Saturday, August 20, 2016

Petit Grepon and Pen Knife with Derek

Derek on top of the Pen Knife with the Petit Grepon in the background

Derek's evolution as a climber continues. Seeing reports from Kyle and Cordis of climbing the Sharkstooth in Rocky Mountain National Park, Derek told me, "I think this should be next for me." Derek really hadn't done any alpine rock climbing before. We'd recently done the Keyhole Ridge and Kiener's Route on Longs Peak, but the climbing there is minimal and easy. We'd done the Grand Teton, Gannet, and Granite, but again, the rock climbing was easy. The toughest climb he'd done was the Durrance Route on Devil's Tower and he did that when he was thirteen. While he's climbed hard in the gym (11d), he hadn't even explored the more classic routes in Eldorado Canyon. But the Sharkstooth wouldn't be sufficient. I decided we'd go climb the uber classic South Face of the Petit Grepon, and then possibly tack on the Sharkstooth afterwards.
Derek in his college dorm. He starts classes at CU's Engineering school on Monday
Derek had moved into his dorm at CU the Tuesday night before and I picked him up outside of Kittredge Central at 4 a.m. I brought him a pack and a bag of clothes and we drove to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and were hiking by 5:30 a.m. Fifteen minutes into the approach we passed a party of four headed to Zowie. I'd climbed the spire many years ago with the Trashman. I should do that again. On our way out we saw climbers near the summit of Zowie and I wondered if it was this same party.

Besides these four the only other people we saw on the 4.5-mile hike into Sky Pond were three guys in sleeping bags directly on the rock-stepped trail! We had to go off-trail to get by them. They didn't seem to even have pads and they were sleeping in a particularly awful spot with much better locations just a hundred yards lower. Bizarre.
Derek climbing on the Petit
At the lake we ran into a team wearing harnesses and helmets. I assumed they bivied up there, since they were geared up so far below the route, but they had hiked in. We found out later that they were headed for the Southwest Corner, but at the time I thought they were competition for our route. I didn't worry much about it, though. We weren't in a hurry and hopefully everyone would play nice.

As we hiked up to the base we spotted a party on the second pitch, high enough where they shouldn't be an issue. We geared at the very base of the South Face and I ran out all the rope and about fifty feet more to gain the very top of the first grassy ledge, with Derek simul-climbing below me. I didn't want to do much of that because Derek hadn't done much rock climbing all year, but it made sense here and I wanted to establish our position on the route. The two climbers we had seen at the lake had climbed up talus to our left and I wondered if they were trying to jump ahead by skipping the first pitch. I needn't have worried.
Derek just above the crux on the Petit Grepon
Derek followed nicely and I led another super long pitch that required about thirty feet of simul-climbing from Derek. I caught the party above us halfway through it and followed the second to the second big ledge above. This party was led by Spencer, a local transplant from New York, and his buddy Ken, who was out for a week of climbing from New York. They were cool and offered to let us pass a couple of times, but I declined, as they weren't holding us up and I didn't want Derek to feel rushed.

Despite the sun shining on us, it was chilly. Derek was completely climbing with his gloves on, as a chilly wind kept me in my pile sweater. I wore my gloves for the first pitch and the first half of the second pitch, but took them off for the steep 5.7 climbing.

The third pitch (for us) was 5.6 and not very long and we joined Ken and Spencer at the sloping belay below the crux pitch. Once again, they urged us to take the lead, but Spencer was leading at a reasonable clip and it wasn't a good place to pass. They took the 5.8 start that leads right off the belay and then back left. When it was my turn I went straight up, via a couple of 5.9 moves. Once I got footwork down, it seemed quite casual, but Derek noted this as the definite crux due to the flat, smooth holds. The climbing on this pitch is stellar: steep, well-protected, interesting. The normal crux is a couple of slippery crack moves with tricky feet. Both Derek and I solved this nicely, but Ken was left hanging from the rope.
Looking up the ultra-classic and very steep last pitch on the Petit Grepon
Derek and I took a break on the big ledge above and let Ken and Spencer get some distance above us. Spencer didn't find the Pizza Pan belay stance (difficult to find, as it's just around the corner to the left on the very arete), so I started up knowing I'd have that belay to myself. When I got there I felt the full force of the wind. I quickly put my gloves back on to belay. Derek joined me at the very crowded stance, but I was soon away. I met Ken, still belaying, just thirty feet higher. Spencer was nearly done with the pitch, but I knew Derek would be getting cold at the belay and decided to continue, doing my best to keep our rope separated from Ken's. They were fine with me doing this and it caused no problems.

I belayed in a sheltered, sunny spot just below the summit ridge. I watched Ken struggled and fail to remove two stoppers that Spencer had placed. He cursed stoppers and left them behind. Derek, following ten minutes later, removed both. The first in just a few seconds and the second one probably took him a minute. We returned them at the summit.
Derek approaching the Pizza Pan belay
The last pitch is airy, but easy and we were soon on top taking photos. Ken and Spencer took awhile setting up their rappel and getting down. In my experience this is where the speed difference is greatest among climbers. Some parties can take thirty minutes to do a rappel I can do in five minutes. Ken and Spencer weren't too slow, but I've witnessed some truly glacial rappelling on the Grand Teton.

Spencer offered us of his rappel line to us and we took it. I went down first, as Derek didn't know where we were going. Ken and Spencer were rappelling back to the base and they had double ropes, so their ropes didn't go to the notch we wanted. I was able to flip the ropes around the corner and safely make the notch. I put in a large cam here, clipped in, and clipped the rappel lines in as well. When Derek was halfway down and on the wrong side of the arete he called down to me, quite casually, "I assume you're giving me a fireman's belay." I was indeed, as this was a bit of an advanced rappel.
Derek belaying from the Pizza Pan
Once down we yelled down our thanks and I led off from the notch, not to the second rappel anchor, but up the loose, lichen-covered 5.6 pitch to the top of the Pen Knife. I did this for the first time with Mark Oveson just a couple of years ago and it's a striking summit when viewed from the notch between the Saber and Sharkstooth. In fact, it obscures any view of the Petit from there.
Derek nearing the top of the penultimate pitch on the Petit
On the summit we heard a yell from the party that had just descended from the Sharkstooth: "What's your phone number? I'll send you a photo of you on top!" Cool. Derek yelled it back. Then a party way over on the Northeast Ridge yelled at us to exchange photos. I yelled my number back and took some photos of them. We've yet to hear from either party.
Derek about to top out on the Petit
We rapped off and were grateful to be removing our shoes. We hadn't had much to drink or eat since leaving the car. I wasn't that thirsty or hungry on the climb. We could have eaten more, but we didn't. Here we finally ate and relaxed. We decided that was enough climbing for today and passed on an ascent of the Sharkstooth. We took the hike out nice and easy and enjoyed the incredible beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. Derek seemed energized to explore more of this vast park. Nearly his only experience with the park has been the Longs Peak area. Time for new vistas.

Derek standing on the tiny summit of the Pen Knife

1 comment:

Gayla Wright said...

Another fun write up with Derek, the college boy. Now studies may get in the way. Love you both. naƱa