Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cathedral Spires Trifecta

On top of the Petit Grepon

Don't you just love it when a plan comes together? Mark and I experienced a nearly perfect day in the mountains today. Heck, maybe it was perfect.

Our goal was to climb the Petit Grepon via the 50CC South Face route. I'd done it at least four previous times, including a before-work ascent with Stefan in under four hours car-to-car, but Mark's only attempt had ended just above the crux pitch when weather forced a retreat. On that climb Mark had considerable trouble with the crux pitch, as well. He really wanted to go back and finish this off. 

With a stellar weather report we figured the route would be jammed and we went prepared to climb the alternate Southwest Corner, which at 5.9 was a grade harder than our intended route. I figured Mark, the absolute master of the early start, would want to be hiking at 4 a.m. which meant meeting about 2:30 a.m. Hence, I was elated when I got the text to meet at 4 a.m. instead. We'd just have to deal with the crowds. Construction closures on 36 forced us to drive the long way via highway 7, but Mark's M5 and LeMans driving got us to the trailhead in record time an in tact. The crowded parking didn't bode well, but everything would work out. We were hiking by 5:30 a.m.
The Petit Grepon (on the left) and the Saber, from Sky Pond.
Though I'm slower these days, I'm still used to passing other parties and today wasn't any different. We passed two guys headed for the Sharkstooth first. We'd see these two later in the day and, though I didn't recognize him at the time, I knew one of them. Page climbed at Movement and we've chatted often but he was now sporting a big beard. The next party we passed was heading for the Southwest Corner of the Saber. I route I knew. Tom and I did it when we linked up the Petit Grepon, Saber, and Sharkstooth one day. It's a an exciting route that seems harder than its 10a rating.

At Glass Lake, we passed a couple gearing up at their tent. They were headed for the Petit, but they were now behind us. On the far side of Sky Pond, right below the Petit, we passed two chicks strapping on their helmets and also headed for the Petit. Above us the Petit was completely devoid of climbers. Or so we thought. 

We geared quickly at the base, not wanting to hold up the parties behind us. We both climbed with packs, as we planned to go over the saddle behind the spire and descend via the Gash. In the back of our minds was a possible ascent of Sharkstooth if the weather and our energy held. Just before I started up we spied another team above us to the left, taking the more traditional start, which avoids a pitch of nice slab climbing. We weren't the first team on the wall...yet.

I strung together the first two pitches or so into a 400-foot lead with Mark simul-climbing below. This enabled us to go right past the other team as they were still belaying the second up their first pitch. I led another 120-foot pitch up to a big ledge. Here I drank and ate a bit while belaying Mark with my auto-blocking belay device. When Mark arrived I was ready to go and led another 130 feet to the base of the crux pitch. The climbing on these pitches is so good. The rock is so solid and so clean. Handholds and footholds magically appear just where you want them.
At the "Pizza Pan" belay, high on the Petit Grepon
The crux pitch has two starts and I've gotten into the habit of alternating which one I take. On the right is a runout 5.7/8 up less steep slabs. Straight up is 5.9-, I think, but protected by a small cam. I went straight up this time and felt solid. Above is very steep, but super cool crack climbing with an abundance of nice face holds. I felt very comfortable here and was soon on the big ledge atop the pitch. While belaying Mark I watched another party on the Southwest Corner of the Saber. This couple must have started very early, as we didn't see them until now. I could see the other Saber team below, climbing the moderate ground to the big ledge at the start of the hard climbing. Below them was yet another team. So, we had three Saber teams and four Petit teams and Mark and I were now above them all, able to climb comfortable at our pace.

Mark absolutely cruised the crux pitch. He climbed it so easily and so fast that at the top, he asked me, "Is this the same crux pitch that all South Face variations take?" He was half convinced that we'd taken some easier way up to the ledge, not expecting to be so comfortable on it. I guess the training is paying off.

Above was virgin ground for Mark and it is the steepest, most aesthetic of the entire route. The position here is outrageous. The higher you climb the thinner the spire becomes until you can grab both sides of the it at the same time. Mark's ear-to-ear grin would betray his true feelings if he wasn't already gushing about how great the climbing was and how much fun he was having. 
The Sharkstooth
We topped out after three hours of climbing and did the first rappel off the top. We only had one rope, so we had to scramble down the extremely exposed ridge twenty feet to the next anchor. It was then that I remembered my desire to climb the Pen Knife, which is sort of the twin summit of the Petit. It rises to the north from the saddle after the first rappel. I put in an anchor and started up the south ridge.

The guidebook mentions this spire, but the route listed is on the north side. I did find a piton on my south side route, though, and found lots of good gear on the 100-foot 5.6 pitch. I stood on the tiny summit, which was possibly a bit higher than the Petit's summit. Here I found a rappel anchor and when Mark joined me on top, we did two short rappels to the north and scrambled up to the saddle between the Saber and the Sharkstooth. This avoided the 5.5 pitch you normally have to climb to get up here. 

We took a short break to eat and drink. While doing so we watched Page and his partner climb the Northeast Ridge of the Sharkstooth. After just ten minutes of so, Mark, still overflowing with energy, shoulders the rope and starts scrambling up the Southeast Gully route on the Sharkstooth. I followed at a considerably slower pace, feeling very winded and tired. Climbing unroped I had no excuses to stop and place gear, thereby getting in a short breather. 
Nearing the top of the Pen Knife, with the Petit in the background
On top of the Pen Knife
Mark soloed right past the first rappel anchor, up to the first real climbing section and started flaking the rope. I eventually joined him, breathing hard, and took over the lead. We simul-climbed the remaining 450-feet (this route is rated 5.4) to the summit in 20 or 30 minutes, finishing off an unexpected Trifecta! The weather remained perfect, as it had the entire morning. It was just 12:30 p.m. We downclimbed to the first rappel anchor, arriving just as Page was rappelling down. We then rapped 100 feet to the end of our rope and downclimbed 3rd class terrain to the next rappel anchor, where I finally recognized Page, helped considerably by noticing his name printed on his helmet. Page allowed us to rappel his line from there. They had two ropes and this rappel was so long I wondered if they were both 70 meters. We downclimbed off from there while Page and his partner set up the final rappel.
The Peit Grepon from the summit of the Pen Knife
I arrived back at the saddle just in time to protect my stashed gear from a marauding marmot. We ate and drank a bit more before starting down into the Gash and hiking back to the car. We arrived after 9h36m after we left and the weather was still perfect. What a day it was to be in the mountains. We have one more training climb planned before tackling the Diamond. We're going to try the intimidating and difficult Red Wall on Chasm View Wall next Saturday. This route is much shorter than the Casual Route, but it is also more difficult. If we can get up this route, we should be ready for the Diamond.
Fearless marmot

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