When It’s Thick and Stable, This is the Place for some Steep Lines.

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Knobtop Mountain, RMNP
via the

 Mini AK Cooler


Length:  Approx. 2,800′ vertical from    9450′  to  12,331′ and 9.5 miles total if accessed via Flattop Mtn.

FD:  Thomas Armento and Christopher Ruettinger on April 25, 2011.

Avg. Angle:  45

Steepest Angle:  52?

Technicality:  This rarely if ever visited cirque contains only expert ability type descents with potential for high objective avalanche and cornice dangers.  The top 300′ of this route are a few degrees above 50 so this is no-fall terrain.

Time Planning:  Depending on headwinds and acclimatization, expect to take 4-5 hrs. to access these slopes for a 8-9hr. roundtrip in good conditions.

Avi Danger:  This entire cirque is prime avalanche terrain with steep, often convex slopes overhung by cornices and typically lee-loaded during and post storms.

Separating  Knobtop and Notchtop Mountain is this cirque that receives high snowfall and significant lee loading which can fill-in what is otherwise a cliff laced and boulder pile moraine below the remnant glacier in this cirque.

Perfect conditions must exist for this area to be accessible so deep snow years and late season stability are prime necessities.

colorado backcountry skiing rmnpYC in creamy powder on the open slopes of the Knobtop Glacier with tracks on the fine line #9.


splitboarding backcountry colorado
YC throwing up some soft stuff in the Knobtop Bowl.


All photos and maps courtesy of Thomas Armento.


colorado backcountry skiing map rmnp

 A topo map of the Knobtop tour  and Mini AK couloir accessed from Bear Lake via Flattop Mountain.  This tour covers approx. 9.5 miles total for about 3k in vertical elevation gain and descent.

 Click on images to enlarge

colorado backcountry skiing climbinglife   (Above) A view down the  gut of the  Mini AK Couloir.


Approach Options:

#1  Skin up Flattop Mountain trail via Bear Lake and once reaching the Continental Divide follow the divide trail north over Ptarmigan Pass to the steep slope below the summit of Knobtop Mtn.

#2  Skin up the descent route and climb the couloir from the base (likely best in late season corn conditions).  This straight-up approach would shave a few miles off the approach

 colorado backcountry skiing climbinglifecolorado backcountry skiing
Looking across the south facing slopes of the Knobtop Cirque with fresh tracks down Couloir #9 in the topo’s below.  YC starting down the Mini AK run while a few soft slabs release under body weight.

colorado backcountry skiing colorado climbinglife colorado backcountry skiing climbinglifeAn overview of the many chutes and couloirs in the Knobtop Cirque.  Mini AK is #9 in these photos.

colorado backcountry skiing climbinglife
A view from the summit of Knobtop of the top of the east facing couloirs in this cirque.

colorado backcountry skiing
A view of the south-facing potential descents in this couloir.  Only #9, the Mini-Ak is believed to have been done thus far.

Contact ClimbingLife Guides for more information about guided ski descents, avalanche seminars, and backcountry skiing in the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park  or Alaska Ranges at: 


or phone: 970-744-4898



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