Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Petit Adventure 2.0

 A trip report by Casey Eales

It’s kind of hard being a devoted rock climber in one of the flattest places on the planet. The excitement of a big climb can give one butterflies long before the feet leave solid ground. This is how it was for me the day before Jeremy and I headed out for a big day on the rock, climbing the Petit Grepon one of the fifty classic climbs of North America. 
The night before Jeremy traveled the hour long drive from Amarillo Texas to the norther panhandle town, and my new home, Dalhart. We got our gear sorted and ate a delicious dinner cooked by my lovely wife. She was excited for us but wished she could come climb the tower with us, next time Baby. We hit the sack, later than we should have considering the early start, eight o’clock. The next morning my wife gave us her love through the way climbers need it, she made an amazing breakfast. We where off for Colorado.
The journey’s only hitch was circling randomly in the center of Denver trying to find parking for “The Beast” my Ford Excursion, yes we are from Texas Denver. Jeremy got his Microspikes and we left for the high altitude Eden of Estes Park. 
Finally we had arrived in Estes Park, the smell of pine and the view of massive peaks crosshatched with snowy couloirs welcomed us. We checked the clock and the itinerary, not enough time to climb Fat City, the Lumpy Ridge mega classic. Second choice, sport climbing above Lily Lake. We stopped by the lake and ate a light lunch, teasing a tame ground squirrel with food-less fingers. After causing insanity in the local wildlife we hiked up the slope to Jurassic Park, a collection of granite walls capping the hill above Lily Lake. We had decided on this area because of the iconic Layton Kor route Edge of Time and looking up on the short pitch I was amazed by the line. A vertical knife edge with just enough holds to make a classic climb.

      I tied into the sharp end for the first time on this trip and silently gave Layton Kor props for his vision and insight into beautiful rock. The climb was difficult I thought for the grade, small hands and sloped feet made the lower half of the climb exciting, and strong winds threatened to blow me off the edge near the anchors. Clipping the anchors was like tapping into a piece of history, my first route in the Park was just completed. Jeremy climbed the route fast, clipping the chains and lowering like a pro. It was the perfect kickoff for the trip, we where going to crush the Petit tomorrow, I thought to myself. 

       We decided on enjoying the leisure of the day with some easy ascents instead of pushing ourselves and getting psyched out by the “old school grades” so we headed down the slope to the Dinosaurs Foot. Jeremy lead the Middle Toe with good form clipping the chains and belaying me from the top. We used the opportunity to work on our rappelling technique, which is always a good time. Further down the hill I headed up the casual route Gilded Lily on the Left Hand Rock. At the top I decided to summit the already tall climb. Jeremy and I stood beneath the fabled Diamond of Longs Peak with the rolling hills and lakes beneath the massive mountain. We stood in silence for a moment before snapping some pictures and rapping down the route. We knew this was just a fraction of the beauty and bad ass views we would be enjoying the next day. We headed to camp.

It rained on our gear at the camp site, we scrambled to clean off the covered picnic table, and stow our toys in the truck our packs weighed in at sixteen and fifteen pounds, my first experience at fast and light alpine climbing. 
The alarm sounded at 2:30 and I was dazed, I went back to sleep knowing my backup alarm would ring within minutes. I was roused by Nickel Creeks’ Smoothy Song, that was more like it. Jeremy looked at his watch and gasped, my clock was an hour off. We flew out of bed and barreled up the mountain road to the campground with hearts pounding with adrenaline. We started hiking at a fast pace, the forest rushed by, and our hearts slowed when Jeremy discovered that it was his watch that was off by an hour and not mine. We flew up the trail with headlamps in the dark knowing that we had five miles to go to arrive at the base of the Petit Grepon. Even so we stopped to down some shot blocks and water at the edge of Lock Vail, the beauty demanded it.

We finished the rest of the hike quickly: kicking steps into the steep snow with our approach shoes. The Microspikes where not needed. After 3 hours we arrived at Sky Pond and the base of our climb.

Pitch one, we free soloed in our approach shoes to gain time. Jeremy led the way, I freaked out. Eventually I was able to scramble over the last few fifth class moves to the first grassy ledge at about 6:45. It was pretty cool to have done my first real free solo, totally badass! 

Next we linked the second and third pitches into one big pitch. I watched Jeremy disappear over a bulge above, after several minutes I herd him yell “simul-climb” until I can reach the next belay ledge!” I began my ascent into the enormous chimney, using a small crack to my left I made my way up waiting for Jeremy to give me a sign. It was farther than I thought it would be, eventually he yelled he was “off belay” and within seconds I was ascending on-belay from Jeremy. On the ledge while Jeremy was climbing, I met a marmot who I named John. He just sat in front of my watching J-dog, climb the pitch.

     Jeremy finished leading one more pitch: traversing to the right and positioning us under the crux of the route.

      On the belay ledge with Jeremy I gathered myself for the crux, butterflies in my stomach soared. I began to climb, leaning back away from the eagles nest that occupied the horizontal fissure at my face, I leaned awkwardly out and surmounted the bulge and made my way closer to the crux.

I was there, a clean crack in the corner of a smooth dihedral made me hesitate as I attempted to solve the problem. I tried one way and it felt wrong, only to retreat back to a good rest hold. Finally I mustered up my courage and hugged the adjacent bulge and stepped up high onto a small ledge, I lunged for the finger jam to my left that was my way out. The first attempt slipped out of the crack and I felt myself swing into a fall. Through sheer strength of will and the muscles of my core I was able to stop the dangerous “barn door” into free space. I lunged again and locked my fingers firmly into the flaring crack. I climbed victoriously up over the razor arete that is the front of the Petit Grepon and made my way to the next belay. 
Pizza pan belay? I must have passed it, the route information we had printed and  carried with us stated there would be a belay ledge like a pizza pan, but it wasn’t there. I was out of rope and I needed to find a spot to set my anchor. I climbed up and looked around the corner, nothing. I climbed down several feet and set three cams securely behind the same exfoliating piece of granite, a risk I had to weigh. We made a quick transition and Jeremy climbed the next 5.7 pitch, up through the technical dihedral and to the airy arete of the tower to the final belay before our summit.

      Jeremy was kind enough to allow me to summit first. I climbed the casual final pitch and made my anchor on the amazing summit at about eleven o'clock.

We sat and enjoyed the view for just a few minutes, as we could hear another climbing party below slowly making their way to our position. 

        After a drink of water and a few shot blocks we rigged the first rappel. We used a small 6mm pull cord tied to the rope that ran through the anchors so would not have to carry the weight of two full size ropes all the way up the climb. The first set of anchors was easy to spot and and we soon where throwing our ropes down the second rappel. The 6mm line seemed to become tangled at every turn and we wasted valuable time recoiling the cord. At the end of the second rappel we saw the other climbing party just making it to the summit. The 3rd rappel wasn’t as easy and Jeremy had to traverse around looking for the hard to see anchor bolts. When I reached the 4th rappel which was on the arete of the Petit we saw the party begin their rappel above us and a dark cloud bellowed over the ridge line. As we tried to make the next rappel, the storm hit. Whoops and hollers from the climbers above echoed off the Cathedral Spires around us as sleet and rain whipped through the rocks.

The final few rappels where miserable. The wind froze our hands, and our rope became so lodged high above that we were both forced to pull desperately on the tiny pull cord as the other climbing party caught up to us on the descent. We made the last two rappels with our new friends as the weather blew away and the sun returned. At the base we all congratulated each other as we packed our gear for the five mile hike back to our cars.

As we returned to our cars we had to refuse invites for beer and burgers in Lions with the fellows we met because of the long trip home. We where tired and proud. We ate a quick dinner and drank some coffee at Coffee On The Rocks and drove for home. 
We had climbed the first of our 50 classic climbs in North America in  twelve hours and fifty-one minutes car to car, with a five mile hike one way, that we made in three hours. We climbed the Petit Grepon, an 8 pitch climb, in 5 roped pitches, the first of which we free soloed which took us four hours from the base to get to the summit on-sighting every pitch, not a bad day for a couple of flat landers. 

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