Notch Peak Utah offers some of the more remote climbing in the lower 48. Located approximately 100 miles west of I-15 in Utah and 50 miles east from the desolate NV/UT border, its north face is listed by Wikipedia as the “second highest pure vertical drop in the United States after El Capitan.” The rock is some of the worst I have climbed on and I spent 12 years trad climbing in the Canadian Rockies! However, what makes this one of the more interesting places I have climbed, besides its genuine remoteness, is the fact that on approach to the north face you pass Joshua Tree like granite towers/crack formations with fantastic climbing potential. If this area had been coupled with a water source, who knows how developed (from a climbing perspective) this location might have become. The irony is that you pass this beautiful granite on your way to climb some of the chossiest limestone walls you will ever get on. We also had two interesting insect encounters up the main canyon, tons of tarantula hawks and the desert skunk beetle. Both fascinating creatures in their own right located in an equally fascinating section of the southwestern desert.
Robert Price and Tom Lyde established Book of Saturdays in 1999. It is the furthest climb to reach via the approach canyon which makes it the most shaded. It is true north facing. We climbed it in mid-August in very comfortable temps. Although rated an Alpine IV climb in the only guide book that features it as of 2013, Jame Garrett’s, IBEX and Selected Climbs of Utah's West Desert (2001), like many desert climbs rated IV (and rated V on Mountain Project) it is still just a comfortable day climb for the competent party. The only 5.11 climbing involves a few bolted moves on the second pitch. We chose to go with two 60m ropes due to the rap setup. Therefore we only combined pitches 1-2 and 5-6 although with a 70m and a bit of simul-climbing, you could combine all the pitches. My partner and I had a lot of history and knew we could switch leads quickly so were not motivated to combine pitches. In retrospect, I was glad we had made that decision based more on potential rock fall caused by rope drag than anything else. Most all the 5.10 climbing is well protected by fixed pro. All the stations are bolted. The R rating Mountain Project has Book of Saturday listed at is not something I would call the route myself. Most run out sections are across easy terrain. The main concern of this route, without a doubt, is the rock fall hazard. It is loose and dirty. I even broke a hold on the steep 5.10c pitch. What would serve as bomber chicken heads on granite and/or sandstone, can break away on this face. Every hold and block has to be checked. All the belays are fixed on comfortable ledges. The preferred descent is to rap the route. We spent approximately 6 hours on the climb.
Whether driving west out of Delta, UT (approximately 53 miles) or east from the NV border, head north off of highway 50 on a dirt washboard road named Tule Valley. Although it might not be marked with a road name sign, when coming from the west there is a sign that points to Painter Springs and this is the road you want. The shorter of two accesses to this road is located at mile marker 30 something (low 30’s). These two access roads merge and continue north. After about 10k (6.2 miles) you come to another similar road coming in from the west. To the right is a road that leads to a small gravel pit. Park any passenger cars here. 4X4’s with decent clearance can continue down into the wash following it east. At a fork, stay right. You will soon dead end into another wash.
The canyon heading for the north face of Notch Peak starts 200m south of the dead end. Hike up wash and follow the contour of the granite cliffs right to enter the main canyon. Hike up canyon. It eventually narrows to a point that you will be scrambling/climbing through some 5th class terrain via rebar and a multitude of fixed ropes. The last of these ropes ascends a slab up and left out of the bottom of the wash. Cross back south above the wash and hike west along the base of the first cliff encountered below the north face until you can scramble up through it. Then backtrack east along the main wall to the base of the route. If you reach a fixed rope along the base, you have gone a few meters too far. The route starts just right of the arête back west. That fixed rope leads to a fixed station so you can rap that first cliff you just contoured, on descent. The approach should take most fit climbers anywhere from 2-3 hours.
Route DescriptionBook of Saturdays, 1400’+/-, 5.11
1st-2nd Pitches- 50m- 5.11/ Despite offering the crux climbing of the day, these pitches also make the most obvious to combine in terms of being fairly straight. Follow the many bolts starting in a right facing corner supplementing with gear where feasible. The first pitch belay is on a ledge. To continue, traverse right a meter to a nice corner. Climb it and hit the crux moves of the entire route as you pull a roof up and left to a comfortable belay ledge.
3rd Pitch- 30m- 5.6/ Climb up and left a bit into a chimney of sorts and climb through loose blocks to another comfortable edge.
4th Pitch- 50m- 5.9/ This is the best quality rock pitch en route. Head up left via features through a stem corner, then trend back right up the face following the bolts to a smaller, but still comfortable ledge. The rock on the north face will only deteriorate from here.
5th-6th Pitches- 70m- 5.8/ Despite only having 60m ropes, we simul-climbed this combination no worries. These two are the most run out pitches of the route and perhaps one of the reasons why Mountain Project consensus gives this route an R rating. This is also some of the worst rock of the day (but we will definitely reserve top honors for the last pitch). Move right and enter the wide chasm and mostly face climb left to right to left on fragile face through loose rock. A few cracks exist, but I only placed two pieces besides the spaced out fixed pro. Most of the cracks are nothing more than cracks between blocks. Climb right of the arch and then trend back left above it to a narrow ledge, but still comfortable belay.
7th Pitch- 20m- 5.9/ The rock still does not warrant a lot of confidence. Mostly follow the bolts up and left.
8th Pitch- 50m- 5.10c/ These upper 5.10 pitches are not bolted optimally and we read somewhere that the upper pitches on this line were in fact bolted on rappel and that would explain it. Some of the potential ankle buster ledges were not protected well whilst there was overkill on bolts in other sections. I did get maybe two gear pieces in on this face pitch, but broke a hold at the crux section and could have hit a ledge. I maintained my balance but this is where I confirmed that the “chicken head” type features on limestone were not to be trusted as much as their brethren varnished knobs at Red Rock and/or the similar granite features at Yosemite. You still need to rely on them to climb this pitch since it is mostly face climbing up a steep section of the wall to yet another comfortable belay.
9th Pitch- 55m- 5.10a/ Traverse out left and up to a left facing corner. Follow this well bolted pitch up the right side of the corner and through some precarious stacked blocks, but easy climbing to a comfortable belay.
10th Pitch- 30m- 5.7/ A non-descript pitch following the bolts straight up. Easiest pitch of the day.
11th Pitch- 50m- 5.10b/ Several have gotten off route on this pitch by trending too far right or too far left. At the chossy roof, it is easier to move right around its end, but you can surmount it at the grade on suspect rock which will be run-out but more in line with the bolts above. The bolts are straight up from there, trending slightly right and hard to find. The belay is back left. Not a fun pitch, mostly choss face climbing.
12th Pitch- 30m- 5.8/ Just when you thought the rock could not get any worse, it does. This last pitch is so reminiscent of the Canadian Rockies, think Yamnuska on a rarely climbed line. You are mostly climbing through stacked blocks. Start in a chossy right facing corner. Pull out left at its top and move up the next section taking your time to locate the bolts if for no other reason than to make you feel better about the poor rock quality. The top of the route is not straight up but rather out left on a decent sized ledge with a fixed rap and summit log book in 2013.