| Notchtop Mountain - Spiral Route
Last May I met Paul on the Dog Route of Mt Hood (http://www.gb4mfg.com/mtn/Hood_5-26-08.html). We ultimately got skunked thanks to crappy weather, but a great climbing partnership ensued. In June '08 we climbed the First Flatiron, Cables, and Pacific's North Couloir. (http://www.gb4mfg.com/mtn/Flatiron_Longs_Pacific_6-23-08.html)
When Paul mentioned he was coming back to Colorado this year, I felt hard pressed to top last year's trifecta trip. I ultimately settled on Notchtop as it was higher than Mt Hood, had quite a bit of technical climbing, and an easy approach.
I suggested we do an alpine start from the trailhead, but Paul preferred a bivy at the base of the route. This turned out to be a great alternative thanks to clear skies overnight and Paul's dinner selection of gourmet cheese and smoked sausage.
By 7AM the next morning, we were roped up at the base of the Spiral Route. I hung our non-climinbing pack (upside down) above a patch of marmot dung covering not less than 12 square feet of alpine tundra. For the first pitch I did a little creative route finding that might have been harder than the advertised 5.4, but was certainly enjoyable.
For the next pitch I found a great 5.6ish(?) crack that took gear as needed and brought us directly to the East Meadow. From here Paul took over the lead and we simul'ed to the base of the final pitch to the Notch.
The pitch to the Notch has options… 2 nice 5.7s or a 5.4 pitch of vegetated rock. Since I hadn't really rock climbed for almost a year I chose to pluck moss out of cracks on the 5.4. In hindsight, if I repeat this route I'll be looking a bit more closely at the sun baked cracks of Mornin' or Relief Train. Nothing too scary on the 5.4, really, but it just doesn't seem right to get your hands and rock shoes that dirty on a "rock" climb. I stretched the rope to just below the Notch proper, and sent Paul up for the final lead to the namesake Notch.
Finally able to view the western skies we had to reconsider our plans of visiting the Notch Spire. Darkening clouds and prudence sent us trundling down the west ridge. I didn't mind this, as summiting the Notch Spire seemed more appropriate after an ascent of the Direct South Ridge. Our descent plans briefly contained finding the Continental Divide trail and descending Flattop Mountain. Taking the easiest route possible (which to us was the ridge proper), we eventually saw a few cairns. After 3rd classing an exposed traverse pitch I looked back to recognize a pitch that people seem to always rope up for, in some cases with amusing amounts of gear. I coached Paul across, and then congratulated him on downsoloing a pitch that's usually belayed. From here we spied a distant cairn and a close, bomber rap anchor, so after closer inspection we made use of existing gear and regained the 4th class scrambling route to the West Gully.
At this point the West Gully seemed like our best bet to avoid any building weather. We had carried ice axes, however I was able to scramble/scamper down the skier's right of any snowfields we encountered. We'd brought approach shoes/boots up the route, but chose to do much of the descent in rock shoes. After finding another bomber anchor we rapped over the Gully's 4th class step, and finally gave our feet a break in proper shoes.
After confirming that our hung pack had gone un-molested, we descended back to the lakes and were quite happy to filter recently frozen water.
The trek out was made interesting thanks to encountering a couple bull elk on the trail. We soon rejoined the Bear Lake crowds after a 23 hour trip (including our overnight bivy) and headed to Westminster for apposite refreshment and showers.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):