Petit Grepon - South Face

September 18 - 19, 2005

Dave Svilar, Jared Vilhauer


South Face - improbably steep for modest 5.8 rating.

It's too bad that all I have to show for such a memorable trip is a picture of a flower.  In one of my numerous attempts to be cheap I've been purchasing pre-paid mailers for developing my slides.  It works well until the company, A&I in southern California, sends your slides back to the wrong guy.  When I called to inquire about my slides, some wench named Cindy told me that that is just what happens when you send slides out in the mail.  Great.  My fault for expecting to have my slides sent back to the correct person. 

Jared and I got a slow start Saturday and bivied on the opposite end of Sky Pond that night on a comfy patch of heather.  Our objective, the south face of the Petit Grepon in Rocky Mountain National Park, has been rightfully tagged with the being one of North America's best climbs (top 50 if you're counting).  I stayed up all night taking night pictures of the Petit attempting to arrange a fancy star-trail around the pointy summit.  However, I will never know if I got the pictures correct because...  I won't get into it.  We arose in the morning thinking that the weather was going to take a dump on us.   Jared and I have a track record of approaching climbs and deciding not to do them for various reasons.  We've turned back for a lot less than weather, but on this occasion it was actually me who decided that we needed to go "until we can't go any farther."  Before I make myself out to be a brave, mountain warrior, I should say that the reason I desired to push on was because I had dropped $20 on a climbing bivy permit for the second week in a row and was planning on getting my full $.

The climb has something like 7 or 8 pitches and at each belay we thought about rapping off because of inclement weather.  Deathly scared of lightning, heights, and steep climbs I decided, for reasons that I cannot recall, to push on toward the summit.  Not only do Jared and I usually back off climbs, but when we do actually climb we take our sweet time.  Jared tests every hold two, three, six times and I clumsily fiddle with gear and my camera.  Of course, we held up the two guys behind us, selfishly not letting them play through.  The final three pitches are incredibly fun and exposed.  One spot, called the Pizza Pan Belay is at the end of the sixth pitch on a spectacularly situated corner.  This is the point where the tower becomes not much more than 40 feet wide with dizzying views looking down between the legs, and if looking directly up, an overhanging fin giving the climber vertigo if it hadn't already been induced.

I arrived the summit first and while Jared was halfway up the last pitch it began to pour.  Upon Jared's arrival I snapped a couple of pictures and then scuttled across the now slimy summit unroped to the rap anchors.  The summit was narrower than my wing span and dropped off several hundred feet on either side.  Breathtaking.  I thought for a moment about the two guys that had been waiting on us all day, and temporarily felt sorry for them because the summit was now out of question with the storm. 

The storm was not of the electric variety, but was viciously cold and wet nonetheless.  Our plan to rappel off the back of the Petit and then climb our way out was foiled due to the horribly slimy nature of the rock.  We recalled something in the guide book about "don't even think to descend the gully" but did so anyway.  We flailed, cursed, and were generally having a miserable time until the two guys, whose day we had already ruined yelled up to us that they could share their rope.  They had come prepared with two ropes, while Jared and I only had one.  Apparently rap anchors had been set conveniently 200 feet apart on the south face for groups that needed to make a hasty retreat and .... had two ropes.  With the kind help from the two strangers whose day we had ruined we reached the base, soggy and cold, but with the satisfaction that we had actually climbed something.

We enjoyed the hike out knowing that we would not make the last shuttle bus.  RMNP is so horribly overcrowded that they make one massive feedlot, err, parking lot and then bus the herds out to various trailheads.  As darkness settled Jared and I walked our sore feet down the empty, freshly paved road making the 4.5 miles back to the Toyota.  Then, an angel appeared in the form of two headlights.  The two strangers, who Jared and I had effectively kept off the summit, and forced to wait in a storm while we flailed in the gully, had broke down the barricade to the road and had come back to pick us up.  Apparently while walking down the road, they didn't feel like walking either and had hijacked a steamroller from the road construction site. 

As memorable as this climb was I will just have to be memorable without pictures.  Perhaps I get too involved in taking pictures.  This will serve as a reminder that the best pictures are the ones that we take with our minds. 

A wilting flower below Sky Pond.  The only picture from this trip.

-written May 2005

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