I’ve got two cams left for the final 200 feet of climbing and somehow they’ve just fallen off my harness. This wasn’t the ideal situation I’d imagined approximately 2.5 hours ago while leaving the Longs Peak Trailhead but much like the rest of my past two years it was time to shift gears and figure out a way forward.
On August 4, 2020 my good friend and climbing partner Stefan Griebel and I set the roundtrip speed record on the Diamond of Longs Peak. Just one day prior, my wife and I were going through our second round of an IVF egg retrieval in the hopes of eventually getting pregnant.
My wife and I first started trying to get pregnant 3 years ago, right as I began my new career as a firefighter for a local department near my home in Golden, Colorado. I had just made a huge career shift at 30, and we were excited to finally feel stable enough to start a family. Things seemed to start off promising when the pee-stick said “yes” after 2 months of “practicing,” but that shortly turned into a miscarriage, which turned into over a year of nothing. What no one tells you when you start down the baby road is that when it doesn’t immediately happen, the whole process of trying to time ovulation with work and life schedules becomes grueling, all-consuming, and utterly depressing.
Once we couldn’t take the disappointment anymore, we sought help through a fertility clinic. Luckily for us, one of the best in the US is located here in Denver. Our initial test results looked great, in that the experts couldn’t find anything “wrong” with us. According to the clinic we were perfect specimens for making babies; so why couldn’t we?. One can pursue many avenues in order to try to get the end result of a baby, so we started to explore our options – none of them cheap. The most “cost effective” first step is to try an IUI (Intrauterine insemination). After 2 rounds with no results, we dove a bit deeper into the less explored waters of genetic testing. A couple months of back and forth later, the end results came in: I had huge breaks in a few of my chromosomes. This whole time when we were waiting on results it felt like my wife and I were a team, in it together. There wasn’t any doctor pointing direct fingers, saying “you’re the one with the problem;” the problem was ours to share. As it would turn out, I was my own best birth control. It wasn’t impossible for me to get someone pregnant, but it would be a miracle if I did. At no point did my wife make me feel badly because ultimately it didn’t matter who was to blame, it was still our collective problem. I took it pretty hard on myself, knowing that if we went the IVF route that I would be subjecting my wife to daily shots, outrageous hormone levels, all because of something that I couldn’t do. It was a hard burden to shoulder.
IVF…. If this is the first time you’ve heard of this abbreviation, consider yourself lucky. I’m not going to be giving anyone a science lesson today, but just know that it’s a long cycle (months) with slim chances depending on your personal situation. It’s a long bumpy road of medications, testing, daily shots, etc… a giant emotional toll that I wouldn’t wish upon any one. We went through one cycle and came out with slim options so we decided to do one more cycle in order to better our chances. ENTER COVID….Our clinic halted all procedures that weren’t currently in process, with no known timeframe for when things would start back up again.
We were set to start our next cycle at the end of March 2020, I had just gotten cleared to start climbing lightly again from my finger injury, life was looking up. We at least had a plan for baby stuff. I had my normal energy outlet back, just in time for the world to shut down. Climbing was initially a no-go activity because of the contact with people and the potential to get hurt and impact already crowded emergency rooms. I had to find something that would sidetrack my mind from what was currently going on in my life, so I got on my bike. I started riding more than I ever had. What once was a huge day for me became the warm-up; 60 miles was a nice afternoon jaunt. I set plans to bikepack the 540 mile Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango, built up a bike, and started assembling gear. I had found my stoke for adventure again!
April and May passed, and then… great news from our clinic. They were opening doors to new cycles again, and we could set an egg retrieval date for early August. Long story short, no more cycling as it could lead to more damage for my already damaged swimmers. I happily traded cycling and the Colorado Trail for a shot at pursuing our family again. With more research about COVID-19 coming, we were learning that it doesn’t really stick around on rock surfaces and the sun is pretty good at killing it, so climbing was actually ok. I started dreaming of the Diamond.
Speed is an allure in almost every sport, and climbing is no different. The Casual Route (5.10) was originally called the Integral route and was first climbed in 1977 by Colorado Legends Duncan Ferguson and Chris Reveley. A year later, in 1978, Charlie Fowler boldly soloed the route, calling the climb “a casual day in the mountains.” It has been known as the Causal Route since that historic solo. The Diamond has continued to be the Colorado proving ground for bold and athletic efforts. In 1991, Roger Briggs rode his bicycle to the Longs Peak trailhead, ran to the Diamond, and free-soloed the Casual Route. Total time, 5:45. Stefan Griebel and Anton Krupicka had done the Longs Peak Tri in 9:06, improving upon Roger Briggs (Link to their video here). It was hard to find information about Dean Potter’s solo, but a friend of mine, Bill Wright, has kept informal records on Colorado speed climbs going back several decades. (Bill literally wrote the book on speed climbing with Hans Florine, FYI…so he may know a thing or too.) From his account, Dean teamed up with a partner for an approximately five hour round trip climb, and shortly thereafter completed it solo in 3 hours and 59 minutes, back in 1999. Since 99’, Dean’s record has stood as the fastest known time.
The Diamond calls to any serious alpinist in North America, and because of this there is great allure to climbing any of the many routes up its sheer face. Due to snow and ice, it is really only climbable from the end of June to the beginning of August, so you need to show up in shape and ready to climb during this short window. Furthermore, the long approach and high elevation make climbing even more difficult, and the area is notorious for nasty weather fronts moving in from your blind side. All these factors combined make any successful climb on The Diamond very rewarding.
Ironically, the speed record wasn’t really planned for. In the beginning of summer, with the Colorado Trail a no-go, I started climbing easy-to-me routes to build up my finger strength. I had a great cardio base from months of zone 2 heart rate training on the bike. Alpine season was just opening up in Colorado, so I started climbing The Casual route quite often with various friends, and it turned into a half-day outing for me. I could help give my wife her daily hormone shots and be home before noon, all while still climbing Longs Peak! As I became more acquainted with the route and as my finger started feeling better, my time on the route started getting faster and faster. By mid-July I had already climbed the Casual route 4 times and had gone sub-5 hours with my friend Maury Birdwell. This led me into a detailed breakdown of what I thought was possible. Speaking with both Anton and Stefan, I knew their trailhead-to-trailhead split was roughly 4 hours 30 mins, and that was after biking 40ish miles with a big elevation gain from Boulder. If they could do it that fast, then a well rested team should theoretically go much faster.
Partner selection was a really important factor for me. When climbing with Maury, I knew that I had gotten him stoked to go for the record, but that was our first time roping up together. The final way I envisioned climbing the Casual would be risky and require a lot of true simu- climbing with huge runouts between protection. In my mind I knew that I truly only trusted one person, and that was Stefan. I’ve done all my fast simul-climbing and linkups with him in the mountains. We’ve collectively climbed the Naked Edge over 300 times (him 200+ and me 100+ times), with many of those together in one pitch. Weighing heavily on this decision was the death of our friend Jason Wells, who had tragically passed simul-climbing in Yosemite a few summers prior. Maury is a great and competent climber, but I knew in my gut that I would only attempt it with Stefan.
On my 6th lap of the summer I climbed the route with Stefan Griebel in just over 4 hours, and that’s when we sort of decided that the speed record was easily within reach. All we needed to do was to try a little harder and clean up our transitions.
On the big day, we left the trailhead at 8AM, already wearing our harnesses. Starting off well-balanced is crucial, as the approach is steep and long. It’s very easy to spike your heart rate too quickly and then be done for the day, so I was constantly checking in with my buddy during the running portion. Once we got to the wall, we started the easy part, which might come as a surprise to some. The climbing on The Casual route is pretty straightforward for experienced climbers, and offers a relief from the high-altitude running. We were only roped up on the rock for 45 minutes. The hardest part is arguably the last one hundred feet or so to the summit, where you really feel the altitude’s effects on your body. Gasping for air, we reached the summit in 2 hours, 57 minutes. Running full blast from the summit, we stumbled to the trailhead at 3:53:59, new Diamond FKT in hand.
We didn’t really seek out this speed record initially. It was a way to battle some of the personal gloom I was feeling about my baby situation as well as recovering from an injury. The time progression just came with finding something that we had fun climbing, and getting to know every inch of it. I wouldn’t consider myself a super fast runner or a super elite climber, but through getting to know one route really well we were able to work towards the speed record and eventually raise the bar. I think the biggest takeaway from this record is that anyone can beat a record if they are willing to give enough time into a project.
The best part of this story? On June 1, 2021, just shy of a year out from the record, my daughter was born into this world.
It’s important to note that not everyone is as fortunate as us when it comes to luck with IVF. Many couples try for years and remain childless. My wife and I’s hearts go out to you.
Wade Morris is a climber, mountain runner, and family man based in Golden, CO. Check out his speedy ascents and adventures in fatherhood at @wademorris12. Special shoutout to Wade’s partners on The Diamond last year:
June 14 with Anton Krupicka: ~8 hours (snowy and slow)
June 22 with Stefan Griebel: ~7 hours
July 27 with Nick Schlichtman: ~7:30 hours
July 2 with Jackie Niles: 6:50
July 16 with Maury Birdwell: 4:57
July 21 with Jackie Niles: 5:08
July 28 with Stefan Griebel: 4:03:30
Aug 4 with Stefan Griebel: 3:53:59
*** Maury Birdwell set a new FKT this past August in a blistering 3:26 round trip, climbing the Casual Route solo. Bravo mate, see you next year!