It was going to be our 4th weekend in a row in RMNP, but the weather report was uncooperative.
A 40% chance of rain, mainly after noon.
Rats. Rain at noon, or earlier, and long approaches didn’t leave a lot of time for climbing. We discussed our options for shorter approaches, including going to Lumpy Ridge and climbing on Hallett Peak. We both wanted to continue climbing in RMNP, so Hallett was the better of the two. But the only route on Hallett that would not be a reach at our current level of climbing would be the Great Dihedral (5.7); however, it was sure to be wet after all the recent rain.
We decided to take a chance and do the Spiral Route on Notchtop Mountain, which is what we’ve been thinking about for a few weeks any way. The trick would be to start early and go fast, as always. And, finding a bit a weather luck wouldn’t hurt.
We started from the Bear Lake parking lot this time (just before 4am), and started up toward Notchtop in a very dark night (the moon was just a sliver). The trail was good up to Joe Mills Mountain, and then the climbers trail to the base of Notchtop was pretty good too. It felt like a walk in the park compared to our adventure on the Solitude Lake Cirque.
From the bottom of Notchtop, the next step was to reach the top of the big platform that made up the bottom 3rd of the pinnacle. We took an obvious path up the gully next to Notchtop to find the right leaning ramp we’d used twice before to reach the top of the platform that marks the start of the climbing.
Reaching the platform, we stopped to get organized and to put on more clothes…I mean, all the rest of our clothes. We were freezing to death on July 9th. The sun had been up for a short while, but it was not putting off much heat; and the wind was ferocious. There is something about Notchtop that leads to strong winds; we’ve had strong wind on all 3 visits over the past 13 years. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough clothes, so I shivered as Brian started up.
When it was my turn, I climbed in my gloves and hiking boots; I was still too cold to do otherwise. When I found the climbing very easy going, I was sorry I hadn’t taken the 1st lead. I was doubly sorry when the 2nd pitch turned out to be hard, at least the path I chose was hard. By the time I reached the grassy ledge that we’d take to the East Meadow, I had warmed up very well.
Brian then led us over toward the East Meadow. He stopped at the slight ridge which pokes out about 2/3rds of the way there with an idea for a new route to the notch. When I arrived, we decided to continue on to the East Meadow and use the Relief Train route (I think) to climb towards the notch.
It was a nice route, rated around 5.7; I enjoyed climbing it in my hiking boots since I had a top rope. Brian’s lead reached to just below the Notch.
When I arrived, Brian suggested we take a new path, on the north end of the ledge. It looked like a bouquet of fins leading up and left toward the summit.
Roach’s RMNP Classic Hikes and Climbs: “There are three places in the minicirque where it is easy and tempting (and wrong) to head farther north.”
Brian and I found a fourth.
It actually started off well, but once we got high enough to see down into the normal ascent gully (on the other side of the notch), the climbing became steep over crumbly rock. It probably could have been protected, mostly, but we had put away the ropes and gear.
Once we reached the Notchtop summit, I was relieved to finally have the unprotected climbing behind me.
Oh, how wrong I was.
It is surprising how little I remembered about the two previous downclimbs of Notchtop. I suppose I put it out of my mind. Every section just kept getting worse. I’d agree it was only 4th class, but downclimbing is always harder due to a lack of vision at the feet level.
A surprisingly quick scramble down with a few rain-drops reminded us of the primary issue of the day. We hurried up to our packs (and water!); and we enjoyed a few minutes of rest.
I once again did my, ‘guess the time’ game. This was the only time I can remember winning. Brian guessed 12:30pm while I guessed 11:30am. It was only 11am.
Brian’s water bottle made a mad-dash escape attempt, bouncing all the way down the gully toward the South face bottom. Brian pursued while I returned via the ascent route and met up with Brian at the bottom. Brian was bottleless, but heavy one torn, faded down jacket that was spewing feathers; it wasn’t a good trade.
Another long hike on tired legs and sore feet back to the Bear Lake parking lot ended another RMNP adventure. And when we got back down to Boulder, we found it had rained cats and dogs. At least the weather luck is holding up, even if the legs aren’t.