EMPLOYEE FAVORITES: Chris El-Deiry, South Face of Petit Grepon (5.8), Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Here at Black Diamond, the inspiration to innovate is driven from within. When we're not at the office, our dedicated crew of employees is out cranking at the crags, putting in miles on the trails and questing around the mountains in search of untracked descents. In this ongoing series of posts on the Journal, we'll be highlighting some of our employee's favorite rock and ice climbs, ski descents and trail routes.
This month's favorite comes from our Dealer Sales & Service Rep, Chris El-Deiry.
I've always tried to remain open to the opportunities that present themselves in life. This approach has allowed me many of my most memorable experiences. From learning how to play the five-string banjo, to my first misadventures in the mountains, I've developed a passion for sharing experiences both good and bad with those willing to come along. One such opportunity came about in the Fall of 2004, and largely contributed to my love of climbing.
New to climbing, and in search of willing partners, I first met friends Jimmy Fair, Karl Schroeder, and Rob Hudson while working a retail position at your typical gear shop in Denver, Colorado. Early morning shifts allowed for regular forays to the crags after work. Whether that was bouldering in Morrison, or routes in Eldo or Boulder Canyon on days off, we managed to fit it in.
Jimmy and Karl had spent several seasons in Estes Park and had done a fair share of climbing together, while Rob's experience came from places like The Gunks. I, on the other hand, was an over-stoked and over-caffeinated punter just getting my feet wet. How I convinced them into climbing with me, well, let's just say it probably explains my current position in Sales.
While I had absolutely no climbing experience beyond the crags of Boulder Canyon and Eldo, talk soon turned to The Park. If you've ever spent time in Colorado, you'll know that The Park is short for Rocky Mountain National Park—a bastion of alpine rock.
With the end of summer fast approaching, we all started talking about fitting in something before the snow began to fly. At this point, I can't remember whose idea it was to climb the Petit Grepon, but as is my natural tendency, I got totally fired up about heading out for a bit of the unknown.
I vaguely recall the conversation going like this: "The Petit what? Isn't that French for something? Where? Shit yeah! I love The Park!" (I'd only been hiking up there before) "Wait, can you grab me another Mocha Frappa-whosa-whatcha-callit on your next break? Extra whipped cream dude... Swap leads? I can lead that shit!" (At that point I'd barely led anything harder than 5.7 on gear)
Super stoked and ready to go, plans were made to climb the route the upcoming Saturday. Friday night rolled around, and a few beers later our racks and gear were assembled. Jimmy and Karl opted for a "light is right" approach, while Rob and I looked on in disbelief and elected to bring a slightly plumper rack. Since we were going to be climbing within a few pitches of each other, we opted to bring a single 60m rope per team planning to share ropes on the raps. Nervous about what I may have gotten myself into, and full of pure excitement for the unknown nature of what I was about to embark upon, I hardly slept.
A 2am departure from Boulder had us started at the Glacier Gorge trailhead around 3:30am. Headlamps on, we hustled up the trail in the early morning dark. The approach involved about 4 miles of moderate hiking to get to Sky Pond, and once there we were easily able to identify the striking spire that is the Petit Grepon. We quickly scrambled up the talus and were at the base of the South Face just after dawn. Being one of the most classic lines in The Park, we anticipated company. Just after arriving at the base, a party who had bivied next to the lake began heading up the talus. We donned harnesses quickly. Jimmy and Karl headed off first, and Rob and I hung for a few before starting up the first pitch. I'll never forget that feeling of urgency—like you'd better get your ass in gear or else your line is going to get skunked. On an alpine route. Way the hell out in the backcountry. Colorado.
Simul-climbing for a bit up to a huge grassy ledge, we decided to rope up for the next pitch that would bring us into a giant chimney and our next belay. This is where the gravity of my situation really set in. Staring up at the meat of the route, I realized how far we had to go. And how cold I already was in just my base layer shirt. As part of remaining open to the opportunities that present themselves, you also quickly learn that you must be able to deal with adversity; or in the semi-wise words of Roger Alan Wade, "If you're gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough." So through chattering teeth and the promise of several more hours in the wind and cold, I had to toughen the f*@# up.
Climbing the arête out and left of the chimney lead us to a slanting crack with incredible exposure. This crack eventually started heading directly up, and was negotiated via both jams and stems. Following Rob's lead, I eventually mantled onto another ledge, this time at the base of the headwall. That section of the route was my first touch of alpine exposure. With nothing but air below, and an awesome crack in front, I was forced to focus on the moment. I had never been so terrified and happy at the same time. In my fear-induced focus, I still had time to look across Loch Vale at the other peaks and incredible surroundings in the distance. Immediately after that feeling left, I wanted more. Funny how potent any combination of fear, focus, and intense satisfaction can be. It has to be one of my favorite aspects of being in the mountains.
Some more varied climbing led us to our first glimpse of the East Face. At this point, Rob and I were able to see Karl and Jimmy up ahead. With a party directly behind and now only a few pitches from the top, we re-organized and Rob headed off. Some spicy climbing off the ledge led us into a fairly good small hand crack. After a couple more mini ledges, we arrived on a big ledge at the intersection of the headwall and the East Face. At this point, Karl and Jimmy were on the pitch above. We were now in the sun, and with some of the best jugs I've ever had the pleasure of tugging on above us, I couldn't have been more stoked (or more exhausted). At the last belay before the top, Rob and I joined Karl while Jimmy lead to the top. We meandered up the last pitch together, savoring the excellent climbing and exchanging pleasantries via the high alpine air.
The summit was just as spectacular as I had imagined it would be. Incredible views of Loch Vale, Sky Pond and the adjoining Cathedral Spires, a tabletop-sized summit, and three stoked friends to share it with. And, I was totally worked (hence the gangster style lounge being about all I could manage). Rappelling the route was spectacular in its own right, providing incredible perspective on the South and East Face we'd just climbed. Five or so rappels later and we touched ground again. A quick jaunt back to the base of the route to retrieve our packs, rain layers on, and we were out. Stoked beyond belief, I turned back multiple times to catch a glimpse of the Petit. That was it. I was in.
While some may say I'm still over-stoked, I feel much more appropriately caffeinated, and have developed a love for long routes in the mountains with good friends. With experiences like that as reminders, I'll continue to remain open to opportunities that may present themselves—especially when they involve a bit of rock and some high alpine air.