Notching Off Notch Mountain
Updated: Apr 19, 2021
Base Elevation: ~10,050
Summit Elevation: 11,258
Elevation Gain: 1,368
Round Trip Distance: 7.8 miles
Moving Time: 3:45
Date: November 1, 2020
I have gotten to know this region of the Uintas quite well as I have skied, hiked and snowmobiled around many of these peaks including Watson, Reids, Bald, and Murdock so naturally, the Notch has been on my checklist.
The Notch Mountain is actually two peaks (west and east) separated by a short saddle. The summit elevation differential of the two peaks is a mere 5 feet with the eastern peak being the taller peak at 11,263 compared to 11,258 of the western peak. There is no defined trail to either peak so reaching the summits will require some bushwhacking and scrambling but that is what makes summiting so much fun. I always prefer doing a loop hike as opposed to an out and back hike. As such, we elected to do a clockwise loop starting at the Crystal Lake Trailhead and heading towards Clyde Lake and then coming back on the eastern side of Wall Lake. Furthermore, my summiting partner, Chase, was visiting from LA so taking a more circuitous route was preferred to given him a better experience.
To reach the Crystal Lake Trailhead, drive 26 miles on Mirror Lake Highway from Kamas until you see the exits for Washington/Crystal/Trial Lake parking area. Drive to the end of the road following signs for the Crystal Lake Trailhead. Be forewarned that this parking lot might be the most popular parking lot in the Uintas so it fills up quickly in the summer months.
The Crystal Lake trailhead evaluation is just over 10,000 so you starting at roughly the same elevation as the top of the Jupiter Lift at Park City Resort. Take the Crystal Trail for about a mile and turn right at the Cliff Lake sign. If you go left- you will head towards Long Lake. After passing Cliff Lake, you will pass a series of other lakes including Petite, Linear, and Watson. As you pass Watson Lake, you will enjoy spectacular views of the steep and formidable east face of Mt. Watson. I have stood on the top of this peak and I contemplated skiing the eastern face and it is very imposing and presents substantial risk due to its avalanche propensity. Continue on the well-marked path to the north side of Clyde Lake. A few hundred yards past Clyde Lake is North Twin Lake and at this point you have two options: turn north towards the summit and begin your steep scramble up the western Notch or continue along the trail and turn left towards the Notch’s saddle and then head up the ridge to the summit. I read two different reports on how to summit the western Notch and one advocated scrambling up above North Twin Lake and the other report suggested taking the ridge from the saddle. In either scenario, reaching the summit will require gong off trail so pick your poison. We elected to hike to the saddle and then up the western ridge. This approach seemed more intuitive as you remain on the trail longer. However, going up the ridge requires some major bushwhacking through some low trees/brush. The ridge route does offer a more scenic approach as you get views to the north and given that you are closer to the eastern peak- you get a better perceptive of that mountain. As such, my recommendation would be to take the ridge route and just deal with the bushwhacking.
One of my objectives of scaling this peak was to check out the potential ski lines. I read that the northern side of the western peak offered some challenging lines which I can now confirm is most certainly the case. There is a very steep line right from the summit that is about 600 feet of steep and sustained vert.
As you continue to hike west along the ridge, some other more moderate lines come into view. And from the summit, you can see a challenging chute on the western side of the eastern Notch pictured below.
After summiting the western peak, we contemplated hiking back down to the saddle and summiting the eastern peak of the Notch but I was limited on time so we elected to be satisfied with the western summit today. Because of the tight brush along the ridge, we decided to descend slightly to the west of the ridge thus avoiding the overgrown bush. This descent was most certainly quicker but you have to be cautious of the loose boulders.
We rejoined the trail near the North Twin Lake and then continued on our clockwise loop towards Hope and Wall Lake.
And since we just summited the Notch Mountain, we felt obligated to pay a visit to The Notch restaurant on our way back to Kamas. The Notch pub is one of my favorite places to grab some grub and have a beer. According to Chase, the wings at the Notch are the best in the Park City area!