Taking my climbing gear for a walk – Notch Top Mountain

A quick overnight (attempted) alpine climb to Notch Top. We were going to do the Spiral Route, but the 60+ MPH gusts on Sunday morning made us bag the trip. Still, a nice overnighter if anything else….


Over the course of my outdoor 'career', I have grown to enjoy more outdoor activities that complement my preferred type of trail: Covering distance as opposed to speed. Getting to places that are a little off the beaten path instead popular routes. And increasingly getting more vertical.

Over the past few seasons, I've done more and more alpine climbing.  Rather than pull up to a spot on a road with perhaps a twenty minute walk, I am enjoying the climbing where there is a long approach (hike!) and then some technical climbing.

The climbing itself is seldom difficult (no more than 5.6) but it a physical challenge and where new sights not seen by most. Most climber's don't enjoy hiking….many hiker's don't climb. Makes for an area a little more isolated, a little more lonely and perhaps a little more lovely.

The chosen destination for the weekend was Notch Top via the Spiral Route. Right next to the Continental Divide up in Rocky Mountain Park, it is normally done as a day trip. With the heat in town, being out overnight was appealing.  And anytime you be out in the mountains and seeing the night sky above is always better!

My buddy Mark and I started later in the day and received a bivy permit from the park.  A bivy permit simply means that a person is doing a technical climb and will be camping in a non-established camping area with no erected structure (e.g. a tent). No bear canister is needed as well.  For an experienced thru-hiker, the camping sounded suspiciously familiar.  🙂

Bivy below Notchtop

Up the trail we went in the late afternoon sun. With daylight well until 9PM, time was not an issue.

As we walked up the trail, I could not help but be astounded at how low the snow levels were for this time the year.  A low snow year coupled with hot and dry weather left the mountains and trails nearly snow free.

Longs Peak. Very little snow for this time of the year.


At lake Helene, we took a climber's trail away from the main trail and made our way to the bivy location.  Notch Top was spotted in the stark and beautiful alpine terrain.


Camp was made. And I made use of the nearby snow bank to chill one of the essential for a short overnighter: Beer!

someone's family is not far from Cologne (Koln). I like the views in CO better! 😉


We settled in for the evening and enjoyed the mild weather.  As we looked over from our campsite, could see the beginnings of what is now (June 18th, 2012)  a nearly   60k acre fire: The High Park fire


The night proved to be warm and pleasant.  

At about 4am or so, the winds picked up.  According to weather reports we saw after, the gusts were 60+ MPH.

Not the best conditions for climbing even if the mountains looked gorgeous in the morning alpenglow.



Getting out of the warm bags to face the wind and cold was not an option that was appealing.

Instead we were thankful for our sheltered bivy spot and enjoy some hot coffee while looking above.

Once packed up, we quickly decided to bail on the trip. Literally getting blown over at one point made us fully commit to the decision.

Made our way down the trail and into the trees where the fierce winds turned into merely breezy weather. The car was reached and we did plan B (Lumpy Ridge) that also turned into a hike because of raptor closures!  So it goes…

Not the overnighter planned, but still pleasant.  Any time spent sleeping outdoors is not a bad thing. 😉

All the photos

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Rick Casey
Rick Casey
11 years ago

Hi Mark,
I was there in RMNP that morning too, with the CMC doing a snow class. We never reached our intended destination of Ptarmigan Glacier either, due to the wind. Surprised we didn’t see you on your way out; maybe we just missed each other. We started hiking in around 5:30am….