Petit Grepon Trip Report

Or

A Lesson In Humility


Sharkstooth, Petit Grepon (Most Prominent Peak In The Picture), and The Saber (picture from jwclimbs @ summitpost.com)

Trail: South Face, 5.8, ~10 miles, ~3000 ft elevation gain

Every now and then it is a good idea to be reminded of exactly where one is at in certain aspects of one's life. The Petit Grepon certainly did that for me with regards to my alpine climbing.  August had been a bad month as far as successfully completing alpine climbs went:  I had bailed on Notchtop due to weather, bailed on The Sharkstooth due to weather, bailed on a re-attempt of Sharkstooth due to sickness, and canceled a trip to the Sangres due to weather. I had gotten up The Great Dihedral on Hallets Peak and The Keyhole Ridge on Longs in August but anyone who knows me knows that two climbs in one month is pretty minimal for me.

To keep myself busy I worked on my rock climbing in the afternoons and was getting a lot more confident with my skills and leading ability so when Labor Day weekend came Chris Schauffele and I decided to change our plans from a re-attempt of Sharkstooth to The Petit Grepon. The Petit  is listed as one of the 50 classic climbs in North America and is located above Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The climb itself consists of ~ 8 pitches  with one pitch of 5.8 and several run-out pitches of 5.7 at the top.  It sounded perfect.  I can climb 5.8 easily enough and Chris can lead it.  We planned on block leading the climb with me taking the bottom four pitches and Chris the top four since he is a better climber/leader than I am.  No problem right?  I've been all over this summer climbing alpine rock routes and Chris has been climbing for years. The one thing  I hadn't counted on was the un-relenting vertical exposure which would gradually just wear away at my nerves.  Well, we made it up and down just fine but I got my very first bona-fide epic.  

Chris came to my house at 5:00 on Friday, September 1st, 2006 and we set out for RMNP's Glacier Basin Campground.  When we arrived it was raining and fog shrouded the whole area.  The weather called for a blue bird day on Saturday so we decided to hang out and be hopeful. We set up a tent, made a quick dinner, sorted our gear and turned in around 8:30.  We awoke to my watch alarm at 2:30 in the morning and, after a quick bite to eat, headed to the Glacier Gorge Parking Lot.  

We started hiking towards the Loch at 3:45 in the morning under beautiful, clear skies.  The weather had passed and the night was even pleasantly warm (45 degrees F).  We made quick work of the approach by using a hidden climbers trail which bypasses many of the switchbacks and found ourselves st the junction for Loch Vale and Glacier Gorge within 40 minutes of leaving the truck.

Since I was somewhat concerned that I might get sick again ( I had bailed on a climb just 3 days before) we were taking the approach slowly and eventually worked our way up past Sky Pond and to the Petit by 6:30.  At this point the sun had come up but fog covered everything.  I've seen this weather before and was confident it would burn off (I was right).

We hung out until 6:45 at which point the Petit became visible as a huge, inspiring, monolith rising 1000 feet above us.  The one thing we had been expecting was a huge crowd, I mean c'mon, climbing the Petit on Labor Day weekend seemd like a formula for trouble and we had expected to get there, bail due to crowds, and go climb the Sharkstooth.  What is the old saying?  'Fortune Favors The Foolish'.  This was true for us as NO ONE was at the climb.  As it turned out only one other party would even climb the Petit that day and they ended up being a blessing because one of them cleaned and returned my yellow alien which I had left for stuck pro.

Our First Clear Look At The Petit


What It Felt Like To Climb It

We decided to climb with packs as we were mulling over descending the backside of the Petit and climbing down into the Gash as opposed to rappelling.  The first pitch looked pretty easy so we soloed it.  The pitch we followed started almost directly below the huge chimney in the Petit. We followed a series of slabs, corners, and chimneys until we reached the base of the huge chimney.  This pitch went at 5.2 consistently with the odd moves around 5.4 to 5.6 and probably went on for 200 or so feet.   At the top of this free pitch we stopped to look around.  The weather was clearing and we were able to get a better idea of what lay ahead of us.


Starting The Free Solo Pitch


Looking Back, Just Before Roping Up


Looking Up Toward The Far Off Summit


Climbing The First Roped Pitch

Once we arrived at the base of the huge chimney we roped up and I set off to the top.  This pitch seemed easier than the one we had soloed and really only had one move of any consequence (pulling out of the chimney around a block (5.6).  When I reached the top I belayed Chris up and set off on the next pitch. This pitch followed a meandering hand crack and was completely vertical.  It was certainly the hardest thing I've ever  trad lead and was a pretty burly 5.7.  I was having horrendous problems with my helmet smacking into my pack which was preventing me from looking up and seeing the climb.  Since no one was above us, I took it off.  I generally wouldn't recomend this and suggest people check on this issue before commiting to a climb like this.  I didn't and took a chance that turned out OK ( fortunately all the belays were relatively away from rockfall issues due to the lead climber).  I won't do it a second time.  


More Vertical Stuff On The Second Or Third Roped Pitch


Chris At The Base of The Fourth pitch

Since I wasn't sure I would be up for leading any of the run out stuff farther up, I set off on the fourth pitch.  This one started pretty casually (5.5) and then ramped up to an exposed 5.6 (felt like 5.7) which required a few commiting, unprotected moves and finally ended with a short traverse and a belay on a sloping ledge (under a roof) using two fixed pitons.  Additional protection here was sparse but we used a pink and brown tri-cam as well as a red alien to back up the pitons.  As mentioned by Avery Nelson at Mountain Project- The pitons were connected by webbing which was tied as an American Triangle.  Don't directly clip this thing.  If a piece blows, your carabiner will come out and you will die.  Either wire small carabiners through the pitons or tie of a section of the triangle, find a couple more placements, and equalize an anchor through all the pieces.  Trusting the system as it stands is potentially deadly.


Heading Up The Fourth Pitch


 More Climbing Up This Vertical Beast

At the fourth belay I handed the gear over to Chris.  We spent a bit of time discussing where to go.  Directly over head was a 5.9 face/finger crack and to the right was some seriously exposed 5.8 face climbing.  Chris opted to go right and was soon out of the way.  After a time a fellow named Avery came up to where I was and unobtrusively joined me on the ledge.  It turns out he and his partner Peter were Mountain Project members and quite nice guys.  Sorry for holding you two up on the climb and thanks for cleaning my alien.  I chatted with Avery briefly and then headed up the pitch myself.  I normally hate slabby face climbing but slabby face climbing with a few hundred feet of air is apparently something I REALLY hate.  The beginning of this pitch wore on my nerves some but I soon found myself on decent face climbing which lead to decent crack climbing (5.8) and finally a tricky move into a left facing dihedral (5.8).  After the dihedral, the pitch wandered to the right (east side) of the Petit and became considerably easier.  I moved up some easy (5.4, 5.5) ground and joined Chris.

Up until this point we were moving pretty quickly and finishing pitches in 30 or 45 minutes but, from here on out, we would start to slow considerably.  It was around 11:00.  Chris lead the next pitch and called for me to follow up.  This pitch was very vertical and sustained 5.7 and moved from face to corner to crack climbing. The toughest part had to be a totally run out 30 or 40 foot corner with no pro and sparse holds.  Props to Chris, any fall there would have been a decker for him. After finishing the pitch I quickly decided I didn't want to lead any of the run out stuff with the ever increasing exposure.  While the climbing was within my physical ability to lead it was a bit mentally taxing for me.

This pitch ended on the (in)famous Pizza Pan Belay.  I'm not sure why it is called that but I can tell you that it is about 1 by 3 feet and overhangs about 750 feet of air.  It was damn scary.

Once I was on the Pizza Pan, Chris started up the wall.  We had a bit of a rope issue which required Chris stop climbing and I re-flake the whole pile.  This proved to be a bit annoying given that there wasn't a whole lot of room to manage a set of doubles but I cleared the issue up and Chris kept going. Even though I was a bit freaked out on the Pizza Pan Belay, I've been in enough exposed places that I was able to put it out of my mind and concentrate on giving Chris an attentive belay.  After awhile I even started to enjoy the scenery although I was pretty anxious to get moving and get on a larger stance.  At this point we were forcing Avery and Peter to wait for us but fortunately they were quite relaxed about it.  Once Chris had reached a large ledge I asked him to stop so I could move up and allow the guys behind us to get going.  I followed this pitch which was still stiff, run-out 5.7 but with even more exposure. Leaving the belay was one of the coolest things I have done in my short climbing career.  You basically leave the only rest stance within 100 feet and climb up the arete for 15 feet before moving to  the east side of The Petit and climbing up the face.  It was on this pitch that I found my yellow alien over-cammed and stuck.  After working at it for awhile I decided it wasn't coming out and moved up to meet Chris.  The climbing was fun and aesthetic but the exposure was starting to make me want to be back on the ground.



Our Seventh Pitch


Chris, After Leading Our Seventh Pitch

Once I gained the ledge we took a short break for water and Gu before Chris once again moved up.   The picture below shows what the start of this pitch looked like.  It was every bit as vertical as it looks.  Chris quickly moved up the crack  to a ledge  just 15 or 20 feet below the final ridge line which leads to the summit tower.  I followed up the crack and onto some more totally unprotected face climbing (with great holds) before joining Chris on the ledge.  The climbing on this pitch was some of the best on the whole climb but I was starting to really burn out.  To keep climbing I had to keep putting the exposure out of my mind.  This required a constant effort of will which was more draining than the actual climbing.

At the ledge I decided I would go for the summit and take the last pitch.  I headed up a sloping corner and managed to put one nut in before finding myself on slabby 5.9 (10?) terrain that I couldn't climb.  I completely sketched out and really thought  I was going to fall and end up dangling over 750 feet of air but Chris talked me down.  I was pretty badly shaken and needed a moment to recuperate.  After a bit, I tried another way up to the ridge and pulled a few burly moves through a flaring corner system before getting to the ridge.  I was close enough to panicking at that point that when I saw the summit pitch I said forget it.  I was totally spent from almost falling and could no longer put the exposure out of my head.  I told Chris I was through and that he needed to lead it. I slung a huge boulder with my cordelette and sat down on the three foot wide ridge with unbelievable air on either side. Right before Chris came up, Peter climbed through and set a belay next to me.

Once Peter was situated, Chris came up and took the gear from me.  He headed out on the left side of the tower and decided it was too sketchy and that he needed a breather before going on.  I think we were both waning at that point.  After a time Avery climbed up and graciously handed my yellow alien to me.  Avery and Peter were the souls of courtesy and it was great to have decent climbers around on a peak that is known for having obnoxious ones.

We figured Avery and Peter could climb through and that Chris would follow their route.  Avery took off and traversed around the right side of a wall just before the vertical part of the summit pitch.  He then headed straight up the pitch (and reassured us it was straightforward with decent protection) and Peter quickly followed.  After they were gone Chris got up and headed up.  I was entirely excited about finishing since it meant I would be back on the ground.


Scary Summit


Creepy 1000 Feet Of Air


Picture Of The Summit Tower From The Gash
(Courtesy of Bryan Bornholdt)


Chris


Me


Once Chris was up top I cleaned the anchor and followed the pitch.  I had managed to calm myself down and concentrated on the climbing while ignoring the exposure.  I don't think I looked down even once.  I feel silly not leading this pitch in hindsight.  It was very easy (juggy, well protected 5.6) and was a blast to climb.  The pitch traversed on the right side of a wall until you reached the summit blade at which point it moved onto the blade and climbed directly to the top (well almost directly, you moved from the south side of the summit blade to the east right near the top).

Once on top we shook hands, took a few pictures, and got prepared to get the hell off. The summit was a really amazing place that measured 20 feet by 3 feet and had incredible views of The Gash, Sharkstooth, and The Saber.

I pulled out the beta from Mountain Project with the rappell descriptions and put it in my pocket.  The time was somewhere around 3:30.  The last few pitches along with the 45 minute break on the ledge under the summit had really eaten away at our time.


The First Of Six 150-200 Foot Double Rapells

The first rappell bolts were at the end of the summit and after tying the ropes together and feeding them down I set off on the first rappell (160 feet, hanging).   One of the two other guys was another rappell down and told me where the third set of bolts was since they were hard to find.  Once again, thanks.  Chris followed down to where I was and announced he was spent and wanted me to keep him on Fireman's Belay for the remainder of the rappels.  I would have been spent too if I tried to lead the run-outs on such exposed terrain so I said sure.  We pulled the ropes and re-threaded them through the second set of anchors which is on a large ledge.

I headed down to the third set of rappell bolts (140 feet, bear to climbers left and a big dirt area near a cliff) and Chris followed.  Unfortunately for us the ropes tangled horrendously when we tried to pull them and I had to up climb about 100 feet of 5.4 -5.6 to free them.  I kept the ropes through the rappell device on my harness and pulled the slack every few feet while Chris kept me on Fireman's Belay in the event I fell.  The up climb was actually pretty neat and followed a big right trending flake system.  Once I reached the snarl I untangled the ropes and rappelled back to Chris.  We pulled the ropes and threaded them through the third set of bolts before heading down.  This rappell was about 100 feet.  At the base I found the ropes were snarling and knotting themselves and spent a great deal of time re-coiling them before Chris descended.  Once he was down we moved 50 feet to climbers left and set the ropes through the 4th anchors which were over a chimney.

This rappell was about 180 feet and I had to stop several times on little ledges to uncoil the ropes which were magically tying themselves into knots.  I would not want to have had to up climb any of the rappels after the 2nd one or try to climb 8.5 mm ropes on a tie block so spent a great deal of time managing snarls on the final rappels.  The 4th rappell ended just above a horn.  Chris came down and we carefully pulled and recoiled the ropes.  The fifth anchor was actually out on the face under the horn with about 400 feet of air and I clipped into webbing around the horn before lowering myself to the bolts and clipping a safety to them.  I threaded the rope through the bolts and took off down this full 200 foot rappell once again stopping frequently to unsnarl them on ledges.  At the end of this rappell I realized I couldn't see over a little ledge and didn't know if the ropes were touching the ground or not.  I pulled some rope up, re-tossed it to check, then pulled out a few slings and my tieblocks in case I found myself SOL.  I headed down and fortunately the ropes JUST reached the ground (actually they came a few feet above it, always tie knots in the end of your rappell ropes).

Chris followed down and we moved 30 feet to climbers right and the last set of bolts.  It was now around 7:30.  I threaded the ropes and headed down another 200 foot rappell.  Chris followed and we were finally on Terra Firma.  At this point it was dark, bats were flying everywhere and we realized Chris had lost his headlamp.  We pulled the ropes down,  kissed the ground (just joking), had a bite to eat, and packed up.

The walk out was pretty miserable.  We were in total darkness with one headlamp and had to find our way through rotten, loose scree, over huge boulders, through trees and cliffs, and finally downclimb a waterfall before coming to the well maintained trail.  We moved slowly while I did my best to keep Chris's path lit and eventually came to the climbers short cut.  We headed down and eventually, at 10:45 at night. found ourselves back at Chris's truck.

The truck had a note saying we had been reported missing/late.  As soon as we got reception I called the Park Service and Police to let them know we were OK.  Apparently Chris's finance, Kelly, had gotten nervous and called the police.  They asked for our climbers resume when she called and determined we would be OK spending the night and would send a party out to get us if we hadn't shown up by day break.  Next time I hope Kelly tells them we are a couple gym climbers wearing cotton clothes with one granola bar between us.  I really don't want to spend a night cuddling up with Chris.

We both quickly called our significant others to let them know we were fine then headed home.  We stopped briefly for a bite to eat at a gas station in Lyons, sorted the gear and then finished the drive.  Chris dropped me off, helped me carry up some gear and headed home.

It was my very first epic, yee-ha.  Actually everything went pretty well but just took a very long time.   Chris was there to hit the hard stuff when I was mentally sketched and I was there to watch the ropes on the way down when he was burnt.  Alpinism is all about team-work.  We did a good job together and will ramp up the difficulty since we work well together. But not this year. Climbing one of North Americas 50 Classics is a pretty big accomplishment for me and I feel pretty good about it.  Now that I know where the edge of my comfort zone is, I am going to take it easy for the rest of the season.  14ers, I'm back.

BETA (pitch by pitch and rappell description)


Standard South Face Route, Our First Pitch Is In Yellow (Picture courtesy of coloradoiceclimber@ summitpost.com)


Pitch Descriptions - From Charles Vernon at Mountain Project
Approach by parking at the Glacier Gorge junction trailhead (about a mile before Bear Lake) and follow the signs for about 4 miles to Sky Pond. Scramble up talus to the base of the Petit, which is overshadowed by the Sharkstooth. The Saber will be prominent to the right. Aim for a groove in the center of the steadily narrowing South Face, and climb that for a long easy pitch to a grassy ledge. P2-enter a giant chimney in the center of the face and belay on top of a chock stone (5.6, 100ft.). P3-Take the left-slanting line out of the cave and belay on a large ledge below a smaller chimney (5.7, 140ft.) P4-Climb the chimney, then traverse right to a belay below the right end of a roof (5.6, 120 ft.) P5-Head straight up at 5.9, or pull around to the right on easier rock (spotty pro either way). Climb up a steep crack, into a left facing corner with a beautiful finger crack, and proceed to a ledge on the east side of the Petit (sustained 5.8, 120 ft.) P6- climb up, head right and then back left to a small stance on the southeast arete--the Pizza Pan Belay (5.7, 130 ft.) P7-climb the crack above the belay to a ledge, and climb straight up the wall, then slightly up right to belay just below the ridgeline (or on it if you have enough rope) (5.7, 160 ft.). P8-gain the ridge, then follow it up to the spectacular summit (5.6 or 5.7, 80-90 ft.)


Rappell Beta - From James Beissel at Mountain Project
Rapping the route is fairly straight forward but some of the info above is outdated. Here's what you need to know:

- All of the rap stations are bolted. If you are rapping off anything besides bolt you are screwing up.- You will need two 60m ropes- All of the raps are double rope rappels- Do not try to rap into the gully!!!- You should not have to downclimb at all

1. Rap from a Fixed anchor at the (climber's) right end of the summit. ~160 ft.
2. Rap from two Fixed ring anchors just past the terrace to a pair of Metolius rap bolts. ~160 ft
3. Rap from the fatty Metolius bolts to the big grassy ledge. ~120 ft. The next set of bolts are about 50' to your left at eye level, above a chimney of sorts.
4. Rap from the anchor over the void (homemade hanger + modern Fixed ring bolt). Pass up the grassy ledge (Second Terrace) at about 160ft. and aim for the big horn about 20' below you. There's probably slings around the horn. They'll help you spot the station, but you will actually be rapping from bolts below the horn. ~180' ft.
5. A 200' rap to a big grassy ledge (First Terrace). The next bolts will be about 50' climber's right.
6. Another 200' rap to the ground off two Fixed ring bolts.

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