Notchtop Trip Report

Trail: Spiral Route, 5.4-5.7 , ~10 miles, ~3000 ft elevation gain

I had attempted the Spiral Route last year only to be turned back by an early morning storm.  A year later I figured it would be an awesome route to introduce Jen to the beauty of technical alpine routes.  As it turned out I couldn't have asked for better circumstances to occur to test my wife's mettle on her first alpine climb.  The Spiral Route is a relatively easy technical route and great details concerning it can be found here Mountain Project's Description and Andy Leache's description

I got in touch with my friend Casey and he said he and his girlfriend, Hallie, wanted to come along.  My buddy Brian Hynek also decided to join us.  With five people we decided Casey and Hallie would form one team and Brian, Jen , and myself would form another.  I picked Casey and Hallie up at their home around 4:00 A.M. on Saturday, May 19th, 2007 and we headed to the Bear Lake parking lot where we met Brian at 5:00 A.M.  We packed up and headed down the trail.


Notchtop In The Morning

Near The Base

We skipped snowshoes for most of the way up as the trail was either bare or firm but eventually donned them for a half mile or so towards the end of the approach.  Once we past the first two lakes on the way to Notchtop we dropped our snowshoes on a rocky outcropping and headed towards the gully. At the base of the gully it was obvious that we would be descending a good bit of 20-30 degree snow with steeper stuff above it and to funnelling into it.  We assesed the situation and decided it still looked pretty safe so we headed up a couple hundred yards into the gully until we reached the turn off to the ledges which marked the base of the roped climbing.

Scrambling Up The Gulley

Given that I was unable to find a marmot for my obligatory photo I will be using a Pika as a stand in for this report.

The Approach Ledges

A Pika

Casey and Hallie ditched some of their gear at the bottom of the ledges and roped up as one team.  The route looked like we could climb it as two teams and sort of parallel up it.  Brian was kind enough to take the front end the whole way for Jen and myself.  We decided this was the best way to climb it as we were on double ropes and it would let me stay within 10 feet of Jen for the entire roped section.  I wanted to make sure that I could coach her through any tricky parts and figured being near her would make the whole thing easier.  Brian was also nice enough to run out all of his pitches (2-4 pieces per rope stretch) which let me find easier ways up for Jen.  After we roped up we all set off.   The first two pitches went by pretty quickly and each ended with large ledges.  I'd have to say the climbing on the line we took was 5.5 and not 5.4, I even managed to get out on some slabby foot traverse that was a good 15 feet of 5.7 on the second pitch.  Due to anchor options the line ran pretty much over this section so I told Jen to hold on and walked her end of the rope over to Hallie who was nice enough to give her a redirect belay up the last 30 feet  to the huge 3rd class ledge.  Jen did very well on this whole section and, despite her initial trepidation upon seeing the peak, made it through the climbing with relative ease.  I'm guessing the 5.4 only line was farther to the left than the one we took. Casey and Hallie reported taking a 5.5-5.6 line but both being better climbers than myself were making no attempt to keep it too easy.

Jen On Pitch 1

Looking At Pitch 2

After the second jen and I walked the ropes up to the base of the Meadows and Brian Quickly followed.  There  was some snow  to contend with but nothing overly serious.  At the base of the Meadows Casey ad Hallie took a harder line on the right which ascended a direct rock route while Brian led up through the easier entrance.  This part of the climbing required a total of 2 pitches which were broken into three for belay convenience.  I thought this portion sucked.  It was wet, muddy, and mossy and it seemed like placing pro would be difficult in many places.  If I go back I'll take the harder but dryer route Casey and Hallie took.  

At this point it was becoming clear that we might have some weatehr to contend with.  The clouds were really thickening up and Jen was geting unhappy about it.  I talked herthrough one section where the climbing and weather were clearly eating at her nerves and she calmed down and kept going.  

Near The Meadows

Looking Down From The Meadows

Once we all gained the notch we unanimously decided to bail on finishing to the summit.  I'm not even sure if the supposed summit is the high point as I think the right peak is higher but we all climbed the tough stuff so I'm counting it.  The descent of Notchtop definetly stunk.  The weather was deteriorating and it was pretty exposed up there.  To keep things moving we simulclimbed in two parties.  The way off the summit consisted of passing to THE RIGHT of a large gendarme, traversing across some ledges (including a hand traverse or some good air), passing one steep, narrow gully, then traversing more ledges until we hit a steep downclimb on a narrow snow line until finally coming to the obvious saddle with the huge gully we climbed the base of in the morning.  I'd say the traverse out was the crux, it had wet and snowy spots and the consequences of a fall remained huge.  The downclimb pictured below was particularly annoying as the snow ate our legs up the waist in places.

Brian placed more gear on the simulclimb traverse than he did on all of the roped pitches up the peak combined (thanks again).  For a period it began flurrying and we were hearing thunder close by but, luckily for us, the weather started to pass.  We dodged one hell of a bullet with weather on this trip, it would have been awful doing the traverse and hike out in pouring rain.

The Annoying Part Of The Traverse Back To The Gulley

The snow in the upper part of the gully was very steep and very soft and I was not to keen on downclimbing it.  We talked it over and decided to throw some webbing over a huge block to which Hallie added a bail carabiner.  All five of us then used my double ropes to rappell down 200 feet to a shallower, firmer portion of the gully.  When all the snow up there melts out someone is going to be very confused that anyone rapped from there.  If the snow had been firm we would have down climbed it but I didn't fancy one of us getting a ride down a slushalanche at 60-70 degrees.

Steep Snow We Avoided

The remainder of the downclimb was in good step kicking snow until we hit one 4th class section then returned to good step kicking snow.  Brian of course glissaded the whole thing and I took his lead on the bottom half when I got fed up with walking down.  At one point I broke through to a stream below.  The glissade coupled with the stream left me soaking wet.  

The Gully At The Top

At the base we took a break and enjoyed the scenery and ate a bit of food.  We then headed back to our snowshoes and threw them on for the hike out.  The way out was pretty slushy and would have sucked without snowshoes.  On the other hand the snow trail was much nicer than the summer route above the lakes.  The hike out went quickly enough and soon we were back at the car.  Brian assaulted us with Starbursts for a little bit before heading back to home. Jen, Casey, Hallie, and myself headed back to Boulder.  I thought it was a pretty cool climb. Maybe two stars, one for location and one for the climbing.   It was definetly a great first technical alpine route for Jen and she handled herself very well, I am very proud of her for getting up the peak with us.  This of course means she's screwed because I'll be dragging her up a lot more of them from now on.

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