Type: Trad, Alpine, Grade II
FA: unknown
Page Views: 15,889 total · 74/month
Shared By: Julian Smith on Jun 16, 2001
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

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Access Issue: Seasonal Closures Details


Begin the approach at the Bear Lake parking Lot. Go around Bear Lake counter-clockwise a short ways until the Fern Lake trail angles off to the right. Watch for several trail junctions. Each one is well signed. Just follow directions for Fern Lake. At 2.8 miles from Bear Lake, the trail reaches a saddle between Joe Mills Mountain and Notchtop Mountain. Look for a very obvious trail to the left that descends to Lake Helene. There is no sign for this trail, but it is easy enough to stumble across. Work counter-clockwise around Lake Helene. At the end of the lake, follow the trail uphill. The trail is braided, but keep an eye out for the path that is most well used. Eventually, the path works its way up through a gully. The upper part of this gully can contain a small snow patch until mid-summer. Always keep an eye out for cairns and the best path as it goes over a series of rock humps to reach a small lake at the base of Notchtop's south ridge at 0.7 miles from Lake Helene.

With Notchtop's south ridge soaring above, work across the bottom of the lake and uphill to the left, through mild talus and grassy slopes. After entering the gully, look for a ramp going up to the right that would lead back to the south ridge. It should look very easy and is in a small cirque with large boulders at its base. An easy scramble leads to a nice perch on the ridge crest. This makes a nice place to rope up and/or put on climbing shoes.

With a two hundred foot rope, two pitches can be made of a series of rock steps in the ridge. These steps are separated by low angle spots that can be used as alternate belays with a shorter rope. Many different paths are obvious on the initial pitches. Look for a cool line and enjoy. Eventually find a belay beneath the south ridge as it increasingly steepens above. A grassy ledge leads right around a spectacular corner. It is never very difficult and is nicely protected for both the leader and the second. Stretch the rope out to a belay beneath the east meadow.

The "notch" should be visible above you. Follow the path of least resistance for a rambling pitch up the east meadow. Find a belay beneath a steep headwall that blocks access to the notch. Look for the easiest path path through the headwall. It should be a crack on the left that is well protected. It goes up to a small roof, where a step to the left leads to easy terrain. This is one of the best pitches on the route.

From the notch, scramble south along a ledge until it is possible to scramble to the summit of the Notch Spire. Keep in mind that this ledge is on the opposite side of the mountain that the climb was on. It is very obvious. Enjoy the summit of the spire. It is very small and very cool.

After descending the spire, work uphill to the north. The goal is to find the West Gully, a third class gully, full of yucky talus, that descends to the lake at the base of the route. Look for some cairns and and a well worn path. Several rap stations appear, but the cliffs below are long, and the trail goes right beneath them anyway. The scramble from the notch to the West Gully is longer and more intricate than would be expected. Don't worry, just look carefully for the path everybody else has used before. Some snow may be in the upper part of the West Gully until mid-summer. This traverse is not a good place to be caught in a big electrical storm. Maybe that's why there are several rap stations encountered along the traverse.

Descend the West Gully down to the start of the route. This is the traverse from the gully to the ridge line. Pick-up any stashed gear or head directly down to the Lake. Reverse the approach to Lake Helene and Bear Lake via the Fern Lake trail.

This is a wonderful route and not too sustained for its grade. It is a good first time route for someone looking to do a moderate tour in the mountains. It is a wonderful route to cruise 3rd class. With a two hundred foot rope, it can easily be done in 5 pitches. Enjoy.


Standard rack for RMNP.
The last pitch described above is incorrect. The headwall with the small roof is another route called Mornin' and is 5.7 NOT 5.4. Still a great pitch but not the kind of place to put in your first 5.7 lead. What you want to do from the East Meadow is to angle left to some steps and a ramp that goes under Notchtop Spire and right to the notch. This tends to be very grassy and wet and just not a fun place in rock shoes. As far as the descent goes the only thing to remember is to go directly over the true summit and down the obvious well traveled ledge systems. (hey guys edit this as you wish, just thought I would point this out. Love your website. Hey I just registered my name is Sean Murphy and I climbed this route for the second time last Sunday). Jul 31, 2001
Brice W  
I agree with the comments about that last pitch. If you go up the headwall with a small roof, it definitely feels like 5.7. Unfortunately I found this out by leading it in my mountaineering boots (we'd left our rock shoes at home). Had I not been trembling and cursing my luck for deciding to lead that pitch (there was some wet rock also), I think it would have been enjoyable. I do remember a fixed pin in one of the cracks. Once you get to the top, be prepared for an exposed, slightly hairy descent over to the gully. Aug 2, 2001
I agree with Julian on the last pitch up to the notch. It has been a year since I've done it, but I distinctly remember the traverse to the left under the roof - it was probably what I would call the crux of the climb, but it is easy to protect and no harder than 5.4-5.5 (I was in mountaineering boots, also). After that, it is a cruiser to the notch. The ramps to the left that are directly under the spire seemed very wet and slippery to me last time, definitely less aesthetic than going directly up the headwall. As for the descent, the traverse along the arete is really exposed over some very loose rock; it has the potential to be very dangerous. Don't try the rappels into the gully to the south - the anchors get worse as you go down, culminating in a tied-off sketchy chockstone and a fixed #4 nut. I have heard that there are a series of bolted rappels down the west or northwest face of the spire; I will be looking for those next time. Jun 4, 2002
Went up on September 10 to climb the South Ridge. Dropping temps and sleet prompted us to change our route to the Spiral Route. What would normally be a fun and easy route turned fairly serious with a thin layer of ice and climbing with approach shoes and wool gloves. Winds above the East Meadow were 30-40 mph gusting up to 50+mph. Even if one had excellent weather, the route above the East Meadow goes at 5.7 or so. I certainly did not see the 5.4 route above the Meadow. On this day my gloves had gotten wet down below and then froze when I reached the East Meadow. Climbing the icy 5.7 pitch above the East Meadow with frozen wool gloves was really fun. It felt like the equivalent of trying to climb the J Crack wearing roller blades! My fingers were numb and then above that pitch was welcomed by really scary winds and sleet. Gillet's calls the descent "problematic". In freezing temps with sleet wearing rock gear, that description was a huge understatement. After making the summitt our rope froze. That made our icy traverse around to the col scary as hell. I personally do not feel climbing the route in good weather is worth the sketchy descent. All in all it was a hell of a route in lousy weather. Sep 24, 2003
Soloed up this today, and I wouldnt call it a three star...to much frikin hiking ... does anyone else agree? The summit is worthwhile, but otherwise the actual climbing seemed short. Gillet describes the descent as problematic, but it is not that bad although I did not see a "gendarme" or any other French law enforcement personnel just some seriously scary rap stations. Be very careful in the descent gully as it is very loose. Jul 11, 2004
Rob Mullen  
Definitely not a three star route, but two stars for the position it achieves on the mountain winding its way around and through the imposing east face. On the approach I found myself thinking "We're climbing up THAT!?!?"

The climbing is good but short lived. We found the to be VERY problematic, it took just as long as the ascent, we tried rapping down with eventual success after many mini epics. Jul 12, 2004
I also ended up at the headwall at the top of the east meadow. The obvious scrambling will take you there and it seems like most people end up there. I'd call the pitch we did on the left side of the headwall at least 5.6 and I don't think there's an easier line on that wall. I guess the easier way is somewhere on the left as you scramble up towards the headwall. Did the traversing decend below the crest as described in Roach's RMNP book, (a great guide for scrambles and easy climbs) and found it scary enough to justify belay's in a couple spots. Jul 26, 2004
A fine day in the mountains. Jul 10, 2005
Rick Witting  
Climbed the route on 7/16. No one else on the mountain. The [conundrum] about the East Cirque headwall dificulties can be addressed by angling left on grassy ledges to a right facing dihedral. This goes at no more than 5.4, probably less, all the way to the notch, in 2 pitches on a 50 M rope. The traverse on the NW ridge to the SE gully is probably the crux. It's exposed, but there are good holds and a faint trail on the ledges. The most difficult part is the sections of downclimbing, but it all goes. There is still snow in the gully, but it can be avoided. Jul 19, 2005
Legs Magillicutty   Durango
The descent for my partner and I was where the adventure began. This route was like a mini Lone Eagle NF route. The big difference is that all though Lone Eagle had a lot of hiking and scrambling, it also offered some really good pitches of climbing. The only worthy pitch of the day was our finish on Morning. The Spiral Route was fun but I'd say its kind of a waste of time if you and your partner have the experience and fortitude to climb harder. There wasn't enough technical climbing on it to feed my hunger. It was over at the blink of an eye! But the peak is really an awe inspiring peak. I'd never climbed in that cirque before and my jaw dropped when I first saw Notchtop. The N. Ridge on Speerhead was my favorite alpine n00b route but due to the diversity, ease of climbing and the added challenge of getting down, I'd say that this route comes in 1st place for routes to take beginner alpine climbers on. As far as the descent goes, my partner and I decided not to do the walkoff. It was snowing and thunder storms were bearing down on top of us. Our ropes got stuck on the way down and we somehow missed a vital rap stataion, if it even exists. But we made it down and both agreed that it turned out to be a pretty cool little adventure. Thanks to the climber who was communicating with us and came back to check up on us on our way down. Aug 23, 2005
Andy Leach
Denver, CO
Andy Leach   Denver, CO
I climbed Notchtop's Spiral Route on 6/25/06. I thought it was a fun climb in spectacular setting. But it's true that the technical climbing is quite short - still fun though for us relative newbies.

Trip Report: leachfam.com/securearea/1st…
Photos: leachfam.com/securearea/sub…
Video: leachfam.com/securearea/1mo… Jun 27, 2006
Amos Patrick
Estes Park
Amos Patrick   Estes Park
Killer route, especially for a newbie alpinist. Molly and I did the route on June 29 and had a great time. You can see pics here


I did not think the descent was too difficult to follow. Yes it was tedious and exposed but as long as you resist the urge to rappel you should be OK. Jul 11, 2007
Crag Dweller
New York, NY
Crag Dweller   New York, NY
Climbed this today. It was okay but it's not worth the hike IMO. Each pitch has a couple fun moves but there's far more scrambling over rock ledges covered in vegetation than climbing.

Also, might I suggest that people posting route information use the return key occasionally? It's painful to try and read the description on here. Aug 23, 2009
john bicknell
john bicknell   Longmont
I love the route. Guided it I don't know how many times. It's not rockclimbing, which is why many comments talk about too much walking. It's mountaineering, and both up and down the Spiral is superb for learning how to move in the mountains-- when to pitch, when to move together, when to shorten the rope or drop it--it's great. And it gets you to a beautiful summit. Sep 16, 2010
Boulder, CO
talkinrocks   Boulder, CO
I agree with Bicknell. A good route. Can be done easily and still give some butterflies in the 'taint spot.

While comparable, I enjoyed this climb much more than Lone Eagle.

The rap beta here on MP is right on. Easy rap route, however the top summit block rappel anchor was torn and chewed (marmots) as of July '11. We didn't stop to fix it, instead chose the downclimb to the first bolt station (which was scary for the second). Thanks for the rappel topo! Sep 18, 2011
Simon Thompson
New Paltz, NY
Simon Thompson   New Paltz, NY
As mentioned above, this is more of a mountaineering route than a rock climb. The first two pitches go around 5.4, and after that, there aren't more than a few 5th class moves if the correct line is chosen. Though easy, the Spiral Route provides incredible positioning and a fantastic summit.

The descent was pretty easy for us. We had double ropes and used the bolted rap stations on the West Face. From the summit: reverse the final 4th class section to return to the large talus ledge above the West face (to the SW of the notch.) Downclimb the very exposed 3rd/4th class gully below for a short while to a cramped exposed ledge that leads around the corner (skier's left) to the first bolted rap station. The final two rap stations aren't hard to locate as you descend. This descent is very apparent if you have the Gillett guidebook. All in all, the whole descent was straightforward and took us little over an hour. Jun 25, 2012
Dave Bn
Boise, ID
Dave Bn   Boise, ID
Done this route twice both times with different second pitches. Might have missed it, but I don't think this route can be done easier than 5.5-5.6. Awesome position and fun route though. To me, the descent was the mental crux (4th to low 5th traverse and dirty gully descent). Jul 16, 2013
Bruce Lacroix
Sparks, NV
Bruce Lacroix   Sparks, NV
IMO. I just did this route for the first time using the beta found here. I thought it was 5.4. Never put my climbing shoes on. I did wander around a bit, looking for the easiest line. I don't free solo much, but I have climbed quite a few peaks. Descent was pretty straightforward, no 5th class. Jul 4, 2016
Bogdan P
Boulder, CO
Bogdan P   Boulder, CO
This is a good route for practicing simulclimbing tactics for classic Alpine routes. To get the most out of this route, do it in mountaineering boots on 100' of rope. That length will comfortably span all the rock steps but without causing undo rope drag. Sep 24, 2018