On June 16, 2002 at 8:15 am, the Glacier Gorge parking lot was already full of climbers and tourists, so I had to park at the lot 0.2 miles down the road. Outfitted in my normal alpine attire of shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes, I threw my chalk bag, rock shoes, and keys into my BD Bullet Pack and walked along the road to the trailhead. I started up the trail at a lethargic pace because I was feeling very sick from the previous evening's debauchery. After about 20 minutes of plodding along, I started to feel a lot better, so I increased the pace to an easy jog. There were a couple small patches of snow along the trail, but nothing that my trusty running shoes couldn't handle. After an hour and ten minutes of motion, I reached the base of the South Face.
The South Face of Petit Grepon (5.8, III, 8 pitches) is one of the "Fifty Classic Climbs of North America", so naturally, it's usually very crowded. This day was no exception. I could see several parties already on the route; the highest had just passed the crux 5th pitch. Being a Sunday in mid-June, it probably wasn't a good day to free-solo one of the most popular, if not the most popular route in RMNP. But, I was determined get it out of the way, so I pressed on.
Instead of climbing the easy rock on the normal first pitch, I opted for some slightly more interesting rock to the right. It came in at about 5.7 and was completely unprotectable. But, because I was unroped anyway, this wasn't a concern.
I had to wait for some people on the chimney pitch above the First Terrace. After the follower had reached the belay, I asked if I could climb through, and they were kind enough to let me. Getting into the left-leaning hand/offwidth crack was a little tricky because there was a woman anchored right at the base of it. I had to contort my body and execute a move that was significantly harder than the 5.7 rating for the pitch. As I attained the crack, my legs were straddling the woman's head, with her face positioned in a very unbecoming spot. This was probably more disconcerting for her than it was for me. I chuckled a little as I climbed on.
I cruised upward for a few minutes, never really thinking about what I was doing, just enjoying the freedom of moving unencumbered over excellent alpine rock. I climbed through the crux dihedral/crack without consciously realizing it was the crux. In retrospect, the 5.8 rating seems about right. After getting to the ledge above the crux, the real fun began. IMO, the bottom pitches of the climb are not that great. Sure, there are stretches of excellent rock, but there are also quite a few dirty/licheny spots and some mandatory mantles onto ledges with lots of loose rocks. But, the upper pitches are clean, steep, super-exposed, and very enjoyable. I finally encountered the top party on the route. I climbed a few feet to the right of their rope so that we wouldn't get in each other's way. I think the rock was a little harder than it would have been if I had followed their rope, but it was still high-quality and in the 5.7 or 5.7+ range. The leader had placed a piece of pro low on the pitch that was causing a lot of drag, and he asked me to remove it as I passed. I unclipped the draw from the rope, but I wasn't about to hassle with taking out the nut. I told him that his partner could do the actual extraction .
After a couple more minutes, I was on tiny summit. It felt great to be alone on the "placemat in the sky" without a rope. I stayed on top for about 5 minutes enjoying the exposure and the view of Sky Pond 1,000 ft below.
My descent involved an uneventful downclimb of the Standard Route (5.6, II) on the north side of the spire. It was a little licheny, and there were a few loose spots, but it wasn't bad at all. Even though the downclimb was only 5.6, it was on vertical and extremely exposed terrain. I took my time going down, savoring the exposure, then I climbed up some easy Class 5 chimneys to a spot where the of the summit blade's profile is the most impressive. This view has prompted at least one climber to chicken out. In June of 1996, a fellow RMNP trail worker (who will go unnamed) and I hiked up the Gash with the intent of climbing the Standard Route. My partner was fairly new to climbing, and the sight of the summit blade
was too much for him. He couldn't imagine climbing it, or actually being on top of that tiny summit. So, to my dismay, we backed off that day (but returned to make a successful ascent later in the summer).
Anyway, I finished scrambling up to the saddle between Sharkstooth and the Saber, then began my hike down the Gash to the trailhead. There was still a fair amount of snow, but it was possible to avoid it by staying on Class 2/3 rock to the side. My feet touched the white stuff only a couple times on the whole descent. It probably would have been faster to follow the snowfields down, but I really don't enjoy the feeling of bald running shoes on snow. Using a sharp rock as an ice axe isn't my idea of a good time either. When I got back down the the trail, I ran the last few miles to the trailhead dodging countless tourists along the way.
This wasn't really a speed climb because I was never really rushing, but here are some splits just in case anyone's interested. I think a round-trip time of 2:30 might be possible.
|Parking lot to base (~4.5 miles)
|Base to summit (includes ~5 mins waiting for other parties)
|Summit to saddle
|Saddle to parking lot (~4.5 miles)