Kate and Mark take a walk in The Park

August 2, 2008 at 8:28 pm

Mark and I spent the hike out on Saturday coming up with cute names for this blog post. It could have been “We came, we looked, we turned around,” or “How not to have an Epic: Don’t climb.” Or maybe simply “Be your own worst enemy!”

Pictures from the day are in the gallery.

Sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park

Mark and I have been planning on climbing the Petite Grepon all summer. A few years ago, we climbed the Spearhead with a friend of ours, and this summer, we felt like we would be able to do a climb like that on our own. So, we spent a few of our weekends climbing long, multipitch routes on Lumpy Ridge in preparation, and last weekend it was go-time. The weather was good, our weekend was free, and it would be the last one that fit those criteria in the foresee-able future. It was now or not this summer. It was time to climb.

Alpinglow on the big walls

Plans started to go awry during the week before. I couldn’t get a campsite anywhere in Estes Park. The whole town was booked. So, Mark and I decided to get up at 3:30a in Fort Collins, drive into the park, hike the 5 mile approach, and be at the base of the climb between 6:30 and 7:00a. Then on Thursday, I burned the crap out of my right leg on some part of the motorcycle. I actually smelled the skin on my leg sizzle. I bandaged it up and just declared that Mark would have to lead the whole route, due to my injury (surprise surprise).

We woke up on time. Got out the door by 4a. Spent 15 minutes reminding the seriously high guys at McDonalds of what they were doing (“Coffee. You were getting me coffee. That’s what you were doing, remember?”). Arrived at the Glacier Gorge trailhead a little later than we wanted, 5:30a. The sun was just rising as we left the car and headed out into the woods.

Where is the trail again?

The hike was steeper than I remembered, but our packs were relatively light, and we kept up a good pace. Our first trouble came at Timberline Falls, where the lake was cascading over the whole cliffline, and filling what might have been a steep section of trail with rushing water. It took us a while to figure out that the sign pointing to the waterfall was not a prank, and we climbed the wet and slippery rocks to Glass pond.

Here our second trouble arrived. We thought Glass Pond was Sky Pond, and became seriously confused. There were many rock spires surrounding us, but none looked like the pictures of the Petite in the guidebook pages we had printed and copied. We wandered around the lake for maybe half an hour, before we discovered that the trail scaled another short cliffline and continued on to what was actually sky pond.

We finally found the Cathedral Spires

And this was where the final trouble hit us. We stared at the 1000ft spire from the lake and both felt a sickening sinking feeling. It was already 8:30a. Our route choices were 1000 airy feet of 5.8 or 5.9 on loose rock with at least 6 or 7 parties above us. I’ve read many a philosophical mountaineer say “When you look at the mountains, you see your true self.” And, for Mark and I, the cracks in our plans and preparations suddenly became starkly visible.

We were late. We hadn’t climbed a route of this grade in two months, let alone a route of this length. Our trad climbing was slow. My preparation for the exposure was non-existent. We were exhausted already and hadn’t even made it to the base of the rock. We both sat down quietly.

“We’re not climbing this today, are we?” I asked.

“No,” answered Mark.

Mark at the Falls

The mountains are huge and humbling. Thinking about the route all week, and even now when I’m safe at home, I know we could have climbed it. I know it was within our skill level. It was a beautiful, hot day in Estes and the storms didn’t arrive until late. We could have done it. But we really didn’t want to on Saturday morning.

Certainly a lot of it was just fear. I felt so small, so unsure of myself that morning. I felt humiliated that I was so afraid of a climb. Surely we’re “good enough” to do this by now! But I didn’t want to. Not only was I terrified, but the climb didn’t look like any fun. It looked like I’d have to haul our packs and clothes and water up a huge, steep rock, and for what? To see the top? To write a blog post? To brag to my friends? Why were we doing this? Why were we up here?

We sat at the lake and watched climbers work their way up the Petite and the Saber for almost an hour. Then a group of hikers arrived and we decided to head down. We got to enjoy playing in the water at Timberline falls on the way down. I had three blisters by the end of the day. We made it back to the car at about 1:00p.


Maybe we really weren’t ready. Maybe it was just a crisis of faith. Maybe we are burnt out on this type of climbing. All I knew when I got back to the car was that I didn’t want to go back to the National Park for a long time. Mark and I agreed, we want to climb fun cracks, with short approaches, and with good friends. We want low-stress climbing, and easy descents. We want evening campfires and beer. We want to be able to bring our dog with us again. We want to get back to what we love about climbing for a while.