Back in 1954, Boulder's Dale Johnson must have seemed like a madman.
He was the first to seek permission from the National Park Service to climb the Diamond -- a 1,000-foot plaque of vertical granite on the northeast face of Longs Peak. At that time, 16 people had already lost their lives on the much easier facets of Longs, so the NPS viewed climbing the Diamond as lunacy. Additionally, the NPS had risked its personnel on dozens of rescues on technically easy terrain. It couldn't accept the possibility of rescuing crazy Diamond climbers, so the NPS banned all climbing attempts.
Undeterred, Johnson continued to pester the NPS. He even summoned his own rescue team so as not to endanger the park service's. As he was denied, the lure of the forbidden Diamond became stronger. By 1960, the Diamond glinted as the most famous unclimbed wall in America.
When the NPS finally acquiesced, Johnson immediately began preparing his attempt. But work obligations prevented an immediate assault for his partner, Ray Northcutt, who was in Montana for the summer. When Johnson learned that two California climbers -- Robert Kamps, an elementary school teacher, and David Rearick, a mathematics Ph.D. -- applied for a climbing permit, the race was on.
Kamps and Rearick were fit from a month in Yosemite, and on July 27, 1960, they were granted permission for an August attempt on the Diamond. Three days later, Kamps, his wife, Bonnie, Rearick and friend Jack Laughlin trekked to the Chasm Lake Shelter.
The following day, Kamps' and Rearick's own four-member support/rescue team arrived. They schlepped loads of gear up to Broadway, a ledge at the base of the Diamond, where they intended to sleep, but heavy rain drove them back to the shelter. In the 1961 "American Alpine Journal," Rearick wrote, "The grim aspect of the Diamond looming over us, veiled in clouds and weeping streams of water, did little for our morale."
Monday, Aug. 1, dawned cold and windy, but clear. The pair boldly chose a crack system (later dubbed D1) splitting the center of the Diamond at its tallest point and began climbing at 9:30 a.m. A mix of free and aid climbing brought them one-third of the way up, but by 4 p.m. the weather threatened. They rappelled to their bivouac on Broadway.
The next morning, they ascended fixed ropes back to their highpoint. One pitch higher, the rock quality deteriorated and the wall tipped backward. Rearick wrote, "For the next several hundred feet the climbing would be largely direct-aid, overhanging, and quite strenuous. The rope moved very slowly now through my hands as Bob labored upward." The wall was so steep that Kamps and Rearick climbed behind a narrow waterfall that gushed from the summit slopes.
The team scaled four pitches that day but was caught by darkness well below the top. They spent the night of Aug. 2 two-thirds up the wall, without sleeping bags, sharing a ledge 2 feet wide and 7 feet long.
Early the next morning, they cut all ties to the ground and prusiked back to their highpoint. Later that year, in "Trail and Timberline," Kamps wrote: " ... when we stepped into our prusik loops, and swung into space, retreat would be impossible." Higher up, as they neared the source of the cascade, they encountered "water, moss, and overhanging chockstones." Two pitches from the top, Kamps hung in slings to belay; ledges were non-existent. Rearick recalled, "A more exposed position is hard to imagine."
On the 11th and last pitch, they squirmed up a cold, wet chimney. "At one point," wrote Rearick, "I remember doing a layback against a block of ice." Kamps and Rearick surmounted the Diamond at 1:15 p.m. on Aug. 3, 1960.
Climbers never "conquer" a wall or a mountain. If they're lucky, they remain unconquered themselves. Fifty years ago, Bob Kamps and Dave Rearick -- who now lives in Boulder -- beat the odds, beat the locals and beat themselves up, arriving on top changed men.
In the next half-century, many climbers will come and go, but the Diamond is forever.
Contact Chris Weidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.