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South Face 

YDS: 5.8+ French: 5b Ewbanks: 16 UIAA: VI- ZA: 15 British: HVS 4c

Type:  Trad, Alpine, 7 pitches
Original:  YDS: 5.8+ French: 5b Ewbanks: 16 UIAA: VI- ZA: 15 British: HVS 4c [details]
FA: Brian Poling and Barry Harper
Page Views: 9,478
Submitted By: Kurt Johnson on Dec 20, 2001

You & This Route  |  Other Opinions (68)
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BETA PHOTO: Tracy at the summit rappel station on the North si...

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The South Face is the standard route on this less-classic cousin of the Petit Grepon with which it's often compared. Although the quality of the climbing isn't as good as that found on the Petit, it's still a worthy objective with a much shorter approach and a beautiful summit.

To get to the base of the route, head up towards the left side of the formation, looking for the line of least resistance underneath the prominent chimney system. The first 2 pitches follow this chimney, but it doesn't extend all the way to the ground.

P1 & P2. Both times I climbed the route, I started up a short section of mostly face climbing, immediately right of a small right-facing dihedral. I'd say it was somewhere in the 5.7 - 5.8 range, but there's an easier way a little to the left of this which is rated 5.4. Regardless of how you get into the chimney system, climb until you get to a big ledge that spans almost the entire south face of the spire.

P3. Move your belay east to the other end of the ledge just below a prominent left-facing dihedral. Head up the dihedral (fun) and up the obvious crack system quite a ways and belay on a good ledge. The guidebook calls this pitch 5.6, but I thought it felt more like 5.7.

P4. From what I can remember, there are a couple of crack systems/dihedrals right off the ledge, and it's not all that obvious which way to go, so just pick the one that looks the most traveled and head up. After this fairly short section, the terrain gets lower-angled. Pick the line of least resistance and aim for the right side of the base of the summit tower and a good belay ledge.

P5. This next pitch climbs cracks on the east side of the spire, and from what I remember, we set up a belay on the east side as well, on a big ledge where you can get a good look at cracks going up the east side of the spire, but at a place where the south face isn't quite visible. Short pitch - 5.6.

P6. This super-short pitch traverses the base of the summit tower from east to west, and in the Rossiter guidebook is combined with the pitch I described above in the description but not in the topo. It takes you to the base of the wide crack final pitch, almost to the edge of the southwest arete. 5.6.

P7. This is the pitch you've been waiting for! This and the summit are the reasons that Zowie is a near-classic. Even though it's an off-width, it's best not to climb it like one. My partner tried to do it like that and flailed for half an hour before admitting defeat and taking the 5.8+ thin crack/face variation to the right (also a classic exit pitch - super steep and exposed, with good pro). The trick at the crux (5.8+) bulge is to stay left of the crack and reach high for the key face hold, which I was expecting to be a jug but is really fairly small (but adequate). There's a pin a little ways below the crux but not after, so it's a bit of a heady move. After this, traverse right and up for a short ways and you're on the summit! Hopefully it's a warm sunny day and you can hang out for a while, soaking up the beautiful views of Sharkstooth and the summit of the Saber.

To descend, there are two rap anchors: one on the west side of the summit and one on the north side. Most people rap off the north side and then head west down the gully on the west side of the spire. The other rappel takes you down the steeper west side and is a much longer (mostly free) rappel. I've done this with double 50 meter ropes and had to do a little down-climbing, but with 2 60 meter ropes you probably wouldn't have to. There's one more short (40 feet or so) rappel near the bottom of the descent gully, and after that you're home free. Don't forget to stop and eat the raspberries if you're there in late summer! Mmm...raspberries. D'oh!


A standard rack is all you need for this route.

Photos of South Face Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Tracy gearing up to lead P2 up a chimney.
Tracy gearing up to lead P2 up a chimney.
Rock Climbing Photo: Squeezing through between the South Face and a mon...
Squeezing through between the South Face and a mon...
Rock Climbing Photo: South Face.
South Face.
Rock Climbing Photo: The classic last pitch on Zowie...
The classic last pitch on Zowie...
Rock Climbing Photo: Second rap. To find this after the first rap (nort...
BETA PHOTO: Second rap. To find this after the first rap (nort...
Rock Climbing Photo: Awesome couch belay option for south face finishes...
Awesome couch belay option for south face finishes...
Rock Climbing Photo: Upper half of finger crack finish on the south fac...
BETA PHOTO: Upper half of finger crack finish on the south fac...
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking up MacDonald-Bartlett start from below. We...
BETA PHOTO: Looking up MacDonald-Bartlett start from below. We...
Rock Climbing Photo: Your two options once below the summit spire, gree...
BETA PHOTO: Your two options once below the summit spire, gree...
Rock Climbing Photo: Tracy leading P1.
BETA PHOTO: Tracy leading P1.
Rock Climbing Photo: The start of the P3 and the long dihedral. We brok...
BETA PHOTO: The start of the P3 and the long dihedral. We brok...
Rock Climbing Photo: Mike Zadd near the end of the 2nd pitch, exiting t...
Mike Zadd near the end of the 2nd pitch, exiting t...
Rock Climbing Photo: MacDonald-Bartlett variation possibility.  This do...
MacDonald-Bartlett variation possibility. This do...
Rock Climbing Photo: Final rappel on the Zowie descent...finally.
Final rappel on the Zowie descent...finally.
Rock Climbing Photo: First light at Mt. Otis.
First light at Mt. Otis.
Rock Climbing Photo: Jason at crux of the direct start [One for the Red...
BETA PHOTO: Jason at crux of the direct start [One for the Red...
Rock Climbing Photo: The last rap anchors after the downclimb through t...
BETA PHOTO: The last rap anchors after the downclimb through t...
Rock Climbing Photo: Mike climbing the last moves up to the summit....
Mike climbing the last moves up to the summit....
Rock Climbing Photo: The dreaded combination of stuck rappel ropes and ...
The dreaded combination of stuck rappel ropes and ...

Comments on South Face Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Jul 27, 2017
By George Bell
From: Boulder, CO
Dec 21, 2001

When I climbed this route (1998), we did go up the wide crack on the last pitch. You do not have to offwidth it (you can lieback or use face holds), EXCEPT for one four foot crux section (but this is certainly enough for serious gruntage). When you start the crux 4' section, there is good small pro just below your feet (maybe a pin, I forget). A #5 Camalot barely fits low on the crux, but it is becomes too wide to slide up (#3 BigBro might be better here).

Definitely a cool route. There is also some kind of direct start by Dougald McDonald mentioned by Rossiter, 5.8s. Might be worth checking out.
By Frank Stock
Jan 14, 2002

This is a good route, but it may not be a great alternative for some of the flock of novice climbers that the Petit. The dihedral pitch and the last pitch are both good rock and fun climbing. The first couple pitches and some of the later ones are pretty much chunks and it would be easy to dislodge a rock and seriously screw yourself, your partner or your rope up, and unlike the Petit, there may not be anyone around to help. Nothing that someone with experience can't deal with, but not a good beginner mountain route either.

Dangers aside, it's worth doing. The last pitch is fun, the summit is really good, and the descent is pretty trivial, also.
By Dougald MacDonald
Apr 16, 2002

Since George mentioned my variation, Kate Bartlett and I climbed a fine variation to the initial pitches on the South Face, in 1996 I think. It climbs the flatiron-like face to the right of the obvious left-facing corner on the right side of the south face. (Rossiter has it going up the corner -- this isn't what we climbed, though it looks OK.) What we climbed was a pitch and a half of fun, somewhat run-out 5.8 face climbing -- no scarier than the offwidth at the top of the route. Start at the bottom and climb where the holds lead you, then join the regular route.

Last summer (2001), Dave Goldstein and I climbed a two-pitch line on the West Face that might be new. It climbs the fairly obvious corners in the middle of the face. The second pitch is quite steep and culminates in a dramatic and surprising roof, with a hand traverse right that pops you out at the ledge atop the offwidth on the normal route, 10 feet below the summit. Pretty good. No easy way to get to this thing from below, but it's right on the descent trail and you could use it to add a couple of pitches at the end of the day if the storms aren't rolling in.
By Dougald MacDonald
Apr 16, 2002

Oh, the West Face of Zowie route I described above is 5.8 or 5.9.
By Leo Paik
From: Westminster, Colorado
Apr 17, 2002

The true, narrow, south face has a great last pitch variation. It ascends about 70 feet up a shallow, R-facing dihedral with a crack that eats wires, Aliens, and TCUs. There was a hollow flake (1996) that probably should not be pulled upon mid-pitch. You can climb around the flake carefully without pulling on it (crux). This is an awesome pitch, 5.8+.
By Erik Corkran
May 29, 2002

When we climbed this (a while back), we ended up on the east face for the final pitch. There was an interesting, varying-width crack toward climber's right. Started up this, but it widened to about #4 Camalot size after some initial smaller sections. We had a #3 and one big hex, so traversed left instead.

Found an interesting crack/face combination with several old fixed pins (at least 3 or 4, maybe more, fairly close together near the top). Pins looked like they had been there for a while, but fortunately they were easily backed up by stoppers. Fun pitch. As mentioned we traversed in from a crack to the right, but I remember looking at this line at the start of the pitch, and thinking the beginning at least looked pretty hard. Does anyone know what it is? I have asked several people and so far nobody knew.

We did the mostly-free rappel, worked well w/2 60m ropes.

Note: I believe it was east face we climbed, by looking at topo in current Gillett book, and from descriptions here.
By Tony B
From: Around Boulder, CO
Jun 16, 2002
rating: 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

Refering to the "flatiron" start, this is in Gillett's book as such. Rossiter's book made it clear to me where you McDonald/Bartlett went.

The dihedral mentioned in Gillett's book, and in S. Bartlett's comments was ascended in 5/02 by T. Bubb/J. Meir. We decided to call it "One For the Red Team" for now. It is added to this site as such as it seemed highly improbable that anyone had previously passed based on what we cleaned from this route... and we could find no documentation of it.

If anyone has indeed ascended this corner prior to us, please notify me or post at this site with a name date, some details and contact info, and we'll correct the site. Thanks!
By ac
Aug 14, 2002

Subject: E. Face Zowie, RMNP?? From: Jenny Paddock Newsgroups: rec.climbing.

What Fricke describes as the finish to the standard route (5.7+) is on the east face and is a "vertical to overhanging jam crack with moderately good jam holds...." Fricke continues "Old pitons suggest that this crack was first nailed."

DuMais describes a variation to the finish of the Regular Route as A1 or 5.8.... "The East Face of the summit block has a steep crack up its center. From the notch behind the pinnacle, climb up and traverse across the East Face to the start of this crack. This crack is climbed for a pitch to the top." From DuMais description of the rest of the route, it sounds like this variation is the same as what Fricke describes as the last pitch. Both sound similar to what you originally described wanting info about, except grade inflation since '81 has probably pushed it up a bit. Fricke (1971) DuMais (1981)---.... Drew S.
By Brice W
Aug 2, 2004

Fun route! We did the thin crack variation on the South Face for the last pitch. The large amount of exposure and great climbing made it a fine finish. It looks much more asthetic than the standard finish.
By Anonymous Coward
Aug 20, 2004

Short approach, short climb cool summit.
By Craig Quincy
Sep 22, 2005
rating: 5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

The crux offwidth is a little spicy, but there's good gear at your feet when you bust the moves. A big cam is fairly useless. My partner pull off a large block following the OW which landed on the belay, so future parties might want to be wary at the first overlap.

There are new bolted anchors down the back side (to the North, not to the West). A single rope gets you down. There are 2 raps down the spire, then one more at the end of the gully.
By Guy H.
From: Fort Collins CO
Jul 17, 2006

If you climb the finger crack variation, be careful around a loose flake about mid-pitch. You have to pull (lightly) on this 100 pound bomb, and there is no easy way to climb around it.
By Stich
From: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Aug 23, 2006
rating: 5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

The finger crack variation in the middle of the South Face was super good. As you turn the corner to the left from the second to last pitch, you will see a finger crack going up past a large standing block that is perhaps 15 ft tall and three feet thick. You climb up and right next to this leaning stone and go past it. The crack is fairly consistent in its width. At one point, you have to reach out and grasp a hold that looks fully detatched. Commit to the move and get a rest right above it. The exposure of this pitch is really awesome. You can set up a belay right at the edge of the summit or continue to the bolted rap if time is short.

It also looked quite possible to traverse to the second rappel anchor from the second to last pitch if lightning and rain are coming down on you. Simply move to the right (East) and stay on the ledge below the summit tower. This back side of Zowie (North side) has a fin ridge of rock attached to the summit tower. The second rappel station is at the end of this fin down and to the right.
By Dan Dalton
From: Boulder, CO
Jul 7, 2007
rating: 5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

We had some issues rapping off the summit and could not get out ropes to pull. Eventually we ascended the rope and added longer runners on the rap rings so that the rope would hang freely (through the runners of course) and make retrieval easier. The West rap can be done with two 60m just fine.

By Amy Slaymaker
From: Boulder, CO
Sep 20, 2009

We started on the South Face Direct which was a great route. A prior posting noted the chunks of rock that can be dislodged, this is still very true. Great climbing but beware. Good alternative to the crowded Petit Grepon and offers a shorter approach, too.

We brought a 70 and 60 meter rope, hoping to combine P1 & P2 and P1 4 & P 5 using the 70 m. Too much rope drag in the first two pitches and you can combine P4 & P5, or P5 & P6 using a 60 meter just as well. Would take 2 60 m ropes next time.

Descent from the top of pitch 6: At the time that we finished pitch 6 we were hit with a blizzard of snow/sleet and high winds. Although the bad news was missing out on finishing the final pitch we were happy to see the slings to rap off of at the southwest edge, just below where you would start the final pitch. Two rope rappel took us to the west gully where we down climbed and looked left for the second rap station. We only needed to use one rope for the second rap but had to down climb a little to reach a blue piece of webbing connected to two pitons for our third rap station. You can use two ropes to avoid the down climb but weigh the risk of getting the rope stuck. On the third rap we initially used our 70 m rope, it got us to a large grassy ledge but we still had ~35 feet to rap and it was too steep to down climb. We tied our second rope to finish the rap and felt this would have been preferred anyway because the knot was much lower and reduced our risk of the rope getting stuck, which has great potential in this area. Two 60 meter ropes would suffice for these raps. Maybe we missed something but this worked for two cold and wet women looking for a safe way to the bottom.
By John Peterson
Jul 26, 2010

Reading through these comments I can't find a description of the summit pitch we did, so I'll add it here.

From the notch behind the summit, climb up a few feet and follow a crack right around the corner (exposed!) to a dihedral on the north face. Follow this up to a small roof, taking it on the right (5.8+). The rest is easy to the top. We didn't see any signs of previous ascent on this, but it seemed too obvious to not have been done before. This was well-protected and not nearly as strenuous as the 5.8+ crack. Definitely a fun way to get to the summit.
By John Korfmacher
From: Fort Collins, CO
Jun 11, 2012

Overall, this is a high-quality climb in a great, exposed setting. There are a few chossy sections and thus protection is adequate but not plentiful--this is not a sew-it-up route. The left-facing corner start (just left of the "flatiron" start) adds a steep, sustained 5.8 to an already good climb.

For my money, the best pitch is the 5.7 dihedral/chimney (P3). The summit pitch, though exciting, is overhung, awkward, and not really my personal cup of tea. This is a full-value route.
By Joe Brannan
From: Lyons, CO
Jun 16, 2012

Want more 8 terrain? Here is a 5.8, 5.8, 5.6, 5.8, 5.8+ option with a 70m rope and no drag issues. We used the MacDonald-Bartlett start (P1, 65m). Next we stayed right of the standard 7 dihedral, finding good 5.7 and 5.8 crack climbing (P2, 65m). Terrain eases with some class 4 and then 5.6 stuff, trending right (P3, 70m). Aim for the base of a steep, lightly colored wall. This wall offered some heady 8 on chicken heads, a bit crumbly (P4, 30m). Then move to the south face for the awesome 8+ finger crack summit pitch (P5, 35m).
By Peter Swank
From: Boulder, CO
Jun 26, 2012
rating: 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

Fun route that's less traveled. Some party was trundling (maybe putting in a new route?) over on Wham at the same time.

Did it in 4 pitches with a light rack (nuts and #0.3-#1 C4s).

P1 and P2 can be linked with a 70m to the traverse. Straightforward climbing with little rope drag.
P3 and P4 also linked and can be done with a 60m. Opted to stay in the OW for P4.
P5 and P6 linked to the base of the final OW P7. Wish the hand crack on P6 lasted more then 6ft.
P7--short and sweet with a nice airy move. Opted to move left a bit to get better hands at the crux.
By Andy Hansen
From: Longmont, Colorado
May 27, 2013
rating: 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

Climbed this yesterday but paid little attention to beta or route descriptions from MP. The route itself was totally dry. The approach is obviously still snowy, and crampons might be handy for the approach to the base of the route.

We followed the general description above. However, after pitch five we did not traverse left to be below the south face of the summit block. Instead we stayed with the southeast arete and did a cool 5.8 roof pitch. This brought us to about 100' below the summit and two steep (harder than 5.8) cracks. My partner wasn't psyched on climbing these intimidating looking lines, so we bailed right pretty much directly to the 2nd set of rap anchors. From here, we rapped, descended the gully which was wet, sloppy snow with water running beneath. Somewhat dangerous.

Again, I wasn't paying much attention to beta delivered by the users on this site and rapped into the wrong notch. At the bottom of the gully, there are two options: right or left. We chose left when we should have chose right to find the last bolts to rap from, but we rapped from a nut and pin anchor into a notch and from here made another 100' rap to the ground and contoured around to the base of the route. The second rap anchor was a marginal nut and sling anchor.

All in all, this is a pretty worthy alpine objective but can present significant challenges in early season.
By JonW
Aug 13, 2013
rating: 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

I didn't think the rock quality on this route was great. Loose in spots and covered in lichen. We did the finger crack last pitch, which was very cool and did not have a pin. However, I found the other pitches to have more difficult moves than the final pitch. The dihedral pitch was cool, but I wasn't quite sure where to go after the dihedral ended. The chimney above the dihedral looked extremely challenging with a pack on, so I bailed over to the right.
By Mike Tsuji
From: Boulder, CO
Jul 7, 2015

This climb seemed like a pick your own adventure type deal. I ended up below the summit block and climbed a pretty cool 5.7-8 handcrack/corner past a nest of webbing and then up the finger crack.
By Martin le Roux
From: Superior, CO
Aug 9, 2015

In case this isn't clear from the above comments, there are at least 5 different finishes.

1. The original finish: Off-width on the L side of the S face. This is the one in the main route description.
2. Finger crack to its right. See Leo Paik's 2002 comment.
3. Steep crack with pins up the middle of the E face (the original finish of the "standard route", not to be confused with the standard finish of the S Face route). See Erik Corkran's and ac's 2002 comments, and J1's 2010 photo.
4. Off-width on the R side of the E face. See J1's 2010 photo.
5. Dihedral and roof on the N side. See John Peterson's 2010 comment.

1, 2 and 3 are apparently all 5.8+. Don't know about 4. 5 may be slightly easier.
By BoulderCharles
Jun 5, 2016

With the direct start (One for the red team) and the finger crack finish, this a great route (IMHO, on par with Petit Grepon).

I have only done the finger crack finish (the one mentioned by Leo), but I can't imagine anything else is better. It was really, really good. Just be careful with a few large blocks.
By Michael Drake
Aug 11, 2016

Hey all,
We climbed Zowie on 8/10/16 (via a wandering counterclockwise corkscrew route) and ended up rapping off of the top in the middle of a lightning storm. Our rope got stuck, and we had to ditch it. If anyone comes across a blue twin rope, still through the rap rings, I would love to get it back! I live in Boulder and will happily reward you in beer!

Sweet tower, by the way, and there are a million crumbly, but still fun, variations if you continue up the chimney too far and decide to climb the left side like we did!


By Andy Nelson
From: Fort Collins, Colorado
Aug 27, 2016
rating: 5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

The 3rd pitch off the grassy ledge felt on par with the 5.7 pitch leading out of the chimney on the Petit Grepon. Perhaps it was just the awkwardness, but it was still a fantastic pitch. We settled for the last pitch being the finger crack on the south side. The loose flake seems to still be there, but this was a wonderful, airy final pitch. There is a little cleft at the bottom where you can hang packs to the left of the start that would ward off rain or creatures. Great route!
By Matt Zia
From: Bozeman, MT
Sep 15, 2016
rating: 5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

Climbed in 5 long pitches last weekend. With twin 60s, it goes quickly and easily, and each belay ends on a nice comfy ledge. Our breakdown went something like:

P1 - 50m, climb up to about halfway in the chimney system. Belay on a small but flat and grassy ledge.
P2 - 20m, up the chimney to the big S Face ledge. Move belay to the right side. We just butterfly coiled over our shoulders, untied, and walked over.
P3 - 35-40m (?), up the dihedral system, out the chimney, onto the big ledge.
P4 - 55m, more or less straight up on rambly, scrambly terrain (4th-5.5 ish).
P5 - 55m, straight up through some juggy overlaps, up a beautiful hand crack, up the finger crack finish.

All told, super fun route on a sweet feature. Go climb it, and have fun.
By Robert Buswold
From: Northglenn, CO
Jul 8, 2017
rating: 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

I climbed this route in a party of three and did a little variation from the description here. We managed to do it in 6 pitches. After the 4th pitch, which started at the base of multiple dihedrals and moved up and to the left, one of my partners set a belay on a roomy ledge toward the middle of the south face. I then climbed up and trended left through some cracks and small overhangs directly to the base of the final 5.8+ish pitch. This made for a very long 5th pitch. I caution you to extend your gear, there are a couple of cracks that made rope-drag a big pain. Anyway, just my two cents... it seemed more direct than staying toward the east side like the description above says.
By mastahyeti
From: Denver, CO
Jul 27, 2017
rating: 5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

The Rossiter book suggests bringing a rack to #4. Does anyone know if you need the #4 if you're doing the finger crack at the top? I'm assuming not.

Update: we climbed this today (7/29) and didn't bring the #4. It could have been useful on P3, but the pitch protected fine without it. We brought cams from #0.2-#3, doubling up from #0.4-#1 and were pretty happy with that.

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