Odessa Gorge Circuit

In preparation for my upcoming 40th birthday 14er trip to bag the Crestone Traverse, I wanted to get in some snow climbing and some rock scrambling.  I suggested we try one of the cols in Odessa Gorge for a start; Brian agreed.

We left the Bear Lake parking lot at 7am and headed up toward Lake Helene.

Our route with sequence numbers corresponding to route description below

Step 1

I had originally liked the look of the East Couloir, but a team got into it ahead of us.  We didn’t want to eat rolling snow for 1000’ so we turned up the “Hourglass” (class II W14 per Rossiter); it is the middle couloir of the three Flattop Northface couloirs.

The snow was in good shape but the temperature was very warm, so we hurried to finish before the snow turned problematic.  We made good time until reaching the overhanging cornice blocking our access to Flattop.

We worried about the cornice falling on us and about us falling off the cornice, so we setup a belay behind some big boulders near the top on the left side.  Brian found/made a path over the cornice involving some tunneling and some mantling; my position off to the left provided good protection from the massive snow chunks raining down the slope.  He then brought me up and we moved a few yards east to reach the Tonahutu Creek trail.

Step 2

For the next portion of the day, the plan was to follow the Continental Divide in a traverse of the top edge of the gorge and then descend via a traverse to the summit of the Little Matterhorn.

After a short break, we headed west and then turned the north at Ptarmigan Pass to follow the Continental Divide.  A short bit of hiking led us to the back of Notchtop Mountain (12160’), which we studied for a short time, reminiscing about the climbs we’d done on that rock.

Cool view of Flattop and our snow route from Notchtop, with Longs, Hallett & Taylor in background

Step 3

Continuing roughly north along the Continental Divide, we made it to Knobtop Mountain (12.331’) where we stopped to look for a route to the Little Matterhorn.  I gazed over at Gabletop Mountain, thinking this might be my only chance to bag it, but I needed to get some rock scrambling practice in advance of the upcoming Crestone Traverse.   I stuck with the plan.

Step 4

We started down the Knobtop ridge and found the terrain, while a bit loose, was sufficient for a proper ridge traverse.  We stayed on the ridge much of the time until we reached the end of the ridge and the Little Matterhorn (11586’).  To get onto the summit of the Little Matterhorn, we had to negotiate some challenging, but with a bit of route-finding, not overly difficult terrain.  I’d call it 4th class, just to be conservative.

Joe on Little Matterhorn summit with Notchtop in distance

We scrambled up to the summit of the Little Matterhorn and found it to be a worthy summit with great views into the Odessa Lake area.  We also found a cool chimney on the north side that we descended a bit just to play around on nice rock.  I later read in Roach’s RMNP book that the Little Matterhorn is the lowest elevation peak in his book.

Little Matterhorn

Step 5

Out of water and dried up likes prunes in the hot sun, we scrambled down to Grace Falls.  At the bottom, I turned around to look at the Little Matterhorn.  I could see why it made it into Roach’s book.  It is a spectacular little peak.  And I could even see how it got the name of Little Matterhorn…it sort of looks like the real thing, just on a smaller scale.

Then we bushwhacked up to the Fern Lake trail, which we hiked to cover the 3+ miles back to the Bear Lake parking lot.  Sunburned and dehydrated, we didn’t make any attempt to make a fast escape; we were just glad to be under tree cover and heading back to the parking lot.

We arrived at the parking lot at 4:30pm for a 9.5-hour round trip covering approximately 12 miles.

Come on Crestones! (see 5 14ers for my 40th)

See all trip reports

See RMNP trip reports


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