Type: Trad, Alpine, 7 pitches, Grade III
FA: Chuck Schobinger, Al Auten, 1958
Page Views: 20,851 total · 95/month
Shared By: Charles Vernon on Dec 31, 2000
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

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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). At a point where the wall steepens considerably, reach the highest of several terraces, a long ledge that runs off to the right. Almost all of the route occurs just to the right of the actual arete.

P1. Face climb up and left for half a rope-length, to a ledge below a right-facing dihedral (5.6).

P2. Climb the hand and fist crack in the back of the dihedral, turn the airy roof with interesting moves, and face climb right, then back left to a belay--an excellent, exposed pitch. (5.9, 100+ feet) The fist crack after the roof is very nice looking and seems to be the natural line, but I don't know how difficult it is (not in any guide).

P3. Head straight up the crack at 5.8 and belay on a ledge on the other side of the arete/ridge (80 feet). Pitches 2 & 3 can be combined.

P4. Two distinct variations are possible from here. The direct route
wanders the onto the west face and eventually finds a 5.6 chimney which leads to a belay right on the arete. People often seem to get lost looking for this chimney-it's pretty far to the left. Prior to the chimney there's a similar looking slot that's closer to 5.9. Supposedly there's a 10+/11 seam somewhere in this area as well.

P5 of the direct route heads up and right to a beautiful, steep 5.9 crack. This pitch can easily be combined with P6, which is a 5.7 corner/groove.

The original finish (from the top of P3) is as follows:

1) from the belay, traverse right across a prominent slab for 30 feet, and ascend a series of 5.8 cracks and corners slightly up and right to a belay in a large dihedral.

2) climb the dihedral to the top (5.7).

Both pitches were fairly long. Both variations end on the Notch Spire directly above the descent.


Standard rack to a #3 Camalot or equivalent--two of these if you don't want to run it out or slide pro up with you.
Patrick Vernon
Estes Park, CO
Patrick Vernon   Estes Park, CO
The descent for this route is low fifth class, time consuming, and rather scary! Jan 1, 2001
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
We also became lost searching for the infamous 5.6 chimney. Charles, is the variation you describe the same as Rossiters 4b "Original Finish"? On pitch 4, we found ourselves at the base of a short right facing dihedral directly on the nose of the South Ridge. From here you can see the final 5.9 pitch in Rossiter only about 75-100 above you. But the short right facing dihedral is RP sized and brutal to free climb. We resorted to a move or two of aid (on RPs). Brett Ruckman told me later he has done it free at 5.11. He also said it is quite common to get sucked into the thing. So be warned! Above that we were definitely on route, the last 5.9 pitch (described in Rossiter) is excellent. Jan 1, 2001
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
Eric Winkleman has done the route several times, and knows the route better than anybody I know. That tricky pitch involves some devious traverse (I can't remember which way!). However, Bill Wright attempted the route last summer with tons of beta from Eric and still got confused, also the weather came in and they had to bail. Jan 1, 2001
I think the guidebook confuses the issue by describing two different routes. I've done this twice and, in my view, the best route combines pitches from the regular and direct routes. I got lost looking for the 5.6 chimney. My advice--when in doubt, stay close to the arete until you see the obvious face with cracks breaking out right on the fifth pitch. Heading more than 15 feet left of the arete on pitches three or four just leads to trouble and far less aesthetic positions. By the way, there is a rap station on the North side of the summit, maybe ten feet below the top. It drops you into the notch from which it's easy to scramble north.

Tom Isaacson Jul 31, 2001
I just did this route today and have a few things that may help. First, from the top of the first 5.9 pitch we climbed the 5.8ish crack over a small roof and up to a ledge directly on the prow. Instead of belaying here we continued up for a short ways on the left side of the prow up easy disjointed blocks, to the crest of the prow and belayed a short ways further up (now back on the right hand side of the prow). From this belay you can see the start of the upper headwall 5.9 pitch about 40-50 feet above you. About 20 feet above you and to the right are two parallel rp sized cracks on a clean white face. I think that this is the crux as described in the RMNP guide since it goes fairly easily on aid and in the 5.10 range free. This short pitch can be easily combined with the upper 5.9 pitch.Second, there is an alternate descent using three rap stations on a route on the backside (gully side) of Notchtop. Finding the first set of bolts is a bit tricky but once you find them the raps are fairly obvious. To find the first set of bolts scramble down to the saddle about 70-80 feet from the summit. Continue scrambling down into the steep gully below the saddle (you probably want to be on rope) a short ways until you see a ledge break off to the left (if you are facing downhill). There is a fixed pin on this ledge. The bolts are just around the corner on this ledge out of sight. Hope this helps. Jun 11, 2002
Andrew Wilcox
Missoula, MT
Andrew Wilcox   Missoula, MT
From the start of P1 as described above, we did this route in 4 pitches with a 60-m rope. We climbed P1 as above, belaying on a stance a few meters above a large fixed nut. Then combined the P2& P3 described above (~60 m total), then climbed a short pitch that ended with a short rightward traverse out to a belay on the arete (we didn't find anything we'd call a chimney on this pitch, but we seemed to end up in the right place). From this belay we topped out with a long pitch. Done this way, P1&3 are easier leads; the harder climbing is all on P2&4, so this is a good option if one leader is distinctly stronger. If using the rappel descent, the descriptions above for finding the 1st set of anchors are good. Note that as of 7/04 it was possible to rap down to near where the 1st set of bolted anchors is, from a sling anchor reached by scrambling down & climbers left from the top of the route, avoiding the sketchy downclimb down the loose gully. The 2nd set of bolted anchors is roughly 45 m directly below (or perhaps even slightly to climbers right) of the first set- do not veer over into the gully. The bolted anchors are a bit hard to see; no rats nest of slings like most alpine anchors, but make for a quick descent. Jul 28, 2004
Jason Cloyd
SoBo, CO
Jason Cloyd   SoBo, CO
Did this yesterday and thought it was really good. Gillett's newest guidebook calls this route "South Ridge Right" with the 5.6 chimney variation to keep the overall grade at 5.9. His topo is dead on for all but the variation (the topo doesn't show it). I, too, became confused by the words "5.6" and "chimney." The 5.8 pitch (above the spectacular 5.9 corner/roof pitch) ends on a big ledge system that leads around to the W side of the ridge crest. There is a short 5.6-ish, chimney-esque section just L of the ridge which leads to a nice ledge back on the crest. From here, heading up and R for 30-40 feet puts you at the bottom of the 10d RP pitch, therefore negating the benefits of the variation. Another alternative, which we ended up climbing, was further around the corner from the top of the 5.8 pitch. It goes up above the large detached block into a shallow L facing corner through a couple of small overhangs with cracks and holds. Look for a fixed cam in the first one. This is about 5.7-5.8 and really fun, and ends with a traverse R back to the exposed stance below the upper 5.9 pitch. It may be possible to climb the "5.6-ish chimney" and traverse around the corner to the line we took (looks envigorating). The last two pitches easily run together and are also magnificent.The standard descent is airy but easy -- we stayed roped until the notch and left our rock shoes on until the exit scree gully. This only took about 20 min from the top of the route, but would be really spicy if ti was wet. This is a great route with sustained and varied climbing on an incredible but often overlooked formation. Oh yeah, and it's also in the sun all day. Aug 16, 2004
Ivan Rezucha
Fort Collins, CO
Ivan Rezucha   Fort Collins, CO
Climbed this, more or less, yesterday. Busy place! There were at least 3 parties on Spiral Route, another party climbing side by side with us via variations and sharing belays, and eventually pulling ahead of us, and at least one other party on a route on the lower wall.

The first 5.9 pitch was great fun. Then, as many before us, we got a bit lost in the area of the mythical "5.6 chimney". I followed the party just ahead of us and did a 20' or so spooky no gear traverse left from the ridge onto the west face then up dual corners and back right to the stance on the ridge below the second 5.9 pitch (the right angling orange face). This devious pitch felt like 8s.

Thought the 2nd 5.9 pitch was quite hard at the top.

Does anyone know about the arete on the left side of this face? It looks wild with good holds but perhaps little gear.

There is now a rap from just west of the summit--long 11mm rope and other slings around a huge block. If you want to back this up with new webbing, bring about 20'. There is also a misleading anchor at the bottom of the loose gully that dumps onto the W Face. A pin and a slung chockstone. We made the mistake of rapping to and from there. It's almost impossible not to knock rocks off with the ropes falling into the gully. It may be possible to rap from the top directly to the first bolts about 20' climber's right of the bottom of the gully. In any case, it's a good idea to toss your ropes in that direction to keep them out of the gully. On a lower rappel we pulled off a large 1.5' block as we pulled our rope down. Don't hang out on the ground below the last rappel!

Another question: Does it make sense to avoid the first two easy pitches of the Spiral Route by hiking to the bottom of the raps and then onto the ridge? Jul 24, 2005
Craig Quincy
Louisville, CO
Craig Quincy   Louisville, CO
Stellar climb. Be prepared to route find to stay on the path of least resistance. I got confused by the copious beta provided here and just went where it looked best.

Descent : You need two ropes to do the new bolted rappels. We did one rap into the notch, a 1/4 rope length of scrambling to get on the ledge with the new bolts and then 3 rappels to the ground. The last rap has a nasty knot eating notch, so you will want to position your knot below that after you rappel over it.

Thanks to who ever put in the bolts. Hopefully, this will prevent the epic rappels recorded by the dazzling array of old slings and tat up there. Sep 22, 2005
Menlo Park, CA
JP.8d   Menlo Park, CA
This is a good route with a third pitch that is as good as it gets. I do believe that the "5.6 chimney" is a myth. Around that west side on the 5th pitch or so I encountered many (3 or 4) steep dihedrals that all seem to peter out offering little in the way of good gear. The rock around that side is also a little mungy and there is some not-so-safe fall potential. If you rap down from the notch into the obvious weakness you will find much tat to rap from. When rapping, stay left (when facing the rock) of that weakness to find the new rap bolts. Jun 19, 2006
Chris Toney
Chris Toney   Boulder,CO
Did this route today, I have to say it rivals any Route in the park at the grade, great gear and exposure. We did it in 4 pitches, with minimal rope drag. Two #3 Camalots are nice on the second pitch if you don't like running it out a little. One note on the the rappels, stay out of the gully where the blue webbing is slung around a boulder, the bolts are down and right from here (as you face the rock). Rap bolts are bomber, 3 and out. Thanks CMS for anchors. Jul 16, 2006
Finding the bolted raps was still a bit difficult despite all of this beta. Some more info that might help: As you are scrambling down the gully you will see a gear anchor that consists of a pin, stopper, and some slung slings at the point where the gully drops off into the void. To reach the bolted raps, the ledge that needs to be traversed is about ten feet directly above this shoddy gear anchor (See Anonymous Coward, June 2002). Traverse this ledge on the left side (as you are looking down the gully). Around the corner on this ledge you will see a large boilerplate/fin. The bolted anchors are on the top of that. From there, the raps are obvious. You cannot see the rap achors when you are in the gully. Aug 19, 2006
Willow Toso
Salt Lake City, UT
Willow Toso   Salt Lake City, UT
We got off route after pitch 3, and for the final pitch I ended up climbing (sometimes straddling) the arete. I found a couple of old pins, but otherwise I have seen no reference to climbing the arete. However it was an awesome pitch - the climbing about 5.5 and rock quality was excellent - just FYI. Jul 9, 2007
Shane Zentner
Shane Zentner   Colorado
Scrap the '5.6 chimney' and climb the 5.8 slab on pitch 4. Two cracks will be obvious after the slab: one crack will be crusted with orange lichen(right crack), another will angle up and right on good rock(left crack). I took the left crack and consider it 5.8-.

The 5.9 variation is incredible. Though I didn't lead the 5.9 roof pitch, I felt the exposure! Awesome.

We added an additional 400 feet to the route by starting lower at the first ledge system. Both pitches are 200 hundred feet(60 meters). The first pitch is considered 5.5, the second pitch 5.7(depending on the variation you choose). This additional mileage ends at the start of the Direct South Ridge.

Jul 13, 2008
Climbed this with Joe Chorny on Thursday. Perfect weather without a cloud and absolutely no one there but us. I'm surprised this route doesn't get more traffic - it is very good.

The most valuable comment I want to make is on the descent. A new rap anchor has been put in that avoids all the issues with finding the bolted raps and having to downclimb the loose gully. From the notch at the top make a single rope rap down to a large ledge. On this ledge is a 3 pin anchor with cord and 2 biners. Rap straight down off this pin anchor and you will find the first bolted rap station. I believe this can be done with 1 rope but we used two since there was no mention of this anchor on this site. From there 3 double rope raps down to the ground. The raps anchors tend to be a little right of the fall line. Also the last rap is reported to have a rope eating notch - if you rap straight down the notch is not an issue and the pull is easy.

The route went pretty much as described here though we did get lost on the pitch below the final 9 pitch as most everyone does. We started up about 15 ft left of the belay going after passing thru a notch between a small rock tower and the main wall. We did end up at the right place i.e. the exposed belay perch on the arete that Rossiter describes. The route taken was more like 5.8 than 5.6 with some of the larger holds being quite loose. So not a casual pitch. The final 9 pitch was steep and a little awkward and got pumped placing gear so had to hang there. Better luck next time. Aug 23, 2008
Guy H.
Fort Collins CO
Guy H.   Fort Collins CO
The 5.10d variation on the fourth pitch is quite fun and well protected with a set of brass offsets and green C3. You can get overhead locker placements at the crux, which is protected by tiny brass (~#2). A #1 ball nut would be useful but not necessary. The crux is short and maybe easy for the grade if you are tall. Jul 11, 2009
Eric and Lucie
Boulder, CO
Eric and Lucie   Boulder, CO
Just did this route yesterday for the first time, using the 5.10d variation on p4. Fantastic line, really good quality, not crowded, and in a really beautiful spot of RMNP.

On p2, the way to go is to continue up the obvious crack above the roof. This has one move of 5.9 followed by much easier jamming (best to have a second #4 BD C4 if going that way). Makes for an incredible pitch.

Note about the 10d variation: when we got to the ledge at the end of p3, I wasn't sure where it was. You don't really step right to it as the guidebook says: it is still 50ft higher.
It turns out that if you simply try to stay as close to the arete as you can (instead of wandering far left of it onto the W face), you'll run into it automatically: it's the only way to go that offers any pro.

The 10d section is short (12ft, 3 moves) and well protected with 2 or 3 micronuts (BD stoppers sizes 2, 3, and 4). A #1 ballnut is indeed a good addition to make the top placement a lot more secure (thanks Guy H!). Three or so very thin moves to good jugs. The rest of the pitch is very steep and slightly pumpy 5.9 up a gorgeous steep face with cracks. A beautiful pitch that ends at a small, inset, comfy ledge after ~180ft. Might want to save a 0.5 BD C4 or equivalent as a key piece for the belay anchor.

From there, one short pitch puts you on the summit.

PS: just noticed we must have dropped a 0.3 BD C4 Camalot somewhere on the climb/descent or near the tarn at the base... if you find it, please PM!! Jul 31, 2011
Buster Jesik
Allenspark, CO
Buster Jesik   Allenspark, CO
Fun route! With one 60m, a team confident enough to simul on 5.6-5.7 can do this route in 3 pitches. From the base, solo up the highest ledge (easiest way wanders a bit). 1. the leader links p1-2 and some of 3, (the second is simul-ing on easy ground). This is not runout if you bring doubles to #3. From there, two 40-45 meter pitches will get you to the top! Aug 8, 2011
Boulder, CO
claytown   Boulder, CO
Mega-classic! Fun climbing, up very cool features.

Not sure why everyone has such route-finding issues on this climb. Was pretty easy to follow the logical line.

Locate the main handcrack dihedral from the ground. Scramble up to it (or rope up and simul 5.4). Climb it. Keep going straight up the obvious crack through the next mini-roof (which puts you on the W face) and go up to the shoulder (seems to me like 5.6 chimney at the end of that pitch is pretty accurate, though you don't have to chimney at all). Then choose your finish.

If you want to access the 5.9 finger finish without the RP seam, stay on the W face instead of taking the easy chimney to the shoulder, and then cut over to the fingers above the RP part.

The raps were very easy to find too, especially with the topo on the main Notchtop page. Marmots ate my pack (no food in it), because it had sweat on it. Hang your pack to avoid a similar fate. Jun 4, 2012
Sean Dormer
Boulder, CO
Sean Dormer   Boulder, CO
Pitch 2, as noted above, can indeed be done by staying in the crack. There is one more overhang/bulge to pass. It's not quite as hard as the 5.9 crux. With a 60m rope, one can take the crack line all the way to a good belay on the prow. Make sure to take the upper belay though and not the tempting ledge on the left side, if you plan to move right from here.

Also, the belay between the first and second pitches can be (and apparently has been) set at a flake slung with webbing and a cordolette. I backed-up the existing anchor and still didn't feel too secure on it. It holds body weight just fine without making scary noises or anything, but it's hollow-sounding when tapped. Instead, belay just below the beginning of the dihedral. It probably doesn't save much rope to take the flake anyway. Jul 2, 2012
Greg Sievers
Bozeman, MT
Greg Sievers   Bozeman, MT
Since I hadn't climbed this route in 16 years, it was like an on-sight, but I wanted to add a couple notes to help folks out:

1. You may only need 1 x #3 Camalots, but also bring a #3.5.
2. I used no micro nuts nor anything smaller than a red C3
3. Doubles from #0.5 to #2 Camalot felt about right.
4. Nowhere did I understand that the traverse above pitch-6 was behind a gendarme along the ridge (where is steps back). That little piece of info would have made things flow faster, but we did a low traverse which descended down 10' onto a narrow, grassy ledge.
5. The traverse was more like 5.5 (not 5.8); however, there may be another 'upper' traverse immediately under the white-rock-roof?
6. The lower portion of the last pitch is tricky 5.8 with face.
7. And the final open-book (last 60' is solid 5.6 with good but spare gear).
8. I don't think a 60m rope will quite make the final 2 pitches.

That's my 2-cents. Aug 27, 2012
It would be great if someone who knows this route well would be willing to rewrite the page. The route description is very confusing and really describes two (or three?) routes. There also seems to be some misinformation in the description as well (for example the 5.9 pitch through the roof [super sweet by the way] is definitely shorter than 130 feet, my 70m rope was no where near half way when I used the described belays). A full topo and beta on the descent would be a nice touch.

Also, the next person to climb this would do a great service to bring extra cord/webbing to replace the existing rap-stations as well. Sep 8, 2012
Charles Vernon
mind & body in Colorado, he…
Charles Vernon   mind & body in Colorado, he…
I have done the route two more times since I wrote the description above and I think I have done every variation except for the 10d seam. So I think I know it fairly well now and when I get a chance, I'll redo it. Alternatively, if you or someone else who knows the route well wants to do it, I have no problem with that, but you'll probably have to contact an admin.

I think you are right about the length of the 5.9 fist pitch. What other info did you find misleading and what other aspects of the description did you find confusing?

There are so many variations to this route (including the west-side variation to the 5.9 fists, which isn't even described here) that the description will necessarily be a bit complicated. I guess you could make three completely separate entries, but there really aren't anything close to 3 fully distinct routes, so I don't know if that makes sense.

Also, note that descent beta (including, in the comments, beta on the rappel route) can be found on the rock page. Sep 9, 2012
Brian Milhaupt
Golden, CO
Brian Milhaupt   Golden, CO
To add to the notion that there is more than one way to climb this. We climbed the entire route including the approach paralleling another party.

Climb the grassy angling ledge across the SE face to the arete. Alternatively hike up the west gully to a giant grassy ledge that takes you back right to the arete. The traverse takes less time, but if you hike the gully, you won't need approach shoes for the descent.

From here, climb as close to the arete as you choose. We stayed on the arete proper through the crux pitch. Our neighbors stayed around 20 right of there. They climbed the right-facing dihedral past the roofs. We climbed straight up through the fist crack next to the arete.

Staying on the arete after that takes you to the spot where you can go back right to the easy finish or stay left on the west face passing the gendarme mentioned above. A 5.8 pitch takes you to the vertical shield just back onto the east face. The next pitch is the best of the climb and probably 5.9+. Check out the exposure below you! Stretch this to the top. Jul 21, 2014
Some potential beta on the elusive P4 "chimney." If this feels wrong to someone who knows the "true" P4 chimney, let me know.

We found a 5.6-ish chimney at the end of a ledge just after the first part of P3. You climb a short, vertical part of P3 and then come across a prominent ledge system with a rock pinnacle to your left. The natural line definitely feels like it keeps going up, but the chimney is to the far left here (going straight up leads to the 10+ seam). To get to the chimney, traverse left between the pinnacle and the main rock face, step across a gap, and set up a belay under this chimney / dihedral.

We started up this pitch but went too far, missing the 5.9 finger crack (although we did have some enjoyable 5.9-ish climbing by turning the arete up higher). Looking back, it feels like the first notch you come across on this pitch is the right place to cross over for the 5.9 crack (with a white-ish rock band). Sep 11, 2016
Jeremy Kasmann
Denver, CO
Jeremy Kasmann   Denver, CO
We thought the routefinding was straightforward, and it lines up with the MP description. The only thing that gave us pause was the description from the book (2015? edition). My guess is the pitch lengths are off, as you would need to do very short pitches to do it in 7. 5 pitches is reasonable w/o any rope stretchers, 6 if you want to belay after the 2nd 5.9 pitch. Jul 10, 2017
Jon Lyon
Golden, CO
Jon Lyon   Golden, CO
Let's put this "elusive chimney" nonsense to rest. There is a cozy belay between the pillar and the left side of the arete (southwest face) of the route at the top of the 3 pitch (5.8). From here, look straight up, and you will see a weakness that brings you back to the east side of the arete to the 5.9 finish. Take the easiest path on the left (southwest) side of the arete. It's definitely not a chimney, but you may do one chimney-ish move. I thought it was a little harder than 5.6 but only because of its awkwardness. Also, if you're at this point and a storm is rolling in, you can traverse this ledge to the rappel route. The traverse is low 5th Class, so you can move quickly. Jul 17, 2018