RMNP - PETIT GREPON
Long before the September 1st, 2004, Jared had plans to climb the Petit Grepon in Rocky Mountain National Park for his birthday. Part of his plan was to do the route during the middle of the week in order to best ensure that he would not be rushed (or endangered) by other climbing parties on the route. The Petit Grepon is listed in a well known guide book for the fifty best classic climbs in North America. It consists of around 800 feet of vertical climbing and tops out at exactly 12,000 ft elevation. Its' summit is no more than 6 feet wide and maybe 18 feet long. One can expect to see 3 or 4 climbing parties on this route during any given summer weekend. I committed to Jared that I would take the day off work and do the climb with him. After all, skipping work to go rock climbing actually sounded pretty fun. Furthermore, we were going to do the "Petit"! I too had coveted this climb for quite some time. We quickly discovered that the road to our trailhead was closed and under construction for the season. To facilitate visitors, RMNP was running shuttles every 30 minutes to the various trailheads along the way. Unfortunately, the first shuttle would not run until 6:30am. The last shuttle picked up at our trailhead at 9:00 pm. This would not allow us enough time to hike in, complete a 7 pitch climb, and hike out. It was certainly possible, but not favorable. We decided to get a backcountry permit and hike in the night before, for an overnight stay. This would certainly put us on the rock before anyone else. Additionally, I would finally get to use my new bivy sack. It was nice to go light and leave the tent at home. Our trip up to Glacier Gorge went pretty fast. We got over half way before the darkness set in. Fortunately though, both Jared & I had hiked into this area several times. We found a nice grassy bench with perfect wind protection and an awesome overlook of the valley below. We knew the view was great because a near-full moon popped over the mountain ridge and put a soft light on the entire area. There was not a cloud in the sky. We both slept pretty well that night under the stars.
When morning came, we were up and ready to jump into action. I think we even skipped any hot breakfast. I recall chomping down a pop-tart, as I gathered climbing gear for the climb. Once we hiked around the rock bands that had been our shelter for the night, the full view of the Cathedral Spires came into view. The more we hiked towards them, the more magnificent they appeared. Just left of center, was the Petit Grepon. Next to it, on the right, was it's bigger brother the Saber. The Saber, loaded with incredibly hard routes, was way out of our league. We wasted no time in getting on with the climb. We stashed a backpack with our hiking boots and some emergency gear at the base of the rock. Roped up and ready, we set off on the 1st pitch. It was merely a scramble, and no gear was even placed. Pitches 2 and 3, I strung together with the first real lead of the day. The rock quality appeared solid. The pitch took me up a huge chimney, too wide to even consider stemming. I climbed huge flakes to the top where it narrowed and allowed for an exit into an awesome fist-sized leaning hand crack. I jammed fist over fist and cruised it. I set a belay station on a ledge just above the crack and belayed Jared up. He was all smiles. Jared would take the second lead and go on a cruise himself for pitch 4. He too, started off with a chimney scramble which tapered into a series of flakes and ledges before veering right to a nice belay ledge. I followed his lead, plucking the gear from the wall as I went. Although we dared not mention it, the weather was holding very nicely.
Pitch 5 would then be mine to lead. As discussed prior to the climb, this pitch contained the crux of the route. For some reason, Jared feels that I am a slightly stronger climber and felt I should be the one to lead the crux. He is an equally strong climber, but I rose to the challenge anyhow. It was only 5.8 or 5.9, depending on which account one reads of the route. Well, I have to emphasize that 5.8 close to the ground and 5.8 600 feet in the air are two entirely different animals. I fully realized this half way up my pitch, while turmoiling over how to best get past the crux. After much debate, frustration and self-inflicted verbal abuse, I managed to commit to the moves required to pull through the crux section. After completing the moves, I gave out a loud shout and then chuckled at myself for being such a wuss. "It was only 5.8", I told myself. It's amazing what a few hundred feet of exposure in a remote area can to one's mind. Had that move been directly off the ground, I'd have urged any beginning climber to at least try it!
The next pitch was a wonderful line of excellent moves on super-solid rock. It was so nice that Jared didn't even seem to be bothered by the vast distances between available protection! As his belayer, I kept wondering if there was no place to drop in gear, or if he was just having too much fun and spacing it out! For those considering this climb, it should be noted that gear placements on pitch 6 are sparse. It is a steady and solid line of 5.7 that takes you directly to the oddly dubbed "pizza pan" ledge. I'm not sure what lead to this reference, unless the first ascent climber was extremely hungry, and could perfectly see himself eating a pizza at that very point. Pitch 7, the final push to the precarious summit was just above us. It was my turn to lead, but I knew this climb (and summit) was for Jared. I gave him my collective rack of gear & he set off for the summit. We both sat on the wafer thin summit at precisely 2:00 pm. He pulled out his cell phone, and actually found decent reception. We both called our wives to send our love and began organizing our gear for the long series of rappels required to get back on flat ground.
At first, the rappels went fairly smooth. The rappel route had been freshly bolted and conveniently located for a pair of 60 meter ropes. After the third rappel though, the route wanders onto the South face. As soon as I gave the coiled ropes a toss, I knew that easy travels were behind us. The wind lifted the ropes and carried them directly horizontal and out of sight. With the knotted ends threaded through the anchors before me, I had no choice but to go anyhow. Sure enough, I reached a point where downward progress was no longer an option. The ends of both ropes had been carried over and behind a huge rock flake the size of a medium automobile. I couldn't lower myself any further. I knotted the ropes at my rappel device so that I wouldn't loose grip of my position, and began to "whip" at the ropes. I would pull closer to the flake on one rope and whip at the slack on the other. To my amazement, my rope came free right away. Now how would I free the other rope (Jared's)? I no longer had a rope to pull close on. While dangling there, supported by my knot, I leaned into the rock to grab any feature possible. I was able to get my feet onto some edges and lean in to give Jared's rope some more whiplash. It was not coming free though. Tired and getting restricted at the legs from my harness, I finally gave up. His rope was stuck. Using every bit of stretch in his rope I managed to get to a tiny ledge. He then came down to finally see what all the fuss was about. We down-climbed easy rock to a larger ledge. From there, Jared scrambled back up some rock to reach the loop of rope dangling above us. He reached as high as possible and cut it there. He was bummed; the rope had only seen one climb before ours.
The rest of the rappels were quick and straight forward. We reached solid ground and raced for out boots. My climbing shoes peeled of with a sigh of relief. Like water to the desert floor, the fresh air seemed to bring my toes back to life. We coiled ropes, racked gear, and went back to the bivy site. Within a short matter of time, we were marching back down the long trail to the road. It was a very long trail down to the road. We caught one of the last shuttles back to the parking lot and, like zombies, vegetated on nothing in particular for the entire ride back to Jareds truck. The exhaustion of the days work and the hike out had taxed us both heavily. Even in Jareds truck, there were no victory stories of death-grips and scraped knuckles. Those would follow, the next day - after sleep. Like Jared, I have grown very fond of the Glacier George area of RMNP. There is a lot of good climbing with great rewards for those who work to reach them. I'm sure I'll be back.