Boasting some of the best alpine rock climbing in the United States, Rocky Mountain National Park is blessed with a lifetime worth of routes. Within this abundance of riches for the rock climber, including many classics lines and summits, the Cathedral Spires holds a special allure. Climbers from all over the world know it well: the Petit Grepon, heralded in the famous book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. It undoubtedly deserves the praise, not only because of its great climbing but because of its incomparable positioning.
The formation is named after a mountain, The Grepon, overlooking Chamonix in the French Alps. The name derivation being the Small (Petit) ‘greup’ (Grepon) meaning a steep rocky slope made up mostly of slabs. Climbing on “The Petit”, as it is affectionately known, involves a beautiful scenic three hour hike past lakes, forests, waterfalls and high alpine meadows before a short steep scree hike to the base. There are abundant places to bivy around Sky Pond but the climb is often done in one long day going car to car – therefore good cardio fitness, solid climbing skills and an early morning are required.
The ever-popular South Face route is relatively easy with big holds on steep climbing. Although part of the Cathedral Spires group, a spire with climbing of this quality, exposure and fame deserves its own call-out. And perhaps fitting of such a fine gem, despite the visibility of the Cathedral Group, the Petit itself can only be seen from one spot – the incredible, 11,000-foot Sky Pond cirque. From there, the Petit calls out to be climbed. It looks like a rock version of the Eiffell Tower, starting broad before narrowing to a sliver at its top. At 12,001 ft high at the summit, The Petit Grepon’s classic route winds its way up the South Face in eight pitches with a 5.8 rating (most of the climb is 5.7 or easier with a short 5.8 crux). The route features an incredibly scenic summit with excellent climbing and a satisfyingly remote feel. The South Face involves chimney, crack and face climbing, giving a diverse outing with breathtaking exposure. If one is lucky enough to spend some time on the summit (often a quick descent is in order due to weather) you will enjoy a large dining table size area dropping on all sides for hundreds of feet. As always the climb is never over till you are safe back at the car and on the Petit Grepon that will involve 6 long rappels.
Just to the left of the South Face, the Southwest Corner offers equally superb and slightly harder climbing. Despite its obscure feeling, a reasonable 4.6 mile approach brings you to the base of the spire where cracks, corners and exposed face climbing lead to one of the best summits in the Park.