South Noddle Head (8,260’)
Peakbagger’s Route (5.2)
RT Distance: Approx. 4 miles
Gain: Unknown (minimal)
Car to Car: 2.5 hours
There is a great report from my friend Brian that went up recently, but I had some additional detail to offer. His pictures are probably a bit more helpful and you can check out that report here:
Brian Nod's the Noddles
South Noddle Head as seen from our failed attempt last Thursday
This is a fantastic route for an afternoon and is within an hour of Denver. It offers solitude, fantastic scenery and an exciting finish to a ranked summit. I have had this on my radar for quite some time now, but hadn’t gotten a chance to get out. Ryan and I made an attempt last week, but a storm stopped us just shy of the summit. With a great forecast and no plans for the evening, I decided I might as well give it a go solo. I headed out from Centennial around 4pm.
DIRECTIONS: The directions on Summitpost and Mountain Project (sorry Derek!) are inaccurate and our attempt last week was much harder than it needed to be. Head south on I-25 to exit 187 (Happy Canyon Road) and head West toward Sedalia. Take 67 West out of Sedalia for quite a while (10+ miles) as you head into the mountains/forest. Eventually you will come to a fork in the road (there is a bar on your right) as you enter the small town of Sprucewood. Take the left fork (67) onto a dirt road. From here drive about 4 miles (not 7) to a green gate (picture shown below) that is unmarked. This is a forest service road and grants the easiest access to the Noddle heads.
The "Trailhead." Look for the green gate
I parked at the gate, threw a pack together (rock shoes, 30m half rope, webbing/cord) and started up the road. The going is pretty mellow and you don’t lose or gain too much elevation. The road winds around most of the bumps and ends after about 1.5 miles at the power lines.
Once at the power lines follow a faint trail forward for about 100 yards and you run into FR 677 (ATV/Dirt Bike road). Make a left here and go for another 100 yards or so until you see a bunch of logs on your right and a social trail behind it. This will take you directly to South Noddle. The approach took a little over a half hour and is very straight forward (made me kick myself for what Ryan & I put ourselves through the week before).
From the “end” of the trail you get a great view of South Noddle. Several grassy gullies can be seen on the East side and they all lead to the summit plateau. The climbing goes at Class 3 (a bit stiff though, I’d say) and is littered with bushes and thorns and all sorts of fun stuff. It wasn’t long before I was regretting the decision to use my hiking sandals as approach shoes.
The sky threatens as I get my first views of South Noddle
"Please pass me by"
All throughout the approach the clouds had been threatening and I had begun to hear some thunder. I was pretty bummed since the forecast had looked good, but I was optimistic that the storm would miss me. I decided to sit down and enjoy the views for a bit while I waited. I certainly did not want to be caught on the exposed rock if a storm blew in. After 10 minutes of light rain, by hopes were realized and the sunny skies returned. It was time to make a move.
Lower East Gully
Pick your easiest line and make your way into the notch in the plateau, the summit block will be above you to your left. Once in the notch you can scramble up to your right and get a good view of the summit and pick your line.
Summit seen from the plateau
I headed back down into the notch and then up on the left side. I first explored the large ledge on the East side, mostly just for fun, and it eventually cliffs out above some serious exposure. I turned around and headed back towards where I knew the summit pitch would be (west side). At this point I switched to rock shoes (you can do this route in trail runners).
Upper portion fo the East Gully. Stiff Class 3 to gain the Notch
Looking down the gully from the notch
Personally, I thought this was the toughest part as you have to do a slabby downclimb through a small hole to gain the “exposed ledge” below the summit pitch. There are many other options including following the notch past this point and scrambling up to your left. Once on the ledge the route ahead is obvious. The ledge is also far bigger than expected. While a fall would not be fun, you’d really have to try to fall completely off the mountain.
I made quick work of the 5.2 pitch to the summit which lasted about 20 feet and the rock was very solid. The moves were certainly 5th Class, but the hand holds were there. I topped out and immediately saw the rappel station.
The lower portion of the summit, rappel station seen left
Rappel station (i added the purple)
I spent some time enjoying this seldom visited summit and views of the area, but didn’t linger too long as I was hoping to be back at the car by dark. I definitely felt comfortable downclimbing the summit pitch, but I had hauled the rope all the way up there and figured it was a good chance to have some fun and practice my skills. The anchor was solid but the webbing looked older than me. I decided this was as good a time as any to donate some of my webbing to the greater good and backed up the anchor. Luckily there was a rappel ring in place which made me feel a lot more comfortable. The rappel was over before I knew it and I was back on the ledge.
Look up the summit pitch after rappelling
The east gullies offer the easiest climbing, but I was in no hurry to fight with the vegetation again so I headed across the notch to the large plateau on the North side of the summit and did a 5th class downclimb (I had led this route previously when Ryan and I made the attempt).
Once down it was very easy to locate the trail and I was back at my car before 7:30, home by 8:30. I felt very lucky to have had solitude and excitement so close to work/home on a weeknight. I highly recommend this area/route.