Matt and Joanne’s Page

August 12, 2008

A Sampling of RMNP (Part 3)

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Tags: , , , — Matt Stamplis @ 10:52 am

So we finally got a visitor on this portion of our trip: Our buddy Jeff from Oregon flew down and met us for 5 days of madness in the Rockies! Read on to hear about factor 2 falls, rabid pikas, and nightmare rappels! We picked Jeff up at Safeway in Estes Park, grabbed a few groceries and headed off to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. From there we hiked in and made camp at Skypond, below the famous Petit Grepon and the Cathedral Spires.

The Cathedral Spires…ooooooo

As usual for big routes, we were up EARLY and hiking before dawn. Our first climb is the Petit Grepon. Our timing was perfect, arriving at the base of the climb just as it was getting bright enough to turn off our headlamps. The first few leads were uneventful and we were soon a few hundred feet above the talus field. Then something interesting happened! It was Jeff’s turn to lead and there were two possible options for this pitch, a 5.9 move directly above the belay or a slabby 5.7 section that moves out right. He chose to take the 5.9 variation. About 8 feet up and before placing any protection, he got himself into an insecure position and was about to make a final reach for a good hold when his foot popped off! Fortunately, I had moved off to the right and he skidded down the wall past me hitting a ledge or two before I caught his fall. Whoah! A factor 2 fall onto the belay! Fortunately, the anchor was solid and Jeff was shaken up with a bruised hip but otherwise OK.

Joanne headed for the tiny summit of Petit Grepon.

Here’s a view of the side profile of the summit: how is this thing not falling over?

The rest of the climb was less eventful and we enjoyed a quick snack on the summit before beginning the rappels. There are apparently other possibilities for descent but we found the bolted rappel stations easy to find and they dropped us right back to our packs. It was when we were rappelling that we noticed a party that was just beginning up the route. I said “Well, there’s our entertainment for the afternoon”. They had started the climb around 9 or 10AM and not long after this, clouds were already starting to form. At first we thought they must be really strong climbers – who else would start so late on a day with rainclouds starting to gather? But as we watched them from the lake, they were moving agonizingly slow up the face, we realized we were witnessing an epic.

Sure enough, it started raining when they were on pitch 3 (out of 8). The rain slowed down and a couple hours(!) later they had made it to pitch 4. Another round of rain came through and we watched them traversing out onto the face, probably looking for bail anchors. Eventually they made the decision to continue upward. I think it was around 6PM when they had finished only half the route (with the hardest climbing still above them) when they started rappeling down. We cheered because we were starting to get a little nervous after watching them for 8 hours or so. Luckily there was no lightning that day…

The next day we had our own little fun on Saber, the huge tower to the right of Petit Grepon. This was definitely a more adventurous route with plenty of route-finding issues and some scary loose rock on the last couple pitches. I think we ended up climbing somewhere around 9 pitches on this route, even though the guidebook said just 7. The descent was a bit spooky too – we rappelled down The Gash, the deep gully between the Petit and Saber. A couple of the anchors seemed pretty questionable to me but we managed to eventually work our way down and out to safety.

Fooling around on the summit of Saber!

From the summit of Saber we could see it was a busy day on the summit of Petit Grepon.

After these climbs we took a day off to relax before heading in to do one last climb in RMNP: the Casual Route on the Diamond. Joanne and I had been up the Diamond just the week before so we felt pretty confident about route-finding and the climb in general. But there were a few differences in this climb: we were going to be in a party of 3 this time, instead of going car-to-car we were going to camp at Chasm Lake, and instead of tagging the summit and walking off we would rappel The Diamond. So I guess this would be nothing at all like our last climb!

The fun began when we selected our bivy site, a perfectly sheltered cave at the far end of Chasm Lake – we all agreed that the site would be a great place to wait out any bad weather. And this is probably true but we failed to realize that there might be other occupants of the cave that appreciated its shelter!

The ultimate bivy cave…..or nightmare??

I was the only one sleeping in the cave and I dozed off for an hour or so when I suddenly felt something running over the top of my head and I jerked up. “That’s it!”, I said. “I’m not sleeping in here anymore” and grabbed my sleeping bag and moved a short distance outside of the cave. Within 10 minutes I heard something chewing on our gear and I grabbed Joanne’s headlamp and shined it over towards my gear. There was a pika, not more than 3 feet away, chewing on my rock climbing shoes! I yelled and grabbed my things and started hanging them from a spot we had setup to keep our food out of reach from mice and marmots. I also decided that I was going to move far from the cave: I don’t need this little critter chewing on my ears.

So I found a level spot that was far from the cave, with both Jeff and Joanne between me and the cave. And I dozed off to sleep…until I felt something chewing on my pillow! (a stuff sack with nothing edible in it). I quickly turned over and saw something running off into the darkness. Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhhh! This animal (or perhaps 2 different animals!) just wouldn’t leave me alone – Jeff and Joanne seemed to get a great nights sleep! So I spent the rest of the night sleeping sitting up, resting against a sheer rock wall where I didn’t have to worry about mice chewing on my face. Despite this, I was jumpy all night and got pretty much no real sleep.

The alarm went off at 3AM and we ate a quick breakfast before heading off towards the North Chimney: despite getting such an early start we were passed in the chimney by a few parties that soloed the whole thing. It ended up being a busy day on the Diamond: a couple parties on Pervertical Sanctuary, a party on D-7, one on Eroica, and FIVE parties on our route, the Casual Route! Sheesh! We were first in line for the route but one party simulclimbed past us. This ended up being a bit annoying: they were a party of 2 and probably figured that they would be much faster than us but we ended up waiting for them to finish every pitch. They definitely violated an unspoken rule of climbing: if you pass, you better be FAST!

So our 2nd ascent of the Diamond ended up being a bit of a social experience and more than a little nerve-racking: I don’t like climbing big, serious routes with parties in front and behind me. Fortunately, the weather was pretty much perfect: no clouds and not even a hint of rain so the delays ended up being OK.

Jeff grunting up the crux pitch of the Casual Route.

After finishing the climb, it was time to start our rappels down the face. Last time we had scrambled up to the summit, signed the summit register, rappelled the North Face cables route and scrambled down to the bathroom in the boulderfield in much less than 2 hours. I didn’t time it but I would guess it took us at around 3-4 hair-raising hours to rappel down the Diamond. If you don’t know exactly where to look for each rappel station, there’s a good chance you might miss them. And that’s what happened to us, as we ended up following a different rappel route during which the party on D-7 knocked a couple big rocks down in our general direction.

Then, once we finally got to Broadway we couldn’t find the rappel station below the D-1 pillar so we ended up rappeling down the North Chimney which was as stressful as you might imagine. In any case, this whole rappeling experience was a bit of a nightmare – we were all quite happy to make it down in one piece. If we ever end up climbing the Diamond again, I will certainly NOT be rappelling down the face!

So after all this we all agreed that we would spend one more night in our cave (shudder) before hiking out in the morning. I really didn’t want to do this but Joanne said I could squeeze into her 1-person tent so I’d be safe from the other occupants of the cave. And so we cuddled up and managed to get a decent nights rest…that is, until I heard Jeff yelling! Something had bitten his hand and he was bleeding! We had been eating sausage that evening and maybe the pika smelled it and started gnawing on his hand. In the morning, he showed us his hand and there was a big chunk taken out of it – ewwwwww! I was certainly thankful to be in the tent that night!

Route Info + Beta!
Climbing Quality: There’s something in RMNP for all climbers. The rock is fantastic. The scenery splendid. The marmots rabid. The only downside? It’s in Colorado! That means painful bivouac regulations and a terrible camping scene.

Camping: I hate camping anywhere near Estes Park. In summer time it’s a pain to get a camping spot within RMNP (plus there’s a 7-night limit) and in town, you’re forced to pay $28/night. The alternative (which we chose) was to drive way the hell out of town to National Forest land (The Monastary).

The South Face (5.8) of Petit Grepon is outstanding but tends to be crowded. We were fortunate to climb it on a day with no traffic but expect company. Get an early start! Not much to say here except the route is a great cruiser. Bring two ropes and the rappels should be mostly obvious (ALL should be from solid anchors). I remember scrambling along a ledge to reach the 3rd station.

For a more adventurous outing in the Cathedral Spires try the Kor Route (5.8) on Saber. Despite the same grade rating on it’s neighbor on the Petit Grepon, there’s a definite agreement among climbers that this one is bigger and badder. While I didn’t find the climbing to be sandbagged, finding the easiest way wasn’t always straightforward.

Rap North (1 rope for this rappel should be OK) from the summit then figure out how you want to get down. We chose to scramble over to the deep and narrow (and scary) gully between Petit Grepon and Saber. This allowed us to descend back to our camp but is not an experience I would care to repeat. There are anchors to rappel from but there was at least one of them that scared me (a slung boulder that wasn’t big enough to make me happy). After a couple rappels you can breathe a sigh of relief as you rejoin the bolted Petit Grepon descent. Maybe there’s a BETTER way to do this?

The Casual Route (5.10a) on the Diamond of Longs Peak is great if you enjoy a social alpine experience. Personally, it was a bit of a nightmare for me (and that’s not including the rabid nocturnal critters that menace the bivy sites). That being said, the climbing really is top-notch and didn’t seem a harder than 5.9 to me (though I had just spent a month climbing nothing but long alpine routes so you might want a chunk of salt with that opinion). But sheesh, way too much traffic!

You can read my comments about descent options at the bottom of this page under Pervertical Sanctuary. In short, rappelling big alpine faces sucks! Unless you’re threatened by immediate death by lightning, don’t be such a lazy ass, bring your shoes, and do the “walk off” (North Face Cables Route).

So that’s it for Colorado – we’ve spent more than a month in this state and climbed more big routes than I ever would have imagined could be possible. I have to admit I’m starting to look forward to relaxing a bit in Malaysia. But first: the Wind River Range and Tetons of Wyoming!

1 Comment »

  1. Great post Stamplis…..very good recollection of the week’s activities. I’m headed back to RMNP for some unfinished business. Early September will find me on a one day bender to do Syke’s Sickle. I’ll be sure to fill you guys in on the crux move. Thanks for the laughs…hip is healing fine.

    Comment by Roche — August 15, 2008 @ 8:01 pm

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