Chasing dreams on the Diamond’s elusive Ice

Some are calling Colorado’s flood of 2013 a thousand-year flood. Others are saying it was a 25-year flood. However you measure it, with a cool October following a record-breaking flood, the ice climbing in the high country is the best it’s been in over a decade.

Approaching the Longs Peak's East Face, Smear of Fear on the left. 

After 15 years of watching the smear that forms occasionally on the left side of the Diamond, near the airy natural arch called the Window, Kevin Cooper and I decided the time was ripe to give it a try.   We climbed the Smear of Fear in late September, tuning up our minds and bodies for the thin and steep. After climbing ice a grand total of one time in the last three years, I was happy to get in at least one climb before diving into hard climbing at over 4000 meters.

The Diamond, with the Window Pain smear visible on the left with a sunbeam passing through the Window. Conditions were ideal, starting with a moonset over the very top of the Diamond as we approached the wall.

Sticky but cold ice and attention getting mixed climbing in Field’s Chimney made up the first 600 feet.

From Broadway we still couldn’t tell if the “Window Pain”, as we’d started calling it, was going to in. Even 8 feet of blank rock or paper thin ice at the bottom of the smear would shut us down.

The Window in sweet conditions. 

The traditional Window route, however, was in fantastic condition. Thin, well-bonded runnels and smears with good rock protection brought us to the ramp below the unclimbed smear.

I moved the belay onto a tiny perch at the lip of the Window ramp so I would be out of the line of fire while Kevin prepared for the hardest lead of his life.  The exposed perch provided a solid rock anchor and an incredible perspective to photograph Kevin as he put together everything he’d learned in 20 years of unadulterated ice-fiend behavior for a lead neither of us will ever forget.

Kevin Cooper psyching up to open the Window Pain. 

Feeling the Pain. 

Just following the pitch at that altitude delivered a mighty pump. In this photo I think I’m smiling so big in part because I got to top-rope it!

We left a cam anchor happily at the top of the smear, called our families to tell them we'd sent it, and rapped for home.. 

At some point in the previous few days, another party had climbed to the bottom of the crux smear, leaving a couple of V-thread anchors. They bailed from there, leaving the smear untouched. Their anchors saved us precious time (thank you!) which allowed us to get to the regular rappel route and reach bottom of the face just as darkness engulfed the cirque in pitchy blackness.

All that remained was a long, dark stagger and a couple of dark Irish beers.

“Window Pain”
Longs Peak, Colorado
Grade: WI Sicks-plus
FA: Kevin Cooper, Topher Donahue October 25, 2013