BD athlete Josh Wharton makes 5.13 FFA of Dunn-Westbay route on the Diamond of Longs Peak in Colorado
Black Diamond athlete Josh Wharton recently made the first free ascent of the Dunn-Westbay, an old, multi-pitch aid line on The Diamond of Colorado’s Longs Peak (14,259 ft). Below is Wharton’s report about the 5.13 FFA, one that entailed plenty of fatigue and wet rock, which led to some falls and energy-sapping re-leads in order to make the free ascent.
It’s worth noting that Wharton sent us an email this morning that mentioned he went back up on the route yesterday in an effort to add another 5.13 pitch (following the direct aid line), but, due to cold conditions, opted instead for another free lap on the route, this time making a complete, no-falls free ascent. Wharton’s email noted: “Little too cold yesterday to futz around on the other 5.13 pitch, but sent the route as is without any falls , so I was pretty psyched. Thing is damn good. So... topo is the same. Hoping some question marks on the topo will entice some crushers out of their beds before 9am!”
[Wharton (in red jacket, lower right corner) about to lead into the 5.13 crux pitch of the Dunn-Westbay. Photo by Jim DiNapoli]
For Colorado climbers Longs Peak’s East Face needs no introduction. The Diamond is the alpine rock wall in the state. Tucked into a thunderous cirque above Chasm Lake, and visible from the plains to the East on a clear morning, it’s a cliff that inspires everyone with an interest in the alpine.
Like many Colorado climbers, my aspirations have often gravitated towards the Diamond. As a young climber I aspired to the Casual Route, later on to a winter speed ascent, eventually to link-ups, and finally to increasingly difficult free-climbing challenges.
Moving to Estes Park last summer gave me the opportunity to invest in a challenge that would require a more serious effort. The obvious choice was the Dunn-Westbay; a steep, plumb aid line on the Diamond’s right side that had been flirted with as a free climb in recent years. Going after some low hanging fruit seemed like a good place to start. However, lugging a 200-meter line to the top of the Diamond at an elevation of nearly 14,000 feet, the fruit seemed a bit higher in the tree and the whole ordeal felt more like punishment than opportunity!
[The east face of Longs Peak in full winter conditions. Photo by Josh Wharton]
But after the hard work of getting the rope in place, sorting out the free variations, and figuring out the moves is finished, the pain subsides and the investment feels worth it. The route is fantastic! I take some pride in knowing that this route will take the place of Eroica as the route that the current crop of talented local climbers will test themselves against. (It will likely be a few years until the Diamond’s hardest route, The Honeymoon Is Over, sees regular ascents… or even a repeat for that matter!)
On the day of the free ascent I stumble and fall, and generally epic before sending the crux pitch on my third try of the day. Above, I fall again, cramping and fighting wet rock on numerous sections of tricky 5.12. The rope gets pulled and I manage to put it all together for the first free ascent. I’m tired for a week.
[The free climbing topo for the Dunn-Westbay. Click on the image to download the topo.]
A few days after the climb, I get a call from one of the route’s first ascentionists, Jimmy Dunn. He’s a legend, as psyched as ever, a bit reclusive and quirky, and one of my original climbing heroes. He did make the first ascent—barefoot!—of many of New Hampshire’s (my home state) hardest free climbs of the ‘70s after all. He says “Congratulations, Josh!”, and we talk for an hour about life and climbing. I hang up the phone with a big smile from ear to ear, and think about the next project on the list.