Speedy Ascent of Denali Diamond

By Dougald MacDonald ,

Colin Haley and Mark Westman climbed the Denali Diamond route on Mt. McKinley’s southwest face in less than 48 hours, from the bergschrund to the summit, making the probable fifth ascent of one of Alaska’s most beautiful climbs. The two climbed the steep rock wall that gives the route its name in 21 hours, then continued to about 16,500 feet for a bivouac. They summitted on the second day and descended to the 14,000-foot camp on the West Buttress Route.

The Denali Diamond, first climbed in 1983 by Bryan Becker and Rolf Graage, has become a modern classic, with several ascents in recent years, including climbs by Britons Kenton Cool and Ian Parnell, Japanese Fumitaka Ichimura and Katsutaka Yokoyama, and Canadians Chris Brazeau and Ian Welsted, the latter in an extremely fast 44 hours.

“The climbing was absolutely fantasic—I’m pretty sure it was the highest quality route I’ve done in Alaska,” Haley said. “I believe ours was the fifth ascent of the route, and it still has not been free-climbed. I aided on and off for half a pitch. All in all, I think our technical difficulties were AI5+ M6 A1.”

Colin Haley leads the crux pitch in the upper corner of the Denali Diamond’s rock wall. The first-ascent party in 1983 overcame a 25-foot A3 roof about 75 feet right of this corner. All three attempts to free-climb this corner, starting in 2002, have come up short. Photo by Mark Westman.

Westman estimated free-climbing the crux pitch would be “at least M7, and quite sustained, but very well protected.” (The Britons suggested M7 or M7+ for the crux.) He echoed Haley’s comments on the quality: “The route is beautiful, with solid rock, good protection, high commitment, and sustained difficulties. In 14 years of climbing here [in Alaska], it is one of the most enjoyable and aesthetic routes I have done.”

Date of Ascent: June 2007

Source: Colin Haley, Mark Westman, High Alaska

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Colin Haley high on the Southwest Face, just before intersecting with the Cassin Ridge. Photo by Mark Westman

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