
b2. Nate at the end of the last rappel. It took us 1h 45min to make the nine rappels (all double rope except one) from the top of the route to the base of the Lower East Face. We had found all the anchors pretty quickly and we didn't have to deal with stuck or tangled ropes.
c2. A cool cloud.
a. We had to crawl along the top of a short section of hard-packed snow to get to the start of the route.
b. A zoomed-out view of the previous photo.
c. Eric leading off Pitch 1, which follows some 5.7 cracks. The description says to take the "left crack" and it looks like we took the right, but it was good climbing in the 5.7 range.
d. Looking up Pitches 3-4, which follow flakes and slabs towards the base of the Sickle above. I led the first pitch to a belay on a horn and Eric led the second, both around 5.7ish. The climbing on this route is steep and exposed so it's the kind of 5.7 that make you think a bit.
e. Eric nearing the top of Pitch 5, which climbs into a dihedral and jams up steep cracks toward the bottom of the Sickle. This was my second favorite pitch of the route, as the climbing was pretty varied and spicy for 5.7.
f. The description for Pitch 6 calls to "head up left into the Sickle and chimney up its left side or a short distance." We had taken a higher crack variation (I think) so we missed this chimney part the description was referring to, and as a result we ended up chimneying higher into the Sickle than we should have (Eric actually went all the way to the blocks in the top of the photo). We had to do a bit of tensioning and pendulum schenanigans to get back right to the route, but these schenanigans were actually kind of fun but took a bit of time.
g. A misleading old pin in the lower Sickle. We should have traversed right just below this to stay on route.
h. Looking up at the notch in the Sickle's roof. The crux 5.9+ section goes through the notch.
i. Looking out at the head of the "Sickle".
j. Eric at the crux of the route, which is on the second to last pitch (Pitch 7). This is rated as 5.9+. It's the kind of 5.9+ that is 5.9 yoga is you figure out the sequence, and 5.impossible if you don't. There are a few pitons and a fixed nut that provide good protection.
k. Once we surmounted the Sickle, we had one more pitch. Supposedly the route goes right at a piton onto "exciting 5.7" but we continued up to a bolt that we spotted above. We realized our mistake but decided to continue up and left, since it looked exposed but doable, and there was a dotted line on the topo suggesting this route was possible (although it gave no indication of difficulty)....
l. We made it. I'd call this "exciting 5.10-". This pitch brought us to the summit area where we could unrope.
m. Standing on the exposed summit block. This was a short scramble from where the route topped out. Note the entire NE Face drops out below my right foot.
n. A view of Longs Peak from the summit. The Keyhole route (which I had hiked earlier in the week) traverses around this side from the Keyhole notch which you can make out on the left ridgeline.
o. Looking down the NE Face from the summit. The Sykes Sickle route comes straight up the middle of this face.
p. The descent from The Spearhead is a 3rd class scramble down the NW slopes, which are shown in this photo with Frozen Lake in the distance. There is a climbers path the whole way down, and the secret is to tend left to avoid cliffing out.
q. Some stacked blocks on the backside of The Spearhead .
r. A view of The Spearhead from the meadows below, after descending the NW slopes. The shade-sun line is the North Ridge (5.6) route. The North Ridge is a popular Park moderate, and there were a couple of parties on this route. There were no other parties on Sykes Sickle on this particular day; Sykes Sickle is a relatively popular route, but the 5.9+ rating makes it less travelled than the North Ridge.
s. Some boardwalks along Mills Lake on the trail out. The hike in/out took a few hours between the trailhead and base of The Spearhead.
t. When we got back to the parking lot, Eric had a note on his windshield "complementing" his parking job which sort of straddled 1 and 1/4 parking spaces. Glacier Gorge trailhead is popular so I can understand the frustration of the note-writer, but in Eric's defense he had arrived at midnight and was parking a massive Sprinter van he had just acquired that afternoon.
u. There was a second note from another hiker, claiming they weren't the ones who wrote the note, fearing key-scratching and window-bashing in retaliation of the closest vehicle, I suppose. Fortunately, Eric and I are the types who took the notes in humor and a bit of embarrassment.