2009-05-15 Petit Grepon TR


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Sport climber
Topic Author's Original Post - May 29, 2009 - 12:08pm PT
2009-05-15, Southwest Corner (5.9), Petit Grepon, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Yesterday was, by far, the most hardcore day of climbing I have ever had.

Woke up at 4am, met at Aaron’s at 5, and, after a few wrong turns, arrived at the trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park at 6:50. Our goal: the Southwest Corner (5.9) of Le Petite Grepon, a 950’ alpine formation that tapers to a narrow fin at the top, and finally to an 8’ by 30’ summit with airy exposure and a panoramic view of the glacial valley below.

Getting there required a five-mile approach past Loch Vail and up to Sky Pond. Being May, we expected a little bit of snow on the trail, but as my sneakers and prana climbing pants vouched for, we weren’t prepared for anything serious. As it turned out, nearly the entire trail was covered in snow, with the exception of about a quarter mile stretch of clean rock. Starting with compact snow a few inches deep, after a mile or two we were trudging through snow up to our ankles. By the time we got to the Sky Pond trail, the snow was a foot deep. We did our best to stay in snowshoe tracks, where the snow was more compact, but we would periodically post-hole through the snow, sometimes up to our hip. It only got worse as we hiked by Loch Vale and Sky Pond.

After two and a half or three hours, we finally passed Sky Pond and began the approach to the base of the climb. To avoid a steep snow slope, we traversed diagonally up and across the snow-covered talus field. At points I fell through up to my waist. About forty or fifty feet beneath the base of the climb, I left a clear spot of talus and traversed up and onto a 35 degree snow slope, step kicking and punching hand holds. The slope stretched 150ft below the base, offering some exposure on the unstable snow. The slope became steeper the last 10ft below the first belay ledge, and working my way up, the snow collapsed beneath me and I slid down a few feet, forcing me to ponder a slide all the way down the slope to the talus below. I continued up the ledge with fairly secure steps.

Aaron had beat me to the first belay by about half an hour, enough time to dry out his socks and gloves. Embarrassingly enough, the thought of bailing was strong in my mind. All told, the approach had taken four hours, and it was already 11am. Seven pitches stood before us, and Aaron and I had never moved faster than an hour per pitch. At best that put us at the summit at 6pm, with six repels between us and the ground. The thought of down climbing the snow slope, and then hiking out with saturated shoes, socks, and pants, in the dark, in dropping temps, did not sound safe or appealing to me.

Aaron, of course, already had his harness on and the rope flaked by the time I got to the base of the climb. I told him we should bail, and in a calm voice he asked me why. I told him, but could tell it didn’t faze him a bit and that bailing was not an option as far as he was concerned. With his better judgment he convinced me we could make it, but we agreed upon a turn around time of 5pm, unless we were within a pitch of the summit.

Aaron and I simul-climbed the first three pitches (him setting up an anchor and belaying me on the third). The climbing was fun, easy, and slightly exposed. Moving quickly beneath the beautiful weather, I definitely began to feel better. The forecasts called for highs in the low forties, but the sun was shining and it felt more like mid-fifties (not to mention I was wearing long johns, two base layers, my shell, my balaklava, and my beanie). I reached Aaron at the top of the third pitch, and he handed over the rack to me so I could lead pitch 4. I stared up at an easy looking crack followed by a juggy left facing corner, and, instead of my usual pre-lead jitters, felt excited for the climb.

I lead the pitch (5.7) easily, experiencing a few difficult moves but nothing particularly cruxy. Gear was good most of the way. I wandered off route a little bit and wound up on a ledge at the top of P4, where I found a horn slung with some tat, on which I built an anchor. I could tell I was about 30ft left of the proper belay and the start of the next pitch, but decided we could figure it out when Aaron joined me, which he did shortly.

At first, Aaron tried to lead through a crack, past a small roof directly above the belay ledge. After scoping the crack, he decided it was wrong, and walked out to climber’s left to explore other possibilities. He traversed left and found the correct route, up the airy ridge of the southwest corner. To avoid rope drag, he threw in a couple pieces and built an anchor, belaying me as I crossed the airy traverse across the ledges.

Aaron led the next pitch (5.9), beginning on the extremely exposed southwest corner of the formation. The pitch meandered through an at-times awkward dihedral, and culminated with a “sport climb”- a short series of crimps and very sport-like moves- past a roof and onto the next belay ledge. The pitch was a long one, and I was the coldest I had been all day as the wind mercilessly pummeled me on the exposed belay.

I followed Aaron cleanly, though certainly not gracefully. At the next belay I looked up and saw a difficult crack in a dihedral with a fixed piece, which continued into obvious jugs, another ledge, and then the summit fin. Aaron suggested I take the next lead, and again, nervous and excited but not particularly scared, I racked up. The crack/ dihedral was difficult, but I felt fairly secure most of the way, and in a few body lengths I was on easier ground. Coming up and around a narrow ledge, I was faced with the summit fin, with 900ft of exposure to my back. Aaron mentioned the climb to the summit was easy, and I could see jugs most of the way up. It was face climbing, though, and the pro looked scarce at best. I began the 60ft or so of climbing to the top of the fin, gingerly stepping on and gripping squared out jugs. The climbing wasn’t particularly difficult (5.4 to 5.6?) but in the entire 50ft or so up the fin, I got in two pieces, and as I said the exposure was immense. Still I felt pretty secure the whole way up. At the top of the fin I again clipped some tat, threw in a few pieces and built an anchor. Aaron made it up no problem.

All that remained was the relatively short summit spire (50ft?), which Aaron led. I enjoyed the exposure as I followed the fairly easy pitch, taking a few photos as I stood on the summit.

All-in-all, the climb had been utterly amazing. We hadn’t seen another person the entire day, and the solitude, location, and exposure combined perfectly. That’s aside from the climbing itself, which was alternately challenging and fun, and nearly always exposed. At the summit, the views were peerless- the valley below us, the ridge around us, the formations directly across from us, everything was covered in a thick sheath of snow. Below us, Sky Pond was at places a pale blue, at others a pale green, shimmering beneath a thick layer of ice in the warm spring sun.

I was incredibly enthusiastic upon reaching the summit, but realized we still had six raps and a five mile hike between us and the car, and with the sun not far from the horizon, wanted to hurry and hike as far as possible before dark. Aaron led the first rappel, and I followed him down to the next set of bolts. Aaron suggested I go first on the next one. Somehow I missed the next set of bolts but, with the help of rope stretch, was able to reach a wide, grassy ledge. Aaron rapped and found the bolts, fifty feet or so above me. For awhile we debated what to do, that is, whether I should try and pull myself up the rope on rappel, or have Aaron belay me as I climbed the apparently easy face to his set of bolts. Either way, neither of us was happy because, as I said, the sun was going down and we were eager to start the hike out. Aaron recommended I look around the ledge as far as possible and, sure enough, about fifty feet to my left were the next set of bolts. I had simply combined two raps into one. Feeling extremely fortuitous, Aaron rapped down to meet me at the ledge, then took the first rap down to the next set of bolts.

Uneventfully we rapped down to the last ledge, where we were supposed to find a set of anchors from which we could rap to the ground. Unfortunately, what the topo described as a “grassy ledge” was in fact covered with a few feet of snow, obscuring the face where the bolts were supposed to be. Aaron had cleaned a fixed nut and some tat earlier in the route, and decided that, instead of digging through piles of snow, we’d rap off the single leaver nut. Aaron placed the nut and slung it with the tat. I checked it out and to me and the placement wasn’t ideal, but it definitely seemed secure. Still, as Aaron leaned off the ledge the nut made an eerie squeak as it settled into the crack. I’d heard stories about bailing off a single nut, but never appreciated how spooky it was until I actually had to do it. My life was on a single piece of pro, and if it pulled I’d be falling sixty-so feet onto a scree field.

Luckily we both made it down safely, and amazingly the rope actually landed on our packs at the base of the climb. Aaron crammed down a snack as I packed up. The hike back was mostly uneventful, pretty much more of the same from the morning. By the time we got back to the car it was 9:50pm, and I was maybe the most exhausted I’ve ever been in my life. I had a slight headache, and, I don’t know if it was due to the altitude or simply fatigue, I felt nauseous. Pretty much as soon as we left the parking lot I closed my eyes and passed out. I slept like the dead until we pulled into Aaron’s apartment complex, drove home, and went to sleep without eating or even showering.

Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
May 29, 2009 - 12:19pm PT
Yahoo! Sounds like a great day. Way to go. There is a special feeling that goes with pushing a little harder than is comfortable.

Trad climber
May 29, 2009 - 12:21pm PT
Great trip report.
Good job fighting through the temptation to bail.

Gym climber
a greasy pinscar near you
May 29, 2009 - 12:24pm PT
Dude, get unstupid, they're probably great!

This Aaron character sounds like a good partner, especially for stretching yourself out on days like this one. Your description of the Petit experience put me in mind of ours on the one next door (Saber) a couple summers back. The weather was friendlier, it was July I think.

"the climbing itself, which was alternately challenging and fun..."

Are these two mutually exclusive?
In this phrase I think one can detect the seeds of the initial hesitation...

A long way from where I started
May 29, 2009 - 12:29pm PT
What a fine day!

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 29, 2009 - 12:37pm PT
Sweet, figured out pics. Here's Aaron on the approach

Me on the approach

Aaron leading the 5.9 crux pitch on the southwest corner of the formation

View from the belay below the summit

View of the valley below

Me goofing around below the summit

Petit as we hiked back to the car

May 29, 2009 - 12:40pm PT
Haven't even looked at the pics and I still think it's a great TR. Nice job pushing it, and agree with the above comment about keeping your partner.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 29, 2009 - 12:44pm PT
Yeah no joke Aaron's a great partner. He's one of these guys that took to trad climbing like a fish to water. He's super patient but pushes me and is always looking for the next great route. We've done some sick stuff in the last few months since I moved out to Colorado.

Gym climber
a greasy pinscar near you
May 29, 2009 - 12:46pm PT
Way, way, way snowier than when we were there.

A whole different game, methinks.

Way to push the boat out a little bit!

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
May 29, 2009 - 12:48pm PT
Very cool! Loved the photos as well. Thanks-

Trad climber
A place w/o Avitars apparently
May 29, 2009 - 01:08pm PT
Great TR!

I wish there were more pictures though.



Trad climber
White Mountains
May 29, 2009 - 01:18pm PT
Great trip report and photos! The Petit is on our hit list either this year or next.

Social climber
Grumpy Ridge
May 29, 2009 - 01:19pm PT
Some photos of this route taken several yrs ago...

Second pitch variation...

Fourth pitch...

Looking down the fifth pitch...

The Petite (left) and the Saber (right)...
There's good routes on that Saber rig too.

Looking back (south east?) at the Petite from up near the Gash, taken on a separate trip a year earlier...

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
May 29, 2009 - 01:23pm PT
Nice TR! Congrats on gittin' 'er done!

Great photos, Erret!

Here's a few from quite a while ago...still remember it as a fine day. We got sleeted and snowed on and barely dodged what could have been some pretty hairy weather.


Trad climber
Malaga Cove
May 29, 2009 - 01:25pm PT
+1 TR
+! Experience
-1 Single nut rap

Trad climber
May 29, 2009 - 01:38pm PT
Nice report.......Makes me laugh though with all the information available and you guys didn't know you'd be hiking on snow ?? And to be starting up that at 11am......with afternoon thunder showers having been forcasted yikes.....that's one of the biggest lightning rods around....

May 29, 2009 - 01:47pm PT

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
May 29, 2009 - 02:25pm PT
Dingus - I'm thinking it was the Andrews Glacier (too lazy to check). We went up and over and down that way as well. We had to post-hole down the snow, which was surprisingly scary because of the soft snow, the talus and the broken-ankle factor that came with it. When my buddy and I got to the boulder in the picture below, we rigged a rap off it and slid the rest of the 100 feet or so to the bottom of the snowfield.


right here, right now
May 29, 2009 - 07:52pm PT
Early-season ascent.
Diligent and entertaining write up.

Rocky Mountain High !!!
Thanks for playing: don't listen to us crotchety old hind-sighters.
We've made all your mistakes and then some........

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 29, 2009 - 07:58pm PT
Thanks and congrats, that's one I've always wanted to do and never quite got to...
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