The late, great Derek Hersey considered King of Swords one of his favorite rock climbs. The climbing is unrelenting, overhanging, strenuous, and intimidating, yet it also is varied, aesthetic, interesting, and memorable. It is one of only two free climbs on the right side of the Diamond (so far), the other being the much more difficult The Joker (which, incidentally, is named after Derek).
The tenor of free climbing on the right side of the Diamond is noticeably different than the left (i.e. Yellow Wall) side. Rock quality in the middle stretches is often fair to poor at best, with a decomposing, rotten nature, although there is some very good rock higher. The wall is much steeper than on the Yellow Wall, and hence the climbing tends to be very strenuous and taxing, and the "feel" intimidating and exposed. There can also be considerable seeping from snow melt on the higher pitches.
From North Chimney head right on Broadway and locate the first crack system right of the first major pillar (i.e. the Green Pillar; the dihedral is the start of the Dunn-Westbay). KoS is identified from below as the crack system which crosses the right side of the obvious "S" shaped roof a third of the way up (although the route starts in a system left of this).
P1: Climb this 5.9 crack for 125 feet to a sling belay.
P2: Continue up until the crack ends and traverse right (5.10-), then up and right to a belay on the right side of a ledge. There are 2 fixed pins at this belay- these are the last fixed anchors on the route. It would be very difficult to retreat from above this point since the route is so steep, and all anchors would be your own gear.
P3: Step right and climb "The Torture Chamber", a rotten, poorly-protected 5.11a slot (the worst rock on the route- it crumbles in your hands); or climb the original line (slightly harder though better-protected) moving out of the slot and onto the wall to the left. Set up a hanging belay 10 feet below the S-shaped roof; have several pieces up to 2.5" to make this anchor bombproof, and since it's hanging consider a butt bag. A lead of the Torture Chamber has been described as a "Rites of Passage" pitch.
P4: Now tackle the strenuous 5.11- fist crack above (liebacking may work also), moving out of the crack right, then back left, up corners, to below a clean right-facing corner. There may be slight variations to do in this pitch. Belay at the highest possible stance directly below an impressive, clean R-facing corner (the Gilbert variation) at some bomber gear (1.5F, 2.5 F, large stopper).
P5: Climb the crux corner (this is the Gilbert variation)- certainly 5.12a if you stay in it at the start, but you can climb a wee bit left for 20' before entering it. At the top step left to the top of the column and belay. Or, climb the original line, the left side of the column, at a slightly easier (5.11d) grade. If this climbing were on Castle Rock, it would be more like 5.11c, but up there...The Gilbert variation is one of the top 3 classic ".12a" pitches on the Diamond, the others being the crux leads of D1 and Ariana. It may be wet in places due to drips from above.
P6: Now proceed directly up the 5.11 thin hands crack above, through Table Ledge (an overhang here), up 30 more feet of .10d to an inobvious, wet .10 traverse left to a stance- another long pitch.
P7: Climb this crack to the top- wide, wet, and hard 5.10. Luckily the gear is good on this pitch (some fixed pins, if you can find them under all the slime).
This is a great adventure climb, and folks with a better-than-average tolerance for poor rock could argue for a 3-star rating. In 1995 this climb was linked with the Diagonal Super-Direct (V, 5.11d) on the Lower East Face in just under 11 hours.
Double set wired nuts to 3.5" cams, with some extra wireds for the Gilbert Variation, and perhaps extra hand-size pieces. One set RPs. One each #4 Friend and #4 Camalot.
Jeff Gruenberg on King of Swords. Photo: Bob Hora...
BETA PHOTO: Looking up the 12a corner.
BETA PHOTO: The 11d bypass around the Torture Chamber, which w...
The Diamond and King of Swords, photo: Bob Horan.
A wet start on King of Swords. Photo: Bob Horan Co...
Bob Horan approaching the dihedral pitch, King of ...
By Anonymous Coward
Jul 4, 2002
We did KOS in sumer '02 and Levin is wrong about some things. You can climb the 3rd pitch exactly as the topo shows it and the map clearly rates this pitch 11d. On the 4th pitch, you can avoid the grainy fisting by climbing the crack 5' to the left at 11a. the advantage to this is you don't have to drag 2 #4's up the route. One will suffice. I thought the route's quality was a bit overstated- too much grain, loose rock and lichen. It's a great line, scenic, challenging and a great adventure however.
By Scott Bennett
Jul 14, 2012
Kings of Swords is a great route! As of 7-13-12, the entire route was bone dry, including the last pitch.
We did the 11d on the left side of the pillar for the crux lead, since we were light on small gear and the 12a looked quite thin. The 11d was excellent!
As for the infamous "Torture Chamber", it certainly looks like a horrible experience: a two foot wide, two foot deep runnel of disintegrating gravel.
But, we were able to avoid this horror show with the "cheater shenanigans" beta from Jesse Huey, and it made this pitch safe and enjoyable.
From the belay, the 11d seam is directly above, but the good rock is guarded by 3 or 4 meters of unprotectable kitty litter.
So, I traversed right into the Torture Chamber, climbed up it for a few meters, placed good cams (#1 and #2 Camalots), and then tension traversed back left to the seam. I aided up this seam for a few moves, placed two bomber cams, and then lowered down.
I cleaned the #1 and #2 Camalots from the torture chamber, and was finally left with a handy toprope to free climb directly into the seam above the belay!
Of course this isn't pure free climbing style, but it makes an otherwise gravelly and dangerous pitch into a fun and safe lead!
Other than that pitch, we did encounter a short bit of grainy choss on the 11c fist crack pitch, but nothing out of the ordinary for that part of the Diamond. This route is quite fun!