OverviewWe did a lot of research on this one before climbing it, so I'll pass it on.
The East Face of Notchtop Mountain (sometimes named the North Face or NE Face) is one of those "climb it when it's in" routes, no doubt it is one of the hottest alpine routes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Although the route is best climbed in late autumn / early winter before any significant snow accumulates, you also must wait for thick enough ice to develop or it's a rock scramble. The best years to climb this one are those years that your skier-pals are crying about very little snowfall and it's getting cold at night.
1300 total vertical feet:
500' 30-degree snow, 500' ice, 400' 50-degree snow.
Rated from: M1 AI3+ grade III
to: M2+ AI4 grade IV
(depending on conditions)
FA: Tom Hornbein and Bob Frauson, 1952.
Getting ThereStart at Bear Lake in RMNP (9450'). Head north toward Lake Helene and the Ptarmagin Valely. There are 2 options to approach the base of the climb from Lake Helene: 1) Follow the bowl west above Grace Falls then use routefinding through the steeper sections of the lower east face to gain the start of P1. 2) Continue on trail about 1/4 miles past Lake Helene towards Odessa Lake. Then drop into and across the Odessa Gorge aiming for the left side of the talus field which is on the north side of the E Face (just south of the Guide's Wall). Route-find your way to the base of P1.
Not sure which approach is safer when there is higher avalanche danger. Probably neither.
P1: 30m (WI2) This short pitch is a nice warmup, free solo or belay from left side to avoid debris. Climb above the first ice and head for the rock just to the right of the next waterfall where you will find a couple pins and a nut for belay under a protective overhang.
P2: 40m (WI3+)crux Climb vertical ice then up to a rocky section of your choice for anchor.
Simul/free climb (up and right around some low angled rock reaching the base of the next steep section of ice.
P3: 50m (M1 WI2) An easy 20m pitch of ice leads to 30m of low-angled snow and mixed. Head for the next steep section of ice where you will find a nice crack and a couple more pins on the right side.
P4: 45m (WI3) Belayer should keep right and protected by rock. This is a good sustained vertical section of ice that leads to steep snow and a rock band that can be used for anchoring.
From the top of P4 a decision must be made because there are a few options for exiting.
1) Follow rock band up and right to a short ice section (8m) then head straight up through 50-degree snow to the ridge top and summit(cornice sometimes).
2) It looked like it was possible to trend up and right and exit onto the ridge to the north. Some difficulties on that ridge might be avoided to the north side.
3) Trend up and left through 50-degree snow to the upper saddle above the main "notch" on the southern flank of the upper E face. From here there are yet 3 possible exits.
3a) Summit the Notchtop spire and rappel the south face (4 pitches) to the southern gully. You should be familiar with the anchor locations and lenghts before heading for this one. Return to Lake Helene.
3b) Cross over saddle and descend southern couloir which leads to the base of the spire climbs. Return to Lake Helene. Best route but no summit.
3c) (M2+) Continue up SE "ridge" missing any difficulties on the north. When you reach the final summit block take the ramp that leads up and right straight to the summit. Descend along continental divide south to the Flattop trail and head east following the "Flattop Trail" back to Bear Lake.
4) Rappel the route after the final waterfall.
Essential GearKnowledge of avy danger and current conditions!
Small rack from #0 C2 to #3 camalot, nuts, 6-7 ice screws, think about a two-rope system if planning a rappel.
Headlamp! It's bigger than you're thinkin'.
Here's a great link for current weather and route descriptions:
climbinglife.com click on current conditions or find notchtop route description.