The Petite Grepon, Rocky Mountain National Park
Participants: Mike Sullivan, Andy Grieder
The Petite Grepon might be the single most popular alpine climb in North
America, and with good reason - it is steep, clean, solid, and has
breathtaking exposure all the way to its tiny summit perch. Standing on
top of this nearly thousand-foot spire is an altogether amazing
experience. Despite its steepness, fat piles of juggy holds keep most of
the route in the 5.6 to 5.7 range, with a short 5.8+ crux.
The route is so popular, I've heard stories of parties being found on
each of its 8 pitches during peak season. Andy and I decided to try it
on a weekday early in the season to avoid the summer swarms. We had the
additional luck (?) of having a 4" snowfall in the Park 36 hours before
our attempt. We figured this might add to the challenge, but would
hopefully cut down on the possibility of having to share the route.
At 5 AM, we pulled into the Glacier Gorge parking lot, hoisted packs,
and swung out towards the Loch Vale trail. It was practically summer
solstice and the stars were already fading into the dawn, so I decided
to chuck my headlamp back in the jeep. Fateful decision music swelled up
in the background, but I chose not to hear it...
We zipped up the trail, and as the sun rose we were blessed with the
coolest display of alpenglow I've ever seen. The photos I took are so
red that they look totally fake. Despite a few camera stops and a brief
detour caused by mistaking Glass Lake for Sky Pond, we were at the base
of the route by 8:30. It looked dry, but we figured there had to be some
water lurking up there somewhere.
We free soloed the first pitch, a 5.3 slab, and immediately found the
water. Well, slush, actually... It turns out that 5.3 moves covered in
slush are pretty interesting without a rope. We survived, and roped up
for the next pitch - a chimney that had dripping ice clotting up all of
the holds and a small waterfall pouring in the top. Cold, wet,
miserable, and oddly enough - a lot of fun. (At least for me, since Andy
"won" the coin toss for the 1st lead. He had to use his nut tool to chip
ice out of the cracks in order to place gear.)
Each of the next 3 pitches were also slushy and wet in places, though
none were as bad as the ice chimney. We placed our belays in sheltered
spots to protect from the occasional ice chunks that came whizzing down
the face. The crux crack on the 5th pitch was also wet and dripping, but
by this time we were getting pretty used to it, and I was able to scurf
my way up it on lead with only a minimal amount of whimpering.
The final 3 pitches were absolutely fucking stellar. They were almost
perfectly vertical, with incredible exposure. The holds were great, and
the pro was reasonable, though sparse enough to keep it pretty exciting.
Best of all, the rock was dry. We topped out around 4 PM, in crosswinds
that were stiff enough that my loaded pack almost blew into the abyss
during one gust.
Because of all the ice and snow on the slopes behind the Grepon, we made
the decision to go down the long but safe way: up to the col behind the
summit, then down the back side to Andrews Glacier. This took us into
the wrong drainage, but the gullies leading down to the base of the
Grepon were funnels of falling ice and debris in the afternoon sun.
The descent sucked. We did 3 more roped pitches, 7 rappels, and endless
snow slogging in our sopping climbing shoes. It became more fun once my
feet went numb. We finally made it back down to the trail at about 8:30
PM. Andy volunteered to hike back up to the base of the climb to
retrieve our stashed gear. It was well after dark when he returned. I
was pretty bummed when I discovered that he had not found my hiking
boots next to the pack, and had returned without them. There was no
choice but to hike out in my climbing shoes. OK, now I know why I
should've brought the headlamp.
We stumbled down the infinitely long trail by starlight, with Andy doing
his best to warn me about all of the obstacles he tripped over. We
finally staggered out to the trailhead at the stroke of midnight. We had
not seen another person all day.
As an interesting, uh, footnote, the dye from my wet climbing shoes
turned my feet a lovely shade of sky blue, which persisted despite
several scrubbings. I did a snow climb on Twin Peaks two days later, and
got caught in a rainstorm that soaked my feet. When I took my boots off
after the climb, my feet were clean and my socks were blue!