The Diamond, A Pervertical Genesis

Alexa Flower gets trad on the Diamond, Longs Peak, CO.

Alexa Flower gets her first taste of trad climbing on the Diamond, Longs Peak, CO.

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from guest contributor Alexa Flower. She recounts the story of her first trad climb, which happened to be on the Diamond of Longs Peak, in Rocky Mountain Park, Colorado. At the time she had only been climbing outdoors for three months.

The night was silent apart from our winded breath and quiet footsteps, largely stifled by the dirt and pine needles dispersed across the mountain trail. The incessant stars and full moon illuminated our path before us, eliminating the need for artificial light. I remember how each moment seemed to pass by so slowly, each step becoming more difficult with elevation gain, each gulp of air coming a little more quickly as we continued into the darkness. Nighttime in the mountains brings with it a beautiful solitude. There was no need for chatter, no need for music; the dozy breath of the mountains at rest created a beautiful melody to hike to. It also kept me blissfully unaware of what was fast approaching.

I arrived in Boulder at 10 p.m., after an old friend, Elliott, invited me to go on a climb. I came prepared with a borrowed pack, food, clothing, and gear I thought suitable for an adventure I knew nothing about. Several guys were discussing what awaited, with equipment spread across the floor, engulfed in a fiery debate analyzing which gear they should and should not bring. One asked about my experience trad climbing.  Trad climbing? I had only really understood the concept a few weeks ago. I had never held a piece of trad gear, let alone placed or cleaned. Given my response and the future endeavor, I am still unsure if my new friend walked away extremely impressed or utterly bewildered.

We arrived at the Long’s Peak trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park at midnight, and made it up to Chasm Lake around 3:30 a.m. My first view of the Diamond is engraved in my memory. A striking silhouette piercing the night sky, towering over the scree field.  It brought with it an ominous ambiance, and the perception that only great climbers, confident in their abilities, accepted this challenge. I felt insignificant next to its grandeur.

Overwhelmed and already famished, I nestled into my sleeping bag for a few hours of rest. Dreams of my earlier adventures engulfed me in my slumber. Just over a week ago, I had returned from a six-week backpacking trip through Argentina. The wine country, Argentinean culture, and breath-taking views of the massive Andes rocked me in my sleep. While there, I had grown comfortable leading 5.10 sport and proudly completed my first multi-pitch. Mentally I was becoming stronger, yet truthfully, I also over-indulged during my stay, enjoying far too many alfahores, submarines, asados, and fine wine. My impressive built-up tolerance for wine and chocolate was no longer helpful in the high-country, almost 14,000 feet above sea level.

Too soon, I awoke to reality and sluggishly rolled over, pulling the sleeping bag over my head, struggling to welcome morning’s first light. But it was already 6:00 a.m. and we had a long day ahead of us. Elliott and Tom were eating breakfast as I managed to pull my knotted hair in a bun and rub the dirt out of my eyes. The Diamond at dawn almost seemed incomparable to last night; not in the sense that one sight was more profound than the other, but that each view carried a distinct, unique magnificence. In the twilight I saw a dark silhouette impaling the night sky, now, however, each feature and weakness emerged like wrinkles along the wall, vibrant in the amber light.

Within 20 minutes we were hopping along the rocks across the talus field towards our objective. Elliott began describing the route in more detail. We would begin by soloing 500 feet up the North Chimney before arriving at the start of the route; which consisted of six pitches to the summit. I had never soloed anything in my life, nor had I climbed harder than 5.10. Our route, Pervertical Sanctuary, had a crux pitch rated 5.11a. I futilely reassured myself that it couldn’t be that much more difficult.

Beginning the solo, the rough granite felt unbreakable beneath my fingertips. I continued to focus on solving the puzzle before me rather than on possible consequences. Each movement was executed slowly and firmly; my breath gradually steadying and heart rate stabilizing. I remember how ironic it was that I felt comfortable forgoing all gear and relying solely on my limited climbing ability (granted, it was an easy 5th class solo). The North Chimney deposited us safely atop Broadway Ledge, and in no time we sat in awe, gazing aloft at the grand objective set before us.

As we organized gear and roped up, I realized I had strategically left my chalk bag at home, still packed from the trip. Elliott didn’t have chalk either, assuring me that I would be fine wiping my sweaty hands on my pants. The guys whooped and hollered, I said a quick, semi-frantic prayer in my head, and we began. Elliot fired off, leading pitch one. The entire climb the guys carried the pack, cleaned the gear, swapped leads, and belayed. I had one responsibility: to complete each pitch in the minimal time possible.

We finally reached Pitch 4; the 11a, 130 foot, hand-crack crux pitch. Elliott and Tom were ecstatic, enamored with the climb, keen on continuing. I looked up and cringed at the imminent moments to come.  Beginning this pitch, I felt awkward and sloppy using the crack as my only leverage. Every movement felt wrong, like I was expending a surplus of energy and pain than what was needed. As I climbed, a sea of seemingly impassable rock engulfed me from all directions. Gazing below, the talus field fell away, swallowed up by the surrounding chasm. And as I searched above for any sign of an end, the cliffs stretched towards the skyline. They seemed as far away as when we began.

I desperately heaved my hands, arms, and feet into the crack, attempting to imitate the techniques mastered by my partners before me. This deemed “hand-crack” was gradually widening until I felt myself swimming up the wall uselessly. Each placement felt unsteady and agonizing. With every movement I was left gasping for breath, only to be rewarded a miniscule distance upward.

I felt small and insignificant suspended off the side of the face so far from the ground. However, hanging there I quickly realized that it didn’t matter if I gave up. The Diamond would not let me down or help me to the top if I surrendered to it.  I had no choice but to continue regardless of what I thought or how I felt. Putting my emotions aside I persisted.

I looked up at Elliott and Tom, twenty feet above, still shouting down words of encouragement. They were very supportive even though I had spent almost an hour on this pitch. Thinking back, I can’t remember how I actually made it to the anchors. I remember feeling hopeless, searching deep within for a fragment of strength to help me continue. I kept trying because there was no other option and in one way or another, it paid off.

I stood hunched over, sweat-soaked, limply gripping the anchor. My hands were raw and swollen; it felt as if they had their own heart beat. Every muscle burned, every cell felt exhausted, and with each movement came struggle. It took a few lengthy moments of recuperation before realizing I had irrefutably made it.

Life felt rich at that very moment. Standing there looking out gave the unmistakable sensation that few other places on Earth could compare to this view. There is something very profound when seeing a sight so much bigger than yourself. Every yawning valley and towering peak unfolded before us. A world so vast felt just beyond my reach. And all stresses of daily life were obsolete. I laughed wearily as the guys congratulated me and offered water. This basic need was the finest reward.

A few minutes later Elliott and Tom assessed our next moves. The summit neared with only two more pitches, however a cluster of storm clouds in the distance stepped much closer, toying with our comfort zone. They began discussing our options as lightning struck not far away, and with it thunder, echoing throughout the chasm. I remember looking down at the hair on my arms, standing on end. It was unanimous that we needed to get off the wall, and the rappelling began with no further indecision.

Finally a safe distance from the lightning, the day’s events resonated within. Although we did not make it to the summit, I felt nothing less than success and a calm contentment. You attain a new perspective when putting yourself in a higher risk situation to accomplish the indefinite. Beginning this adventure, I felt utterly terrified of the unknown.  Great mountaineers and climbers accomplishing committing objectives always seemed of a different realm than I. Shattering my own limitations I had constrained on myself was inspiring and empowering to say the least. Following a classic alpine traditional route seemed to unfurl unlimited possibilities and the discovery of a new life I craved to be a part of.

We made it to the car well passed sundown, after having gotten lost due to rain flooding the trails. Cold, wet, and too tired to even change clothes; we headed back down to Boulder. My lips cracked from dehydration as I smiled bleakly, and I couldn’t help but think, this is the life.

Alexa Flower is an adventure hobbyist and Colorado native currently residing in Boulder, CO. She continues to love climbing, as well as other alpine activities, and can be found roaming the mountains in her camper. This is her first post for

One Response to The Diamond, A Pervertical Genesis

  1. Wow! I was completely drawn into Alexa’s story! She’s a gifted writer who allowed me experience trad climbing; something I will never be able to do! Great job!

    Karinn Granger May 16, 2014 at 7:54 am
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