For the final adventure of our Colorado trip we came up with the perfect objective for a sweltering hot Labour Day weekend. The South Face of The Petit Grepon is on one of the “Cathedral Spires” in RMNP and is another tick in the historic climbing text Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.
Not only is this an amenable route up to a memorable summit (and some high-altitude coolth), but if we’re lucky enough to get a wilderness permit to bivvy then we’ve got somewhere to sleep for our final night of the trip!
Heading through Nederland on the way to the RMNP wilderness office I’m lucky enough to catch this shot of a Peregrine Falcon:
Luck continues to smile, as we snag the last two bivvy spots at Sky Pond, just beneath the Petit Grepon. With a few hours to kill before walking up, we take the spectacular drive up to The Continental Divide (max altitude 3,713m). I’m not sure which was more spectacular: the views or the massive bumper-to-bumper queues of Labour Day tourists enjoying them!
We ended up with a later start than planned, wandering up at 4:30pm once we’d finally found a parking spot lower down the Bear Lake road about half a mile before the normal Glacier Gorge Trailhead – people still arriving in their droves!
The crowds soon thinned out a couple of miles up the trail (highly recommended as a walk in its own right) and Loch Vale (around halfway) was an oasis of tranquility.
It only took a couple of hours in all to reach the beautiful bivvy spots at Sky Pond, with all but the last mile being well-graded trail before a final steep haul alongside Timberline Falls to Lake of Glass and then on to Sky Pond.
First views of “The Cathedral Spires” with the wedge-shaped Petit Grepon in the centre, flanked by The Sharkstooth (left) and The Saber (right).
After a delicious dinner of Chip ‘n Dip we settled in to watch the last of the alpenglow…
… and the stars emerge.
We set an alarm for an early start – not because we were expecting to take long over the climbing, but because of Internet forum posts warning of huge weekend queues on this, the most popular “Alpine” route in The Rockies. We needn’t have worried about our bivvy companions – for some reason they’d made a 4am start and their headtorches were visible about half way up the route:
We caught sight of more torches heading up the trail, so struck camp (stashing the bivvy gear in a tree out of reach of scavenging marmotts) and headed up the last twenty minutes of scree to the base of the route.
We arrived as Andrew and Rainbow were just gearing up (Rainbow, a local guide, was making his 15th ascent so at least we wouldn’t be getting lost!) Here’s Andrew setting off up the first pitch
… shortly followed by Bill (with the impressive tapering summit looming above):
Here’s Andrew on P3
… and Bill.
The guys very kindly waved us through at the commodious Second Terrace and we sped upwards, enjoying the efficient movement over solid and straightforward ground. Here’s Bill on the penultimate pitch.
… and arriving at the summit:
Lord of all he surveys:
… and the view down to Sky Pond.
Just a couple of hours for 8 pitches and 1,000ft of climbing – we’d clearly acclimatised to the altitude and for once the grading hadn’t been a sandbag (sustained Hard Severe climbing with maybe P5 as a VS crux?). An outstandingly enjoyable route. Despite all the talk of queues, the four of us had the whole crag to ourselves! There’s even a bolted rap-route that takes you down in half a dozen double rope raps. Very considerate!
Great view across to the exposed “Pizza Pan” stance at the end of pitch 6
… and you can just about make out Andrew starting the final pitch in the shots below.
Done and dusted before noon and time for a quick brew before rejoining the throngs on the way down. Ninety minutes later and the car aircon kicks in, providing some relief from the savage heat. The thermometer reads 101F.
Time for a beer and a burrito in Boulder:
Next morning we’re heading home and enjoy yet another piece of good fortune: by some quirk of bucket-shop madness our “cheap seats” on the overnight leg from JFK to Manchester are in PREMIUM 🙂
A fitting finale to a fabulous trip. Cheers!