Reports from the Field: The Petit Grepon

South Face of Petit Grepon, RMNP Trip Report

Photo: Dana Sedin

Colorado Mountain School guides Bob Chase and Clint Locks climbed the Petit Grepon with clients in Rocky Mountain National Park on July 17th, 2019. See and hear their climbing adventure from Clint’s point of view.

Disclaimer: Conditions change quickly in the mountains. The conditions you read in this trip report may be outdated. There is inherent risk of being in the mountains and this climb is no exception. Proper skills, experience and decision-making are a must.

The Approach

Starting from Glacier Gorge trailhead at 9,200 feet, it’s an interesting and diverse 4.9 mile hike to what many consider to be the most iconic rock formation in the Park. The Petit Grepon (11,700 ft) is part of a grand cirque that also includes Taylor Peak, Powell Peak, Thatchtop, and the Cathedral Spires, of which the Petit is a proud member.

On the hike in, you’ll hike through Timberline Falls at treeline. You’ll also pass three alpine lakes: The Loch, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond. This will make little difference to you on the hike in. Your classic alpine start (read: 3 o’clock) is encouraged for climbing the Petit in order to beat the frequent early afternoon storms, some of which can be quite severe and contain lightning and hail. On the way back out, though, these lakes are great places to stop and rest and chill your feet. This trail is also the way to access Andrews Creek area, home of Zowie Tower and Sharkstooth formations. These are also great alpine climbing objectives.

On our way in, we encountered a cow elk on the trail just before The Loch. After a few seconds of sizing us up, she ambled off without incident. Remember that elk are actually quite dangerous, and many people have been attacked and injured by these amazing creatures. Keep your distance, and if they don’t wander away after a few minutes, choose an alternate route around them. Remember–they were there first.

There is currently a lot of water running down Timberline Falls area, so take care and watch your footing. There are also still a few large patches of snow on the trail, but that will be disappearing quickly (a couple weeks?) and they are generally easy to navigate. If you’re not comfortable on the snow portions, use microspikes, especially below and through the falls in the morning, particularly on the approach hike. Speaking of snow, there is still a large snow patch below the route’s proper start. It is easily avoidable by using one of the alternate starts.

The Climb

Depending on how one pitches it out, the first couple pitches are quick and easy 5.4 slabs, cracks, and ledges which deposit climbers in a deep chasm. From there, it exits left back on the face via an interesting left-angling crack, then to the upper terrace.

Photo: Clint Locks

The next pitch climbs a moderate chimney and up to the crux pitch, made even cruxier if one fails to pop out right to the slab before a short but steep, awkward 5.8+ crack. From there, the climb moves to the south face onto highly enjoyable ledges, flakes, and cracks.

Photo: Clint Locks
Photo: Bob Chase

Make a stop at the Pizza Pan ledge, a breath-taking belay spot (or breath-stopping if exposure isn’t your happy place!) Two more pitches takes the climber over highly featured and steep terrain with a growing sense of exposure until the final push, a rising traverse to the fabled summit, a veritable island in the sky! If fortune prevails, the clouds are still friendly and the breeze is light for the undeniable photo op. ‘Probably a good idea to stay roped up while prepping the summit rappel. Yes, it’s that small.

The Descent

Photo: Clint Locks
Photo: Clint Locks

Regarding the multiple rappels–all rap anchors are two-bolt stations and currently in good shape. Two 60s are required to do the rappel route back down to Sky Pond, though other descents are possible. From the summit rappel, do not stop at first anchor you see. That is a small, dirty ledge, utilized by those adventurous enough, (or just uninformed?) to rap with a single rope. This could seem like the obvious place to stop, but continue down and over slabs to a lower one, which is hidden from above, and climber’s left of a small buttress. Consult the guidebook for more information or, better yet, book a CMS guide. They know the Petit like the back of their hand!

Photo: Clint Locks

For example, they know that the next-to-last rappel is quite tough to find, as it is hidden at the edge of the terrace behind a large block at the ledge.

A Day Well Spent in the Mountains

The Petit is a grand summit and a must-do for all those climbers who love exposure and solid rock (by alpine standards), and for those who think speaking even a couple words of French is cool!

Rejoignez-nous pour une incroyable aventure sur le Petit!

– Clint Locks, Colorado Mountain School climbing guide

Photo: Dana Sedin

About the Petit Grepon

Climbers from all over the world know the Petit Grepon, heralded in the famous book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America

Climbing on “The Petit” 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.

Colorado Mountain School has scheduled group climbs of the South Face of The Petit at special group rates, or you can climb it any day of the year by reserving a private outing with one of our professional mountain guides.