The route goes at 8 pitches of 5.8 (4+) climbing. The base is at 11,700 ft (3,570m), in a cirque around a beautiful alpine lake. It tops out at an elevation of exactly 12,500 ft.
We climbed this on a clean, quiet Tuesday morning. We met in Lyons, two strangers connected via a climbing forum, at 3 in the morning.
An alpine objective calls for an alpine start. We were on the trail by 4:00. I popped in my headphones and listened to a podcast as we smashed out the dark miles through the forest, led by the dim, unobtrusive circles of our headlamps. The blood helps get the coffee distributed. Slowly.
As the light started to change, the birds started to chirp. I took out my headphones, sweaty, and stashed them in my chest pocket. We stopped for the first time in 1.5 hours, exchanged a few words.
“Love this time of day in the mountains.”
“Nothing like it.”
At dawn and dusk the mountains can take on a vivid pink or orange hue. This phenomenon is called “Alpenglow”, and can never be done justice in a photo.
The Petit Grepon is visible on the right of this photo: the left-most tower on the right side buttress. We timed things well, arriving at the base shortly after sunrise. We dropped our packs, ate our breakfasts, and racked up for our climb on the highest island of non-snowy ground we could find.
The route rose quickly with long pitches of easy climbing, affording us a great view of the frozen Sky Pond below. I had used hiking boots and microspikes on the approach. My partner: trailrunners and aluminum crampons.
The whole upper cirque was covered in firm snow. On some farther-off aspects you could see the dirty brown and white scars of wet slab avalanches. But RMNP isn’t so savage it’s only for climbers: some ambitious day-hikers had made it to the lake in the days before us, and tracked in one gigantic word in the snow on the edge of the basin:
We had a perfect view of the graffiti as we continued to ascend the Petit. I spent my belays breathing in the natural grandeur, contemplating Jesus.
We climbed quickly and efficiently, under lingering threat from the weather, leaving little time for photos. Still, the climbing and position were joyous. We swung long, cruiser pitches of 5.7 climbing, stretching out our twin ropes.
We topped out around 10:45; the sky had become completely grey. We exchanged a high-five, drank some water, and set to rigging rappels. Neither of us wanted to be stuck up high in an alpine thunderstorm.
On the summit, I checked my phone. A flurry of messages and calls from my father. iMessage, WhatsApp, and Voicemails. My grandmother had passed. Not unexpected.
I cocked my head; said nothing. Looked at my partner, who I’d met today; stashed my phone in my chest pocket; and went to assist with the rappel.
We tied our two ropes together, put our rain jackets on in case the storm caught us, and tossed them into the abyss. We were back on the ground in a before noon.
Four 60-meter rappels gives you ample time to contemplate the scale. Big, but not so big. This is the “small” Grepon, after all.
Always a pleasure to contemplate your route from the bottom with a renewed perspective. Here, you can see nearly the entire route.
Cheers to competent climbing partners.
Climbers like to recount days when things go wrong. Although a bit less exciting in memory, days like the Petit are ten times more pleasant in the moment. Flawless logistics and quick, joyous climbing in a beautiful frozen wilderness mere hours from home?
Route Info — Petit Grepon
- Location: Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA
- Approach: 8–9 miles roundtrip.
- Summit: 12,500 feet (3,810 meters)
- Route Description (5.8,8 pitches)
- Time: 10-ish hours, car to car
- Trad climbing route
- Reputed to be extremely crowded and popular on weekends. We were the only party climbing in the cirque when we climbed it June 5, 2019. It was a very snowy year.