Classic Alpine Rock: The Cathedral Spires

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.

Spires: climbers are drawn to them like bees to flowers, and there are some incredibly scenic summits here with excellent climbing and a satisfyingly remote feel.

Cathedral Spires 1
While some will climb the South Face of the Petit Grepon (a climb that made the list of Fifty Classic Climbs of North America) and call that good enough, there is much more to be done!

Towering above the Petit is the summit of Sharkstooth. The Northeast Ridge (5.6, 6 pitches) is perhaps the most popular route on the Sharkstooth and one of my favorites in the area, but the East Gully, at 5.4 and 4 pitches, is also surprisingly good, and gets you to an incredible perch at a moderate grade.

Sharkstooth 1
Beautiful rock and beautiful weather on the Northeast Ridge of Sharkstooth.
Petit Grepon
Looking down on the Petit Grepon from Sharkstooth.

Right next to the Petit is the Saber. You could think of the Saber as the Petit’s bigger brother, with longer routes and a wilder feel. Routes like the Kor Route-5.8+ and the Southwest Corner-5.10a are excellent choices and warrant multiple stars in the guidebook. These big routes require an early start and a steady pace. For those ready for the challenge the reward is worth the effort!

Sunrise on The Petit Grepon and The Saber
Sunrise on The Petit Grepon and The Saber
On the SW Corner route, The Saber
On the SW Corner route, The Saber

Just around the corner is Zowie. Now Zowie is not technically part of the Cathedral Spires, but is similar in character and in fact has been mistaken for the Petit Grepon, with a very similar Eiffel Tower shape. The South Face route, at 5.8+ and 7 pitches long, will leave you on a small summit with a huge smile!

Zowie
Zowie
Rappelling off the top of Zowie
Rappelling off the top of Zowie

And of course, don’t forget the Petit. In fact, even if you have already done the popular South Face route, it is well worth trying the slightly harder and high quality Southwest Corner route, a 5.9 just left of the South Face.

There are more summits here, such as the Penknife and the Jackknife, but the above should give you a good hit list for this summer. The guides at Colorado Mountain School would love to share one (or more!) of these adventures with you!