A LITTLE SOMETHING CASUAL
by Wade Morris
6.5 minute read
On August 4th, 2020 Wade Morris and his partner Stefan Griebel broke the speed record on
The Diamond (Longs Peak) in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. The duo went car to
car in three hours and fifty four minutes, breaking the previous record of three hours fifty nine
minutes set by Dean Potter some twenty years ago.
For Morris and Griebel, the speed record comes as a testament to their personal
determination, countless hours on the wall and learning the intricacies of each pitch in order to
climb fast on simul.
Here we catch up with Wade and Stefan in order to learn more about the experience.
Tell us about the history of the route and some of it’s notable climbs.
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”. After that historic solo
it has been known ever since as the Casual Route.
It was hard to find information about Dean Potter’s solo but a friend of mine, Bill Wright, has kept
informal records on Colorado climbs going back several decades. From his account, Dean
teamed up with a partner for an approximately five hour round trip climb and then shortly
thereafter completed it solo in 3 hours and 59 minutes, back in 1999. Since 99’ Deans record
has stood as the fastest known time.
Tell us about the style in which you climbed the route in order to achieve the speed record.
Dean soloed the route so he did not need any ropes or gear, whereas we decided to simul-climb
the route. We knew that Dean was faster than two climbers who were belaying, so a really fast
simul was the only way to beat his record. Stefan and I always had at least two pieces of gear
between us during the climb. Others would normally climb The Diamond in seven or eight
pitches, but we climb it in one.
We jokingly call The Casual route the best single pitch on The Diamond.
Tell us about the day of the climb. How were you feeling that morning?
A week before we went for the speed attempt Stefan and I completed the route in just over four
hours, so we knew the record was attainable the morning we set out. All we needed to do was to
try a little harder and clean up our transitions. Already in our harnesses, we left the trailhead at
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. During the running portion I am
constantly checking in with my body.
Once we get to the wall begins the easy part, which might come as a surprise to some. The
climbing on The Casual route is pretty straight forward for experienced climbers, and offers a
relief from the running. We were only roped up on the rock for forty five minutes.
The hardest part is arguably the last one hundred feet or so to the summit, where you really feel
the elevation effect on your body. We reached the summit in two hours and fifty seven minutes
and we knew we can descend the mountain in under an hour.
What makes this speed record different from others?
For starters, we count the round trip time from “car-to-car” as it’s called here in Colorado. For
whatever reason, in Yosemite for example, speed records are just from the bottom of the route
to the top of the route. This makes speed records in Colorado more of a multi-sport adventure
and benefits those who are both fast runners and strong climbers.
We didn’t really seek out this speed record, and the time progression just came with finding
something that we have fun climbing and get to climb a lot. 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. 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.
My achievement wouldn’t come through a grade, though; for a long time, I have realized grades are all relative. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it is a 9c or 7c; no one cares! It’s only climbing. It can only be for MY pleasure that I decide to put myself through fear, tiredness, and then, hope, and belief, which all turn into a passion. Of course, over the two days that I worked the route, I had quite a few moments where I despaired in figuring out a method. I also went to bed those nights, asking myself why I was doing this. But then, waking up at 5 am to beat the afternoon sun, I itched to put my hands on the rock, savored the idea that I could only rely on myself to get the rope up; this project reawakened the climber that I am.
I came home with precise sequences in my head and the knowledge that if I trained, visualized, and prepared, I had a chance to link it all. I knew training would be challenging, especially motivating for another endurance lap through the summer heat. But I was finding myself again, finding my space to be a climber and a good mum.
I returned to the route with James a month later while the grandparents took care of Arthur. Part of me wondered why we were leaving our baby, and we both felt a bit empty without him jumping around the van. But then in the early morning, I put my game face on, James transformed into Mr. Perfect Belayer, and the fun began. In the (8b), I had no idea if I had the necessary endurance, but in a month’s training, I had noticed that it was all coming back quickly. I climbed precisely without a single mistake. I have no idea how it happened–maybe being a parent and having little time forced me to improve my efficiency. The (7b), the first (8a), the (5c) it all went smoothly. Then, in the last (8a), I made a few mistakes. I forgot a few methods, and there was a moment at the very end, where I realized I had to make the right decision very fast, or I would be off, and maybe not have the energy to try the pitch again.
It is here that I faced my old friend, the fear of failing; every climber has to find a way of dealing with this. When I was a competition climber, I used to tell myself to focus closer on the pleasure of the movements. This time, with my forearms about to explode, and while I was struggling to slow my breathing on a relatively restful tuffa, I could see in my mind Arthur dancing to his favorite music. With that, I realized that falling would be ok; failing was indeed not that sad. Accepting the possibility of not doing it gave me the energy to finish the pitch and scrape my way to the belay. One more (6b), and I had done it, I was again the climber I wanted to be! I had proven to myself that there was a balance between being a mum and a climber. That even the joy of my little one could give me strength for climbing that I hadn’t had before.
I'd love to tell you James and I drove back home playing Une Jolie, but that would be too whimsically poetic. After all, ticking the climb for its name or notoriety is not the experience I was after. Plus, James hates the song, but James's story of understanding French poetry, and as I say, “truly” becoming French, is another story altogether.
Written by Wade Morris
Photo by Brian Szymanski
Stage 6- Buoux
We stayed four days at the "Auberge des Seguins," which is a perfect location to go to the crags on foot. They even let us take our dinners outside by the bedroom while the baby was already in Bed. Buoux doesn't need any publicity. It is a unique, incredible crag, and there is a reason for its Fame. Buoux is a Must visit". No matter what your level is, you will find a gem to climb!
Stage 7- Mouries
Mouries is a long way from Buoux, and we had initially planned some extra stops. But the heatwave had begun, and the other planned spots were not as exciting. So, instead of climbing stops, we biked for two days, visited an abandoned troglodyte village (les grottes de cales), and loved it!
Mouries again is an old lady, and if you can get away from requiring extremely tough grades and enjoy the technical climbing, you will love it. Mouries is a climbing lesson in itself.
Stage 8- Fontvieille secret crag
I can't tell you the secret crags, as they are secret because they aren't technically allowed. To find them you have to ask as you meet climbers on your previous days and if you are lucky they may tell you the secrets! France is full of them, and sometimes these are the best crags!
We arrived back home after 25 days of traveling and climbing. It wasn't always restful, but then living with a baby is never restful! Every day brought us load of discoveries, from a wild tortoise to incredible pains au chocolates, to meeting an old friend. Baby Arthur loved it. The minute we stepped back in the house, he was pointing again at the window, asking, "where next?" For James and me, we finish this adventure delighted to have realized that we still have so much left to explore, and it is all less than 100km from our home. This bike and climb trip is only the first!
What makes climbing on The Diamond so special to you personally?
The Diamond is definitely a proving ground for any serious alpinist in North America, and
because of this there is great allure to climbing any of the various routes. 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. All these factors
combined make any successful climb on The Diamond very rewarding.
When did you start thinking about setting the speed record on the route?
Ironically, the speed record wasn’t really planned for. In the beginning of summer I ruptured a
pulley in my finger and my doctor told me to practice climbing on moderate routes, so I started
climbing The Casual route quite often with various friends. 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. 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. After this
climb we decided to officially go for the record.
The route is a 7-pitch (8b), and 6-months after having a baby, the idea of achieving this was going to be my “I am back” diploma. When I chose it, I knew I was on my way back to fitness, and I had just figured out a rhythm where baby let me train and sleep a bit. Fitness isn’t everything, though I also needed focus, dedication, and the will to finish such a route. What I experienced as a young mum was a total shift of focus in my life. Every second of the day, part of my mind was on my little one – Does he need anything? Is he in danger? When baby Arthur was 6-months old, I couldn’t write a full text, read a book, or focus. I willingly disappeared behind “the veil of mum.” But I was hoping I would find my fully functional brain again, on top of my late abdominals.
Here we catch up with Wade and Stefan in order to learn more about the experience.