Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Petit Adventure

After a sleepless night looking forward to the first climbing trip of the summer, I awoke to pick Casey up at five. Our plan, which we executed flawlessly, was to drive to Rocky Mountain National Park and hike the snowy 5 miles to Sky Pond beneath the Petit Grepon. Or goal for the trip was to climb the South Face route which is perhaps the most classic climb in Colorado.

We hiked  briskly using snow shoes the entire way and made it to the lake in about 4 hours. This was Casey's first time in snowshoes and he picked it up quickly. The weather began to worsen and a south wind ripped through the valley.  After about half an hour of looking for a good bivy spot, we began digging out a snow drift. Half an hour later we had a cozy cave that was sheltered from the fierce wind. We set our alarm for five and went to sleep.

We woke up and quickly made oatmeal and tea. After readying our small summit sacks we left our bivy and made our way across the snow fields to the South Face. We traveled fast and light taking only the rack, ropes, emergency gear, and a small bit of food. We left the comfort of our bulky boots and trudged in just approach/tennis shoes complimented by our snowshoes.

We quickly reached the steep, 45* slope at the base and started climbing. This was done with some difficulty as Casey had never used an ice axe or ascended steep snow. Near the top the slope grew much steeper. This thwarted our plan to leave our snow shows and ice axes at the base of the rappel. The first 40m pitch looked very snowy and due to the steepness of the slope, we were pretty much forced to climb it in snow shoes.

This was my first 5.4 to climb in snowshoes and although the MSR Denali Ascents that we used performed better than expected, it was very difficult.  While placing a cam at the crux, I slipped and nearly fell out of  the delicate snow filled chimney. Luckily the only thing that fell was the cam which Casey retrieved later. I continued up easier climbing to a huge snow covered ledge with a bomber crack system. Casey followed without falling and we assessed our situation. This was Casey's first mixed pitch.

From the ground even the first pitch looked pretty snow free, however, it was not. This meant that the rest of the climb was  likely snowy as well. Combined with the fact that if we left our snow shows, we probably wouldn't be able to retrieve them on rappel and we weren't about  to carry them up the rest of the climb, we decided to bail.

We placed a bomber nut and rappelled to the base and as far down the steep slope as our ropes would stretch. We pulled the rope and built a t-slot snow anchor on which Casey rappelled to the end of the steep slope. I then made a quick glissade to join him and we both glissaded the rest of the way. This was Casey's first time for that too.

We retrieved our bivy gear and started hiking back to the car. Once we neared the trailhead we decided to stop by Coffee on the Rocks in Estes Park. We spent the rest of the day bouldering in the apply named Boulder Canyon. We went to the Cob Rock area and crossed the tyrolean traverse over the raging river. We went to the bouldering area and  I saw the fun climb Cory and I climbed two years before.

We walked passed The Game which is the hardest boulder problem in Colorado and among the hardest ten established problems in the world. Casey pulled the start. We scrambled about the boulders and found a fun V3 that we climbed using our thin sleeping mats as bouldering pads.

We climbed some other easy routes, but the highlight of the day was Casey's ascent of a V4. He threw himself on  it many times, but ended up sending it after deciding to try "just one more time."

We crossed back over the river and drove further up the canyon. We spotted a sweet looking boulder and pulled over. We crossed another tyrollean traverse that was much higher and scarier and made our way to the boulder. We climbed a fun V0  and a V1 and called it a day.

We continued up the canyon to Nedderland to fill our water bottles and were shocked to hear that the gas station there charged for tap water. The guy at the counter told us of a natural spring and pointed us in it's direction. We drove and drove but couldn't find it so we ended up going back and paying .50 per water bottle.

We drove further into the mountains to a small, secluded and free camp sight Cory and I found a couple years earlier. We went to sleep watching Flight of the Concords on Casey's iPod.

We woke up the next morning and drove to another bouldering area in Boulder Canyon. We saw a few classic problems but tested our skills on a sweet V5 called The Standard Bulge. We spent about an hour trying it but were unable to pull the last few moves. We would have been able to get it if we had had a confidence inspiring boulder pad draped across the jagged rocks at the bottom. As it was our thin blue sleeping mats were not confidence inspiring.

We walked back to the car and I was able to lead a super sweet 5.9 called Curving Crack. It is probably the best 5.9 pitch I have climbed. The rock was very cool and every move up the thin,  balancy crack was interesting. I belayed Casey from the two bolt anchor at the top and we rappeled back to the base. We loaded up the truck and started the long journey home. We ate a late lunch at Half Fast Subs in Boulder and drove home after a great trip to Colorado. On the way home, we drove through a burly storm and were able to see two fires caused by lightening strikes.

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