Whilst there can be a wagon train of less experienced climbers on neighboring Petit Grepon, on many days of the climbing season, you will almost be guaranteed to have the Southwest Corner of the Saber to yourself. Although MP.com has the grade at 5.10a/b, the Southwest Corner is a significant upgrade over many of the other routes located on these two features. MP.com has this route divided into eight pitches (including two approach pitches), we comfortably did it in seven (including two approach pitches) (I and many of my partners would typically solo the first two pitches effectively making this a five pitch route).
The approach is the same as for Petit Grepon with the exception that the Saber is the next face to the east. You hike up the moraine field on its right side all the way up to the wall which turns out to be exactly where you will finish your rap descent, just meters from your bags. There is an obvious diagonal ramp from right to left that gives you access to the middle of the steep south face. Many will feel comfortable soloing this section although there is some exposure. Another solo or roped up section (mid 5th) directly up steep blocks lands you at the base of the reddish steep face above. The first pitch of the route is full on and sandbagged in my opinion. You start beneath an obvious shallow left facing corner. Climb past a roof on its left side to enter this corner. The first moves are unique, almost chimney like to enter the corner. The corner produces a seam that is mostly closed but opens up to pin scar type placements and occasional tips/fingers. It is an enduro pitch for the grade (sustained) via stemming, tips, some arête, some fingers. The pro is intricate. I advise taking plenty of small stuff, rps, micro cams, etc. At the top of the corner you traverse left to a comfortable belay. All of the belays are comfortable on this climb The second pitch is way easier in comparison for the grade. MP.com has it at 5.8, might as well be 5.6 in comparison to the first 5.10 pitch. The third pitch is techy for gear with exposure. They talk of a crack in the guide, but it is more of an intermittent seam after a traverse left. Not a lot of pro before you reach a deep left facing corner with a wide crack. Solid 5.9 pitch. The fourth pitch is one of the finer 5.9 trad pitches anywhere. A traverse left on positive holds into the exposed steep arete that climbs positive holds and cracks for a full rope length. The exposure is very cool. A few loose blocks. An alternative final pitch is a finger seam (5.10) that is slightly overhung on small gear. It is a more aesthetic option than the easy chock stone corner to its right or easy face climbing to the left. Once above this short wall, 5th class at most takes you to the top of the rap line on the right shoulder of the Saber. .
Park at the Glacier Gorge trail head and hike back to a dead end at Sky Pond (3.5 miles). We are typically fast and got to the base of the route in just over 2 hours.
Approach Pitches- 300’-5th/ Access the obvious left leaning diagonal by hiking as far as you can up the gully to the right side of the formation. This section is more 4th than 5th class to a large ledge. The exposure is not as bad as it looks. If not soloing, stop and establish a belay below the obvious head wall above that is still below the more reddish rock of the route proper. I had no beta, but my partner thought she read where folks were having a difficult time figuring out this next 100’+, but it was simple, just climb the blocky (mid 5th) obvious cracks above to the base of the first pitch on another significant ledge.
1st Pitch- 120’-5.10/ This pitch is sandbagged for the grade given in at least one guide (5.10a) and would easily be 5.10+ at Lumpy Ridge for example. Climb easy ground to below the left side of the roof/left facing corner above. Chimney and/or stem up the closed seam corner with intricate gear until you are climbing the corner itself. You could easily place a triple set of micro cams along with RP’s in this corner. C4#.1 to C4#.5 will place in certain pockets. It is a sustained 100’ of climbing. Stemming becomes your rest stops with downward slopers causing awkward feet. Stay with the corner, do not be tempted to traverse out left to better holds as the terrain will peter out. Near the end you can place a medium piece or two, same with the start of the corner. At the top, traverse left to a comfortable gear belay below another, much easier, left facing corner near the edge of the arête.
2nd Pitch- 100’-5.8/ If the last pitch was 5.10-, then this pitch is 5.7 at most. Climb the easy hands corner to another comfortable gear belay below the center of a face section.
3rd Pitch- 180’- 5.9/ This is the second most technical pitch of the day. Traverse left and take the center seam via face moves up to the wide left facing corner above. The pro in the few micro pockets on the face is tenuous at best with consequences if it fails. I traversed out left to almost the arête to place a C4#2 and made a large extension before moving back right and climbing the seam. After one solid move at the grade, the climbing is relatively easy into the corner. A C4#4 helps protect the fist and/or arm bar off width corner. You have enough feet for this not to be overwhelming off width by any stretch. And once again, you reach a comfy ledge in which to build a gear belay, below yet another face.
4th Pitch- 190’- 5.9/ This is the money pitch of this route and one of the finer 5.9 exposed/cool arête position hand crack pitches in CO. Climb up easy well featured face and traverse left to an under cling roof. Traverse left under the roof via positive, but exposed, climbing. Turn into the arête itself with tremendous relief underneath and climb for 150’ of pure joy. There are many blocks involved and a few were loose. The guide has you stopping short, but it makes sense, if you extended your placements properly, to continue the full length of the arête corner to below another face with a finger to tips splitter and a chock stone corner to the right.
5th Pitch- 100’- 5.10/ The corner to the right offers the easiest exit. MP.com talks about going left. But there is a splitter finger crack up a short wall that makes sense. Finger/tips crack in the middle of a short face with a chock stone corner to the right. It is slightly overhung with sketchy feet, taking wires and small gear. Exit up the right and the real climbing is over. Continue up to the top and/or the right shoulder well below the summit is the first rap.
A lot of noise is made on MP.com regarding the descent raps (all slung and/or fixed passive gear-2018), but I thought the descent was straight forward, fast and relatively clean as of 2018. The first slung rap goes 110’ to another slung rap. Then 100’ to yet another slung rap on a ledge that gives way to a steep face below. Take a long double rope rap all the way to the large alcove ledge below. There were three rap nests in this alcove in 2018. By far the best choice is accessed by scrambling down skiers left to the left most corner at two fixed nuts and a piton (2018). A full 200’ rap gets you right back to your packs.
Double 60m ropes. I had one micro cam and rp’s. If I did it again, I would take all the micro cams between I and my partner. Rp’s are great for aid, but not always mind settling in small pockets on lead. Single to C4#4. Double to triple from #.1 to .5. A set of small wires/rps. For the 4th pitch arête, if you are at the edge of your leading abilities, take a few extra medium pieces from #.75 to #2. Take alpine slings: this route wanders, be prepared to extend most placements. Helmets advised, this route does not see near the traffic of the adjoining routes. Plenty of loose rock. You do not need to haul approach shoes. Mostly south facing, plenty of sun for most of the route. Hiking poles advised for the approach.