Peak(s):  Notchtop Mountain - 12129
Date Posted:  08/19/2012
Date Climbed:   08/18/2012
Author:  Dave B
 Spiral Route - Relief Train finish   

It's funny how quickly the summer can slip by. My wife and I had some pretty big plans to climb several alpine routes with the season starting so early but our wedding, my research, multiple visits from friends and family and conferences galore left us wondering what the hell happened to June and July. With all of that finally behind us and some thunderstorm free post(ish)-monsoon season weather ahead we figured a late start to the alpine season is better than none at all. As a good warm up for the next couple of weeks we decided to climb the Spiral Route on Notchtop Mountain in RMNP. I'd climbed this route last year, while my wife was recovering from ACL surgery, and had such a good time I swore I'd climb it with her this year. Also, not being huge fans of the 2am alarm we decided a bivy in Ptarmigan Cirque would allow a decent night's sleep while still leaving ample time to get on the route early.

We got to the Bear Lake trailhead around 4:30 pm on Friday night and started the hike in. Smoke from the California fires made for a hazy afternoon

By 6:30 we had found a decent bivy spot directly across from the base of Notchtop Spire.

It rained lightly off-and-on until around 8:30 when the skies finally cleared and gave us some great views of the stars. Despite our plans on a bivy providing a good night's sleep it was rather windy and Ptarmigan Cirque was under the flight path of (what seemed like) every single plane landing at DIA on Friday night. To further add to the distractions we were awoken several times through the night to the sound of large rock fall down the Ptarmigan Fingers couloirs. With the consistent noise neither of us were really able to fall asleep soundly until well past 1 am. I'm assuming my alarm did go off, but we didn't wake up until 6:45, 45 minutes after we'd planned. We geared up, swigged a can of espresso and headed for the base of the route

We started the first pitch at around 8 am and took an alternate start far to the right of the normal start up a series of broken cracks in a small chimney system. I'd gauge this at more around 5.5-5.6 than 5.4.

The second pitch was forgettable,

but my wife lead the third pitch up a beautiful broken and well protected dihedral that probably went at 5.6

After topping out of the third pitch a short fourth pitch led to the ramps that lead to the hanging cirque on Notchtop's eastern face and the beginning of the final pitch.

We'd originally planned to do the standard 5.4 finish up to the notch, however Ian, Dave and Noah (another team on the route at the same time as us)...

...were unimpressed with it so we decided to do the Relief Train variation that leads straight up a crack and flake system before trending left to the notch. This is the finish my buddy Blake and I had done the previous year. I remembered it being dirty but fun nonetheless. My wife was pretty stoked to lead this pitch, actually we were both stoked... we built an anchor (first trip using an ACR - I'm an official convert)...

...with awesome views below...

...and off she went

Mostly because my wife is a badass, she abandoned the crack system for some face climbing on small crystals to the left of the dihedral and ran-out about 40 feet without placing any pro, topped out near the notch and belayed me up. My wife is a far superior climber to me and excels at face climbing on small crystals and crimpers. This is quite obvious in the fact that I had a damn hard time getting up what she led and further would have been carrying a load in my pants with the run out.

I now call her the Alpine Slayer.

At the notch we "relaxed" for a bit, all the while aware that the actual mental crux of this route (in my opinion) was ahead of us in the climb to the high point on the ridge and traverse to the top of the gully for the descent.

Much of this descent involves soloing a 4th and low 5th class ridge on loose, crappy, moss covered rock. The first climb up from the notch is easily low fifth class. There is a rappel descent available (see picture below for other team at top of first rappel anchors) but I've read the subsequent rappel stations are difficult to find and have lead many a team to epics.

After much more exposed scrambling on loose rock we crossed the crux moves of low fifth class on solid rock while still maintaining pucker factor 8

A bit more up and down on the traverse finally led to the gully and heinous descent down loose scree and rock.

The first time I did this route I descended this gully in rock shoes resulting in unforgettable misery and several black toenails. This time I carried shoes with me for the descent and, while the slipping and sliding still occurred, I felt as if my feet were wrapped in clouds compared to the previous year's descent.

We got back to our bivy site around 4 pm, packed up and made our way back to Bear Lake. The spiral route is really a phenomenal climb for its grade and many options exist to make it more challenging if you wish. The climbing is aesthetic and the location beautiful.

Comments or Questions

Looks fun!
08/19/2012 17:44
And like something I could handle! Nice report!

Is that (rope) a Joker?

Dave B

Petzl actually...
08/19/2012 19:08
The Nomad (I think) 70 m x 9.8 mm. Awesome rope!

Brian C

ACR thoughts
08/19/2012 23:28
I was also a big convert and used mine on a LOT of belays but have strayed away from it. It has just a few downfalls in my opinion that are kinda sketchy (i.e. single point cord failure) so I'm not using it these days (nor am I carrying a cordelette at all thanks to Eli Helmuth!). I'll have to show you sometime what I'm doing these days. I don't miss the ACR at all.

Anywho... Great report Dave! That's an awesome route and you guys cruised it. PS - Yes, your wife is a badass!


Best finish?
08/20/2012 14:44
Any thoughts on the best finishing pitch? I've only done the standard 5.4 option but am wondering which one to try next time. I've heard of a lot of people climbing Mornin but this is the first time I've heard of Relief Train.

Dave B

MP vs Gillet
08/20/2012 15:09
I'm not even 100% certain the finish we did is relief train. It's what is labelled in this picture from Andy Leach on MP but the Gillet description makes it seem like it might be different. The finish was fun but a bit mossy and dirty (and also a bit hard to protect). Brian C has a good description of Mornin in his recent report and it looks pretty fun.

We also thought about sticking to the right of the standard 5.4 finish up the overlapping flakes between the standard and relief train, that actually looked pretty clean and fun and might be worth a shot


Alpine Slayer & Cockring Master
08/21/2012 23:00
These may be names I will be adopting for you 2 in the future! I am happy to see you using the ACR now. Regarding Brian's comment above, did I show you guys how I back up that single failure point with the rope? Its easy. I'm stoked to get on this route, maybe this year, probably next. Nice report dude.

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