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Select Route:
Direct South Ridge T 
Finding Religion on the Spiral T 
Instant Clarification (AKA Rap Route) T 
Laid Back (a.k.a. NE Ridge) T 
Mornin' T 
Optimismus T 
Religion T 
Spiral Route T 
Topnotch T 
White Room T 


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Elevation: 12,129'
Location: 40.3186, -105.694 View Map  Incorrect?
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Administrators: Ben Mottinger, Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monomaniac, Kristine Hoffman (sitewide)
Submitted By: Charles Vernon on Jan 1, 2001
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A bighorn sheep skull with the south and west face...


A spectacular mountain, offering climbing on par with anything in the Park short of Long's Peak. It offers a beautiful, steep South Ridge, an excellent mountaineering route, and some hard 5.11 testpieces. The only thing not to like is the dangerous and confusing descent. The mountain has 2 summits: that of the spire which is separated from the main peak by the namesake notch, and the summit of the main peak. If you value your life, DO NOT summit the spire! It is composed entirely of loose, fractured blocks which could (indeed have) easily give way at any moment. If your route leads to a point very near this summit, then find a 4th class scramble south of it that turns into a ledge, which in turn leads west to the actual notch. From the notch, go 3rd class west to the main summit. Then, find a 4th/5th class ledge SYSTEM which gradually descends below a craggy ridge, near the top of the peak's SW face. This ledge is very exposed in spots and cuts across the top of several very steep gullies (some of which have rappel slings-- DO NOT rappel these gullies, however!). Make your return to the base of the cliff ONLY when an obvious, wide, talus filled third class gully leads to the SE. This descent would be even more treacherous if it was wet or dark. Rope up if you are at all unsure. Richard Rossiter's guidebook (which is usually very good) contains some dangerous misinformation about this descent. NOTE: there is apparently a new rap route (not described in any guidebook) which offers passage down the SW face, but I know nothing about it. Possible beta may be had at climbing shops in Estes Park, et al...or not.

This subarea only contains rock routes.

Getting There 

Park at Bear Lake, and follow the signs north of the lake to Odessa Lake. However, do NOT go all the way to Odessa Lake; after about 3 miles, when Notchtop is in full view, the trail begins to descend to Odessa Lake. Find an unmarked spur trail to the left which leads to shallow Lake Helene, then scramble through slabs and krummholtz west of the lake to treeline and some small tarns. The cliff is obvious from there.

To quickly link to Notchtop ice/mixed routes 

Notchtop ice/mixed routes.

Climbing Season

Weather station 8.2 miles from here

10 Total Routes

['4 Stars',0],['3 Stars',2],['2 Stars',4],['1 Star',4],['Bomb',0]

The Classics

Mountain Project's determination of some of the classic, most popular, highest rated routes for Notchtop:
Spiral Route   5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c     Trad, Alpine, Grade II   
Mornin'   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, Alpine, 2 pitches, 170'   
Direct South Ridge   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     Trad, Alpine, 7 pitches   
Browse More Classics in Notchtop

Featured Route For Notchtop
Kreighton Bieger on the Direct South Ridge. This pitch departs from the Spiral Route and is the first real pitch of DSR. The overhang above Kreighton's helmet is climbed on the next pitch and is the crux of the lower part of the route.

Direct South Ridge 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a  CO : Alpine Rock : ... : Notchtop
The recommended variation to the original South Ridge route. An inspiring, steep line from below, it offers a surprising amount of crack climbing (Colorado style at any rate). We found it to be a relatively fast grade III compared to others I've done in the Park. Hike up a short ways past the mountain's SE corner, and find a ramp that cuts back to the right. Go up that to the base of the route. The first 2 or 3 pitches are easy 5th class, with many variations possible (usually simul-climbed...[more]   Browse More Classics in CO

Photos of Notchtop Slideshow Add Photo
The approach to Notchtop.
The approach to Notchtop.
Red line = approx. location of trail in. Blue line = beginning of ramp and climb from gully. Green = rappel route.
BETA PHOTO: Red line = approx. location of trail in. Blue line...
Two Rivers Lake and Notchtop at sunrise.
Two Rivers Lake and Notchtop at sunrise.
First light on Notchtop.
First light on Notchtop.
Rap Route from Notchtop, from the West
BETA PHOTO: Rap Route from Notchtop, from the West
Paul approaching NotchTop mountain, September 22.
Paul approaching NotchTop mountain, September 22.
Scrambling around on the summit after doing the Spiral Route.  Descent is to my right.  Wicked cool summit!!! <br /> <br />Photo by Simon Thompson.
Scrambling around on the summit after doing the Sp...
Notchtop Spire from the south.
Notchtop Spire from the south.
The Direct South Ridge of Notchtop follows the left skyline to the summit.
BETA PHOTO: The Direct South Ridge of Notchtop follows the lef...
Diana Laughlin heads up toward Notchtop Spire on her way to ski Ptarmigan Glacier.
Diana Laughlin heads up toward Notchtop Spire on h...
A pair of climbers at the top of Instant Clarification (rappel route).
BETA PHOTO: A pair of climbers at the top of Instant Clarifica...
The South face of Notchtop in very distorted conditions on 3-25-12.
The South face of Notchtop in very distorted condi...
Notchtop from Flat Top trail. <br />Photo by Blitzo.
Notchtop from Flat Top trail.
Photo by Blitzo.
Roland starting up the "original finish" after traversing directly right from the belay notch at the top of P2.
BETA PHOTO: Roland starting up the "original finish" after tra...
There's a three-piton rappel anchor right where the yellow arrow points in this photo -- this felt like a safer alternative than scrambling down to the rap anchors at the top of Instant Clarification. It's probably a 40-foot rap down to the Instant Clarification anchors from here.
BETA PHOTO: There's a three-piton rappel anchor right where th...
Second bolted rap station, ca 170 feet down from the first bolted rap station.  Don't rap all the way to the large grassy ledge system at approx. 190 feet, where it looks like it would be a good place for a rap station (like we did).   To the climber's left, there is a somewhat distinctive (?) pattern of rock - a triangular incut formation, as well as some dark horizontal gouges.  FWIW, if this might be of any help for finding these anchors.
BETA PHOTO: Second bolted rap station, ca 170 feet down from t...
First bolted rap station, ca 120 feet down from the slung block on the summit.  As other MP'ers have stated, go past the 3 pitons and rock strewn ledge to this anchor.
BETA PHOTO: First bolted rap station, ca 120 feet down from th...
Descent from the left hand spire on Notchtop, both the 4th class downclimb (green) and rappel.
BETA PHOTO: Descent from the left hand spire on Notchtop, both...

Comments on Notchtop Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Jul 2, 2012
By Dan St. John
From: Castle Rock
Aug 5, 2002
A very dangerous [descent]. Did the [South Ridge Direct]. Found the climbing [unsustained]. It would be a great introduction to RMNP if the [descent] was not so convoluted. I found the crux climbing disappointedly short, yet this 5.9 crack was excellent.

Question-Would anybody complain is a installed a rap [route] from the notch? This would allow one to get off [safely] and climb another [route] since we toped [out before] noon and were moving at normal pace.
By Charles Vernon
From: Tucson, AZ
Aug 6, 2002
Dan, There is a rap route from the notch (see my description above). I don't know the details, however they may be described in the new [Gillett] guide. I really don't think the standard descent is that bad (you can always rope up!), but for a "walk-off" it is definitely more involved and exposed than Spearhead, [Hallett], and several others.
By Tony B
From: Around Boulder, CO
Sep 16, 2002
The new rap route goes like this...Get into the saddle between the spire and the main peak. Go down a loose and potentially hazardous gully for a brief scramble. If you want to rope up, have the first person belayed down on TR set gear behaind them, and the second is now "down leading." If you have a skittish partner, let them go first on TR. From the bottom most point of the [gully], before it drops away to the void, out to the right there are 2 large rap hangars on good bolts, but one of them spins a little. No big deal. These are located near the top of a boiler-plate that is just to the right of the rock-gully. Keep your eyes open.

This rap REQUIRES 2 ropes (my single 70M fell short) to rap as intended.

  • IF* you rap on a single 70 you can accomplish the task by...

1) Rapping to the climber's left left from the first one to a fixed belay (needs another sling added for margin) and then 2) back right to hit the next intended set of shuts. These two raps combined get you down the first rap.3) Down to a good crack and dihedral system 15' above the next rap. You will have to make easy moves to reach the next rap. Watch out for bad rock, because you will die or be as good as dead if you fall between. To solve for this potential problem, in the absence of any knowledge of what was below... I rapped, installed a gear belay 30' up and left of the station, lead down (placing gear) and my parner followed, pulling gear- essentially down-leading. We found the moves to be 5.4-ish with minimal suspect rock.4) A 70M rope hits the ground from the last rap station- with a few feet to spare.I'll reiterate my primary point- It would be best to just have two ropes.
By Anonymous Coward
Dec 23, 2002
This route was awesome to start. I did get off route and end up on Pessimisimus, but it was great too. Some scary run out pitches for sure, but really cool.
By Matt Juth
From: Evergreen
May 16, 2003
I did a line above the spiral ledge system that starts at the belay to continue on [Religion]. Instead of traversing left and then right, you head straight up the flake crack to a left facing dihedral. At the end of the dihedral you end up in the [Religion] gully. There was a piton with a rusted biner on the route, so It's been done before. It was loose dirty and had bad Pro. It didn't look like anyone had climbed in in years.Does anyone know what that was?
By Martin le Roux
From: Superior, CO
Jul 23, 2003
The regular descent gully leads down to the SW, not SE as stated above.

As of July 10 2003 there was still some snow in the gully, but not so much that we needed an ice-axe. Earlier in the season an ice-axe might be advisable.
By none
Jul 21, 2005
A good alternative to the nasty [descent] is to top out and climb to the left. Head along the [Continental Divide] toward Flattop. (only of course if you feel comfortable bringing all of your gear). [Descend] Flattop and this will make for an awesome photo opp or two.
By Stich
From: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Aug 22, 2005
Here's what happened to us when we tried the rappel line at the top of Instant Clarification on the Notch saddle. I built an anchor and had my partner lower me to look for the anchors. On the way down the narrow, steep gully, I noticed a slung rock with a webbing handline. Then, just before the gully dropped off into space, I noticed a rusted Chouinard knifeblade and a slung chockstone. I couldn't see the newer cold shuts. I reclimbed the gully and placed gear as I went per Tony's suggestion.

At that point, my footing gave way and a 20lb rock plummetted down the gully. I yelled rock very loudly and continuously as it fell. Fortunately, no one below was hit. By then it was snowing.

I saw an emergency rap station a little below consisting of a blue Mammut sling, a nut, and some other webbing slung around a pinnacle. I missed the second cold shuts and ended up on a ledge 60ft above the third cold shuts. To our considerable dismay, the ropes would not pull through the anchor with the piton and chockstone at the top. Perhaps it was because they are around a corner. We have no idea what was going on with the snag, but after fully weighting the rope with Tiblocs, we got them to pull. Two 60m ropes will get you to the ground from the last anchors. These are a chrome plated cold shut and a regular hanger with a rap ring. They are very easy to spot, fortunately.
By Legs Magillicutty
From: Littleton
Aug 23, 2005
To piggyback on top of Tim's comment, is there another set of fixed anchors located above the cold shut and hanger that Tim mentioned?
By Les Moore
From: Port Townsend, WA
Jul 21, 2008
Check out the topo showing the entire bolted rap route from the summit of Notchtop. A topo is worth a thousand words. Just did these raps yesterday with Avery Nelson, and both of us put the topo together. Even with all the comments here, we still got confused and did a bit of looking around to find the first and second set of bolts.
By David Kider
Sep 1, 2010
Does anyone have more current info on the descent? Do most people walk off? Rappel? I was up there a few weeks ago and the info here and on the Spiral Route page was not very helpful. We were expecting a confusing, but identifiable walk-off on the west side. We found 3 possible spots for this, but none were convincing. We looked for the cairns, as described, but found none. Found some webbing on some blocks in various places for rappelling, but decided not to use any due to the comments here. Ended up rapping down the way we came up and leaving gear behind.
By claramie
From: Boulder, CO
Jun 4, 2012
In response to David's comment in 2010, rapping off is quite easy and obvious. Look at the topo picture that Les Moore posted and you are set. From the Spiral Route (or anthing via the meadow), using the 3 pin anchor to reach the bolted raps is fast and easy (single 60m rope on the first rap).
By Sean Dormer
From: Boulder, CO
Jul 2, 2012
Maybe I can clarify the rap route a bit. It does in fact avoid the 4th class from the summit block to the notch. It's a lot safer and a lot easier than a down-climbing. That said, you'll have two concerns: first, knocking loose rocks onto parties below you. Rope management prevents this. Second, getting your rope stuck. Use the "Euro Death Knot" to tie your ropes together, don't tie knots in the ends of your ropes, and pull fast and smooth. Hope this helps!

R1: From the prow, head towards the notch. Anchors will be on your left, at about the same level of the prow topout, maybe slightly lower. They're plainly visible from the prow topouts, regardless whether you take the direct route or the right route. Anchors are made of sections of blue and orange rope tied solidly around several blocks, with good hardware on them. This rap avoids about 15-20m of 4th class descent. This is a single-rope rappel, BUT DON'T LET THAT FOOL YOU. You'll need another rope later. Consider "holstering" your rap rope(s) on this one rather than throwing them, as the next ledge down has lots of loose choss to tangle your rope in.

R2: 15-20m below and out from the first rap anchors are the second anchors. The should be visible from the first rap anchors. They're at the outer edge of a wide ledge with a lot of loose rock. Three solid pitons attach to the rock, with fairly new cords hanging from them. KEEP YOUR ROPE ORGANIZED TO AVOID PULLING ANYTHING OFF the ledge. We dropped our rope a bit past this anchor and pulled off a softball-sized rock getting it up to thread it. No one below us, but scary anyway. The rap from here is short again, and is the last single-rope.

R3: You likely cannot see these anchors from the previous anchors. That could be because they're bolted hangers about the same color as the rock. You'll pass a wider ledge getting to them, and stand on a smaller ledge at them. From here, it's a DOUBLE-ROPE rap to a ledge in a vertical gully. Two 60m ropes definitely get you to the anchors for R4, but two 50m's might work too. I'm not sure, I wouldn't risk it myself, and why are you still climbing on a 50m anyway? =P

R4: These anchors are at a slung block. It's solid, I think. Another double 60m takes you to the "ground" on a wide, grassy ledge. From here, don't ascend along the ledge towards the col, but rather find the faint path (2nd and a tiny bit of 3rd class) leading off the ledge into the gully. Keep your helmet on; the gully is loose. A couple more 3rd class sections separate you from the easy hiking below.