IMG_8429On Tuesday, Stefan Griebel and I completed an unsupported Longs Peak Triathlon—biking 40mi from Boulder to Longs Peak, running the 5mi up to the base of the Diamond, climbing the seven-pitch Casual Route, continuing to the summit, running back down to the trailhead, and biking back to Boulder—in 9h06m. It was deeply rewarding, and super fun. I have a few thoughts on this.

Almost exactly a year ago, I climbed Longs Peak’s Diamond for the first time with my friend Bill Wright. We had climbed together all summer in Eldorado Canyon outside of Boulder, gradually working our way through a series of routes that Bill deemed proper preparation for being able to proficiently make our way up the Casual Route, at 5.10a the easiest route on Longs’ iconic, high altitude, sheer 1700’ face. Climbing the Casual last August with Bill was very satisfying because it had been a long-term, in-the-back-of-my-mind goal that we achieved through focused preparation and a summer-long commitment to the objective. Our day on the mountain was rewarding, but sneaking in at just under 12hr car-to-car, I was exhausted and even a bit dejected that getting up the Diamond was so draining.

However, getting that first lap in under my belt was crucial to allowing me to dream of one day being competent enough to complete the much-vaunted Longs Peak Triathlon. The week before heading up there with Bill, I had completed a JV version of the LPT via the much less committing but still 5th-Class Kieners Route. The proudest and most proper Triathlon, however, requires climbing a route on the steep, sustained, and exposed Diamond itself, not just skirting its edge the way Kieners does. These outings last August planted the seed: ok, maybe one day this will be possible. This week, I was actually able to make it happen.

A few weeks ago I pretty randomly watched the new Netflix documentary Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru. I vaguely knew of Tony Robbins through an episode of the TED Radio Hour podcast I listen to, and had been intrigued by his confidence, gravelly voice, and role over the years as personal advisor to such high-powered celebrities as Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela. I came away from the documentary with a much clearer picture of Robbins as a self-help motivational speaker and also lots and lots of skepticism. I was a little surprised at his methods and that people pay for his seminars. But he did say one thing in the entire documentary that resonated quite deeply with me, that a key to happiness in life is continual growth and a sense of progression.

This is a pretty obvious tenet of modern society. It’s why jobs or careers with an unbreakable ceiling are considered unsatisfying or “dead-end”. It’s why billionaires continue to amass wealth. (Well, probably some unadulterated greed occasionally sneaks in there, too.) Nevertheless, it seems that if growth and progression are ignored in certain contexts, it’s too easy to become comfortable—stagnant—in the status quo, and one day wake up and wonder why you’re so uninspired and even unhappy.

This tangible sense of growth and progression is, I think, one of the big reasons that my first LPT via the Casual Route was so enriching. Here was something that even just a year ago seemed nearly impossible, and yet, through diligent focus and development of new skills and amassing of new experience, this year I was able to pull it off.

Stefan had completed the LPT four times previously, with four different partners, so it wasn’t nearly as big a deal for him, but after climbing together in the alpine a couple of times earlier this summer, I knew we’d be a good fit. Mostly because Stefan is a very strong climber who is also psyched for silly endurance activities like biking and running.

The one wrinkle that I threw into the mix—to hew as closely as possible to my personal style preferences, but to also add a new twist that might pique Stefan’s interest—was to complete the LPT unsupported, i.e. no outside crewing or aid and carrying all of our equipment from start to finish in Boulder. When I had completed the LPT via Kieners last summer and the Longs Peak Duathlon via the Cables this past winter, I had gone unsupported, so it just seemed natural to do the same on the LPT via the Diamond. Except that climbing the Diamond generally requires a whole lot more equipment—a rope and rack of protection—and biking and running a total of over 11,000’ uphill with any extra weight is exhausting.

As such, Stefan and I meticulously trimmed our gear to the bare minimum. We would bring only a 30m rope. We each wore harnesses that weighed 95g—most harnesses easily weigh four or five times as much. And we calculated our rack down to the last carabiner:

– four cams (0.4, 0.75, #1, #2)
– four lightweight quickdraws
– four shoulder slings with one carabiner each
– three MicroTraxion progress-capture pulleys

Since I was leading the first half of the route, I brought a Petzl Reverso belay device so that I could put Stefan on belay at the end of my block. Stefan would lead the top half and would just continue running the rope past the end of the route, belaying me off of tension after I removed the final MicroTraxion; he didn’t even pack a belay device. For extra clothes, I brought a long sleeve base layer and a 3oz wind shell. Even carrying the rope, my pack for the day weighed only 9lbs. Lucky for me, Stefan loves this refinement and revision aspect of the game as much as I do; it’s part of what makes a multi-discipline mountain objective like this so much fun.

Waiting for the sun to give us just a little bit of light in the Bustop parking lot. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Waiting for the sun to give us just a little bit of light in the Bustop parking lot. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

We rolled out from the Bustop Gentleman’s Club in north Boulder at 5:29am, waiting for just enough light to see, as we didn’t want to take headlamps. To me, it felt like we were hitting a pretty hot pace right from the beginning, but I never ride with other people (drafting and trading pulls isn’t completely foreign to me, but it is very rare) and despite riding the three miles from my apartment to the Bustop, it always takes me a while to warm up and get going. Any time I was drafting off of Stefan, I felt like I was on the edge of getting dropped.

There was the customary early morning headwind heading up South St Vrain Canyon, so Stefan and I continued to trade pulls, and I continued to feel like we were going quite a bit harder than I would have on my own—a huge benefit of doing this with a partner! Stefan finally seemed to start tiring a bit as we neared the Peak-to-Peak Highway junction, and the rest of the ride over to the Longs Peak Trailhead was much more comfortable for me. On the last steep climb up to the trailhead I pulled ahead by a couple of minutes because I knew my transition—changing out of bike shoes into my La Sportiva Helios SR’s for the trail—would take longer than Stefan’s, who was wearing La Sportiva Mutants on platform pedals.

Cranking out the approach, with the big mountains in the distance. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Cranking out the approach, with the big mountains in the distance. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

I hit the trailhead at 2h42 and we were both overjoyed to see the new water spigot right at the start of the trail. We chugged some extra water here and filled our bottles, meaning we ended up leaving the TH right at 2h49.

Despite the bike ride (with ~5k’ of vert already) in our legs, Stefan and I ended up hitting our usual splits on the approach to the base of the North Chimney. Some of this was no doubt aided by doing the approach in daylight and nailing the devious route-finding at treeline. When we stopped for water at our customary spot on the grassy knoll just before the talus below the North Chimney, we actually put on our harnesses here and I took the rack, knowing that I would scramble the 500′ North Chimney faster and in my running shoes (Stefan changes into his climbing shoes for the NC). As such, since I wouldn’t be placing any gear on the customary first pitch up the D1 Pillar anyways, I could already be a full pitch up the climb before Stefan even tied into the rope.

Filling water at the grassy knoll. Helmet and harness already on. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Filling water at the grassy knoll. Helmet and harness already on. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Which is exactly how it worked out. I arrived at Broadway at 1h45 from the trailhead (and 4h34 from Boulder), tied into the rope, flaked it, put two of the MicroTraxions on it, changed into my climbing shoes, and started up right at 4h40. Stefan reported tying into the other end of the rope right around when I clipped the first piece (fixed slings at the top of the first pitch). Perfect.

The only problem now was that there was a climber halfway up the 2nd pitch, in the middle of the 5.9 finger crack, with several loops of rope dangling and seemingly not moving at all. At first I thought he was belaying his partner who was out on the 5.7 traverse pitch, or maybe in the 5.8+ slot after that, but it turns out this guy was rope-soloing and was in the process of jugging and cleaning this pitch. He was adamant about us not passing him. Bummer.

I waited for maybe 3-4min at my second piece of pro—a 0.4 cam at the base of the 5.9 finger crack—before he started moving and I figured I could climb to the top of the 5.9 crack without being impeded. I did this, taking my time so as not to crowd him, and I’ll admit, it was actually kind of nice to not have to rush through this. On this section of rock I only clip a single fixed piton near the top of the pitch, and then clip a MicroTraxion to the fixed sling at the top of the crack/start of the leftward traverse. This Micro acts as a pulley, limiting the drag created by this 90deg angle (not that there’d be much anyways with the short rope and limited gear) and protecting Stefan for the 5.9 climbing.

It was a little bit frustrating, however, to have to climb the 5.7 traverse so slowly as I was super fired up and completely in the groove, feeling 100% comfortable on the rock. On this rising traverse I clip the two pitons and that’s it until I get to the crack below the slot, where I place the #1. Maybe because I was forced into doing the traverse so slowly and methodically, I felt completely solid at this transition this time and lamented bringing the #1—it didn’t feel necessary.

The squeeze slot above there is definitely one of the cruxes on the route, but this being my sixth time on it in the past two months, I have the beta dialed and I felt completely solid, placing the #2 as high as possible in the slot (to Stefan’s chagrin, cleaning it) and mantel-wriggling back out onto the face. Just above here I placed our last cam—the 0.75—so as to protect this slot with a Micro for Stefan.

After the slot, the rope-soloist was happy to let us pass and I cruised by as quickly as possible, clambering up the easy cracks to the fixed anchor—recently refreshed with new cord—at the dihedral ramp, where I finally put Stefan on belay, four guidebook pitches and roughly half-way up the route.

Stefan, of course, cruised all of this, and 40min after I’d left Broadway he was leading away from me, up the 5.8 corner. Of course, since we had the rack completely dialed, the transition consisted of me unclipping the Reverso from the anchor and clipping it to my harness belay loop. Done.

I find this corner to always be the mental crux of the route, simply because it’s so sustained and consistent at the grade. It’s an absolutely beautiful pitch, 200’ of immaculate stemming, liebacking, and jamming through 5.8 finger-to-hand crack. On this day, though, I finally climbed it without Stefan ever pulling the rope completely tight on me, which I was even more proud of because Stefan placed literally two pieces of gear on this entire 200’ (a #1 and a 0.75, putting a Micro on each), and clipping a single fixed nut. Which means it was virtually continuous movement, never getting to stop to rest. Having someone comfortable leading something that sustained on three points of protection in 200’ is super key to being able to do this route so efficiently while carrying all your gear from Boulder.

I did get a rest, however—and step back into the sun—at the top of the corner on the Yellow Wall Bivy Ledge, while Stefan was leading the crux pitch of 9+/10a climbing above me. A lot of people consider the 9+ inset the crux of the whole route, but its technical feet lends more to my strengths as a climber—I start flailing pretty quickly on almost anything that goes beyond vertical—than the short but steep 10a crux bulge at the top of the pitch.

I was on-point today, though, and jammed through this quickly, having to take extra time on the Table Ledge traverse actually, as Stefan had pulled all sorts of shenannies here with our anemic rack—girth-hitching a piton, clipping a locker biner to another, clipping the #2 cam biner to the last piton. Not super efficient to clean.

Last pitch---following the Table Ledge traverse. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Last pitch—following the Table Ledge traverse. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

I reached Stefan at the end of Table Ledge at 6h01 from Boulder (1h21 on route, even with being slowed in the first half), and took 7min to organize and pack everything and change back into running shoes for the dash up upper Kieners to the summit of Longs. In the process, Stefan actually fumbled his full 26oz bottle of water, tossing it off the edge of the Diamond. Dang it. No worries, I had a near full half-liter flask that I knew I wouldn’t be needing, and we charged to the top, reaching the summit in 6h17 from Boulder and leaving at 6h19.

I was super excited at this point by how far ahead of expected pace we were (I had thought we’d be literally about an hour slower here) and took off down the north face to the Cables feeling full of energy. After the quick downscramble of the Cables themselves (wet, but no longer icy), the descent turns into an extended session of talus and boulder hopscotch all the way over and down the shoulder of Mt Lady Washington before we’d hook into the historical Jim Grove trail to take us to treeline.

My left IT band had been tight on the uphill approach (courtesy of the high-intensity, uphill cycling), and this boulder-hopping nearly put it over the edge as I did my best to manage more than a few sharp pains and had to deliberately favor it. Luckily—as has been its wont, lately—it improved markedly the instant we were able to return to a more natural running gait on the trail descent, and I had little more issue with it until much later in the day.

Once we’d passed the navigational issues at treeline, I again ran ahead down to the bikes knowing that my transition would take longer than Stefan’s. And as I got there (at 7h18 elapsed, 4h29 for the bike-to-bike roundtrip of Longs via the Casual) it was in a light rain. I was really happy we were as fast as we were thus far. Topping out Longs in the rain wouldn’t have been very pleasant.

Stefan arrived a few minutes later and we rolled out of the parking lot at exactly 7h26m. We were both hooting and hollering with adrenaline and endorphins at this point and given the rain-slickened road, hit the initial steep downhill just a little too hot. I drifted wide on a curve, afraid of my tires slipping on the wet pavement, and in the process forced Stefan into the ditch just behind me. Whoops, ok, let’s watch ourselves here!

The rest of the ride was without incident and though it downpoured briefly, the rain stopped after only a couple of miles. I was intent upon squeezing every minute of time out of our effort, though, and mashed the pedals with a vengeance the whole way back, cranking as hard as I could into the headwind with Stefan hanging behind in the draft, resting up for the soul-crushing rollers on the last 10mi from Lyons to Boulder.

Stefan's view the whole way back to Boulder ;-) Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Stefan’s view the whole way back to Boulder 😉 Photo: Stefan Griebel.

This was going really well and there was even a brief window of time where it looked like sub-9hr was going to be in play, but in those last 10mi Stefan had a micro-instance of cracking, where I inadvertently rode him off my wheel for a couple minutes, and then right at the Lefthand Canyon junction my left knee finally issued a serious lightning bolt warning shot of pain and we were forced into just spinning easily into the finish over those last 5mi, reaching the Bustop 9h06m after we’d left it. Done!

Bustop parking lot Oskar Blues Old Chubs and war stories. Stefan gets into it. Photo: Alton Richardson.

Bustop parking lot Oskar Blues Old Chubs and war stories. Stefan gets into it. Photo: Alton Richardson.

Just as every other alpine outing I’ve had with Stefan this summer—a three-tower link-up in the Skypond Cirque and an evening dash up the Casual in June, even an early morning tune-up lap of the Casual in late July where we were back at the trailhead by 9:30am—we toasted the outing with a pair of ice cold Oskar Blues Old Chubs in the parking lot, courtesy of Mr. Griebel. I deem this an important tradition worth continuing.

The Old Chub certainly helped, but the real buzz we were feeling in that parking lot was far more potent. It’s the kind of buzz that, for me, I’ve come to realize is at least partly a result of working towards things that initially seem out of reach, maybe even impossible. But, through focused preparation and a stepwise process of intermediate goals, the resolution on that seemingly lofty objective gradually sharpens and suddenly the dream is doable, offering a tangible indicator of growth and progression. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to give it another crack next year.