Notch Peak

Elevation: 9,655
Location: House Range, Utah

Notch Peak is famous for it's huge west and north faces. They are the highest cliffs in the state and among the highest in the entire country. That makes this remote peak a popular objective for hikers anxious to see the view down these cliffs.

Notch's north-facing cliff from near summit Much like Wheeler Peak in Nevada which I had been on in '97 and '98, the drive to Notch Peak requires a woefully boring drive through some of Utah's west desert. Allen and I did the climb in September of 2000. We opted to leave Salt Lake on friday nite, driving through horrible traffic and arriving in Delta just before 11pm. We grabbed a late dinner from McDonalds and hit the sack for our early trip to Notch Peak. Even from Delta, some 50 plus miles away the peak is obvious from it's sharp point. We arose early and headed out on a clear day. After driving the main road (50/6) for about 50 miles, we branched off on a dirt road that would have to be followed for about eight more miles to the trailhead into Sawtooth Canyon. The road started good, but got worse the higher we got in Allen's Chevy Corsica. After plunking a few rocks we abandoned driving any higher at the Buhanan Cabin at about 6,700 feet. From here it was a 20 minute walk up the rocky dirt road (about 3/4 of a mile) to the official trailhead.

From the trailhead, we headed into the canyon on a fairly clear trail, taking a branch to the left after a ways (to the west). It is shady and cool and quite welcome on the trip down. Nevertheless, in the desert, I don't reccomend this hike in the heat of summer. The hike up this shady gorge is very pretty in spots and feels a little like Zion National Park. Finally we reached a block in the trail by a large tree. Two guys were ahead of us scrambling up a steep slope of loose rock and shrubbery. We started to follow them up, but we missed dropping back into the canyon. This forced us onto the northern ridge, which wasn't too bad, just off-route. It was pretty easy walking once up this steep few hundred feet all the way to a point due west of the high peak, offering a spectacular view into the cirque. The Tule Valley sits some 4,500 feet almost straight down. I expected the big cliff from Notch Peak (which is absolutely huge!), but I did not expect the cliffs on nearby peaks to the north. Dropping to a nearby saddle, the peak is a steep climb of just a few hundred feet up more of the same type of terrain. I personally preferred the view from this spur ridge.

Impressive cliffs north of Notch Peak We lost a good deal of time on what we thought was going to be a four or five hour hike roundtrip by taking the wrong route. Our descent was more of the same, slow going and having to work our way down the steep and rocky slope to get to the trail. Once on the trail, it was an easy walk out the scenic canyon. Unfortunately we still had to drive the horrid road for a few miles. Once past this it was clear sailing all the way back to McDonalds in Delta and a call to the wife to say I'm gonna be three hours late. Nevertheless, it was a good trip, and one that I would happily do again with a higher clearance vehicle and someone who knows the route a little better than we did. The views of the cirque were outstanding, top notch mountain scenery.

The roundtrip was about nine miles, climbing around 2,800 feet to the summit. From Salt Lake you'd want to start either very early in the morning or stay a night in Delta as we did. Bring a lot of water as there is none in the canyon. An excellent hike that I would reccomend to any avid hiker or climber in the Salt Lake area.

2001 Update: I made a return trip to Notch Peak in November of 2001 to climb this fascinating peak once again. This time it was Dan and some of his buddies who were organizing the trip, and I was pretty much tagging along. They wanted to try a different route than the standard route up Sawtooth Canyon. We would be driving dirt roads on the north side of the peak to a pass just below "Pine Peak". From here it looked like a fairly easy ridge walk to Notch Peak, with spectacular views not seen from the standard route.

We started from SLC bright and early, but with time spent picking up various people we quickly got behind schedule, and with Dan's blazer not running very well we lost even more time. We finally made the dirt road turnoff for Notch Peak. We quickly passed the road leading up to Sawtooth Canyon, but struggled to find the proper road to turn west on to get to the desired pass. We struggled finding the right roads, and plowing thru parts of the road already covered in snow (very nearly getting stuck in one place).

North face of Notch Peak from area near Pine Peak By the time we reached the highest point we could drive on the road (a little short of the pass due to snow), it was nearly 1:00pm already! We walked up the snowy road up to the top of Pine Peak, which was short but steep. From Pine Peak there are great views to the west of the Tule Valley, but Notch Peak was not yet visible. We continued along the ridge southwards along faint trails, and easy off-trail walking thru scrub trees and rocks. A sharp peak rose above with a sheer drop to the west, but the climb up was fun making sure to stay away from the edge. From this peak we could see Notch Peak was still at least an hour's hike away.

From the top of this peak we could finally see Notch Peak and it's sheer north face, one of the most impressive sites in Utah for sure! With time running low and a long, long drive back home, as well as an approaching storm, we decided to enjoy the views from this peak. We had some snacks and drinks, took many pictures and headed back. Along the walk back we got buzzed by some F-16's flying overhead. The hillsides were laden with Bristlecone Pines, some of the oldest trees in the west.

Fortunately for us, the drive home was easier than the drive in. The road apparently does a loop and the road out is not the same as the road we drove up. Rather than driving back south to reach US 50/6, we drove directly east on the "Old Highway", a dirt road, but easily driven in Dan's blazer. Simply put, a passenger car could not make it up to where we started hiking from. The drive home included a stop in Delta at the McDonalds for burgers and a drive back to Salt Lake listening to the annual BYU/Utah football game. If you have the vehicle and proper maps this route is a classic, yielding some great scenery.