A Petit Epic!

On lead, the Petit Grepon, Rocky Mountain National Park

On lead, the Petit Grepon, Rocky Mountain National Park

The second half of my time in Colorado has been characterized by iffy weather. After a couple days up in Rocky Mountain National Park, we headed south hoping to try a small loop of climbing around the state. On a rest day of sorts, we climbed the Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak and traversed to Grays for a nice half-day excursion before driving south towards Crestone. Once there, we realized just how grim the forecast was for pretty much the entire state. We spent the next day catching up on some work in Salida and heading back north to the Front Range where the forecast seemed best. On a day where the alpine certainly would be out of commission, we went up the First Flatiron before getting drizzled off any other climbing.

James flies a kite from the summit of Grays Peak

James flies a kite from the summit of Grays Peak

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Fiery sunrise, RMNP

Yesterday, we headed back up to RMNP with the idea of capping off our trip with something memorable. Well, we got what we bargained for!

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James and I got another pre-dawn start, this time with the intention of climbing the South Face of the Petit Grepon, one of Roper and Steck’s 50 Classic Climbs of North America.

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The Loch was perfectly calm in the early morning

The five mile approach was spectacular, and having ironed out a few route-finding issues from our climb on Spearhead to start the trip, things went smoothly.

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Any guesses why the next lake up the drainage is Lake of Glass?

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Once at the base of the Petit, we roped up for some steep pitches on spectacular rock. James led through the crux, a perfect hand crack.

The Petit Grepon. Our route went right up the center before traversing to the right on the upper pitches.

The Petit Grepon. Our route went straight up the center before traversing to the right on the upper pitches.

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We enjoyed the spectacular setting with views of the Continental Divide and the Loch Vale. Every belay had a perfect ledge better than the last.

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On the sharp end, pitch five.

We summited just as the sky started to turn. We quickly rigged the first rappel and were on our way down as hail and graupel began to pelt us. Down at the second rap station is when our luck turned. Our ropes were completely stuck. Several hours of desperate attempts to reorient the ropes, change our pulling angle, use brute force, even a 9:1 pulley system I set up thwarted our efforts. The mind turned to somewhat dark places. Thankfully, the brunt of the bad weather passed, and after some more thinking and roughing the worst of the shivering cold, James prussiked the entire pitch (major major kudos to the thrashing effort!). Despite the lousiness of the situation, we were able to keep things light between bouts of cursing, joking that at least James would get to work on that six-pack.

After some discussion about what could have gone wrong, it appeared that it was merely bad friction that was stopping us. James reversed the orientation of the main line and my now super-stretchy 6mm tagline and rappelled again. Fingers and toes crossed, we pulled the retrieval line, again without luck. Our hearts sunk. After traversing far to the right, we both set up a brute force scheme where bodyweight was able to get the ropes moving.

James prussiks back up the first rappel, the worst of the weather behind us.

James prussiks back up the first rappel, the worst of the weather behind us.

After probably another hour of serious effort, we were down the first rappel with all of our gear, but fading daylight. We crossed our fingers for the remaining five rappels and vowed to test each one before James left the station. Just as we reached the bottom of the descent, darkness befell us and we hiked out by headlamp. A twenty minute drive took us straight to the last thing open in Estes…Subway never tasted so good!

 

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