Notch Peak: Utah's equivalent of El Capitan

Hidden away in the House Range 50 miles west of Delta, nearly to the Nevada border, is one of the highest cliffs in North America with a vertical drop of 2,200 feet!

If you were to drive west from Delta on Highway 6, you might not even notice it was there; however, if you were to approach it from the west you wouldn’t be able to take your eyes off this massive rock cliff known as Notch Peak.

Home to the 500-million-year-old trilobite fossil, the ancient bristlecone pine and fine gold dust deposits, Notch Peak boasts the second highest continuous vertical rock face in the nation behind Yosemite’s El Capitan (at about 3,000 feet). It is considered by rock climbers to be one of the most difficult climbs in Utah. Rest assured you won’t have to take up rock climbing and risk your life to get there, but can easily hike up to Notch Peak from Sawtooth Canyon, a 4.5-mile trail that climbs about 2,800 feet while it gradually winds up to the summit, for a 9-mile round trip adventure.

You will need a high-clearance vehicle to navigate across several miles of winding dirt road that lead to the trailhead. (See directions for getting to the trailhead.) Make sure you bring plenty of water especially in the summer as there is no source in this canyon and the temperatures can be blistering hot.

The trail to Notch Peak starts on a flat gravel road in lower Sawtooth Canyon, amidst towering cliffs. About 0.5 miles in, the drainage splits and you will stay to the left and hike uphill following the main wash. You may encounter patches of snow in late winter or spring as the sun rarely shines into this canyon, so bring micro spikes for better traction.

As you climb upward, the canyon becomes steeper and you may have to negotiate over or around some rocky ledges. There is a faint trail and cairns along the way, but if you stick to the main wash on the left, you will be headed in the right direction. You are best to avoid alternate trails that head up the steeper hillsides. Along the way you will enjoy juniper, mountain mahogany and pinion pine, with plenty of shady places to stop and rest.

After about 3.5 miles, the drainage opens up with a view of the saddle above you. As you reach this saddle, you have your first spectacular views of the cliffs that fall out for thousands of feet. The saddle is at the “notch” between Sawtooth Peak to the right (north) and Notch Peak to the left (southwest).

There is no trail to the summit so just wind your way up the remaining half-mile of steep incline, keeping your distance from the cliff on your right. The rocks along this cliff are loose and dangerous in spots, so be extra careful, and because of this it might be best to leave young children home for this adventure.

Standing on the summit of Notch Peak is a breath-taking experience. You may want to have an extension wand for your camera so you can take dizzying shots over the edge that will shock friends and family. If you don’t have a wand, then you can safely get shots by lying on your belly with your head near the edge.

Some of the best photos can be taken from a quarter mile up the hill just north of the saddle on the Sawtooth side, looking down into the canyon below. There is also a small outcropping of rock just west of the summit that looks precarious, but is safe to stand on, and affords a unique angle of the summit from the west.

Take the time to enjoy a picnic on the summit and the 360-degree view, which will allow you to see several mountain ranges in every direction, including Sevier Lake and Fishlake National Forest to the east and Great Basin National Park to the west.

The Wasatch Mountain Club has built a small rock shelter at the summit that encases the logbook, so be sure to sign it and write your impressions. Try not to think about the fact that many hang glider pilots and wing suit BASE jumpers have enjoyed a quicker way down from this summit. (Search for videos on YouTube if you are interested.)

As you hike down from the summit, take some extra time to hike through a small bristlecone pine forest on the hill just east of the saddle. These trees are thousands of years old.

Finally, plan on an all-day hike, and perhaps caravan with others as this place is out in the middle of nowhere and having more than one car would be smart, in case you break down. Most importantly, don’t forget to post your thrilling photos on Facebook!

-- Tina Crowder and Dave Kenison are avid hikers and peak baggers and are members of the Facebook hiking groups, Hike the Wasatch and Wasatch Peak Baggers. You can contact Tina at tinatcrowder@gmail.com and Dave at david@kenison.net.

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