Flattop Mountain (12,324ft), Ptarmigan Point (12,363ft), Knobtop (12,331ft), Gabletop Mountain (11,939ft)
Also Visited: Tourmaline Lake, Odessa Lake
By Michael Dallin (on 1/13/95)
September 9, 1994
Roughly 12 miles round trip
Class 3 (though mostly class 1)

For some reason, the word "top" is common among the park's continental divide peaks -- see Knobtop, Cracktop, Gabletop, etc. Off the top of my head, I can name 6 peaks in the park that include the word "top" in its name, half of which are on the continental divide (the rest are within 1/2 mile of it), and half of which I visited on this trip. I also visited a seldom seen lake in the park, named Tourmaline Lake.

I left Bear Lake early. The trip to Flattop Mountain was uneventful, as always, and just as easy as I remember it. The only park I had problems with, of course, was that bit on the north side near the top, but that's only a bit tiring, nothing difficult. I stayed only a few minutes atop Flattop, and then headed briefly on the Tonahutu Creek Trail, all the way admiring Snowdrift Peak to the west. When I was due west of Ptarmigan Point, I left the trail and made the easy climb to the top. From the top, the view below beyond Ptarmigan Glacier is neat. The view of Notchtop is good from this point, as well.

After a brief break to eat, I struck out towards Notchtop. This area is known as the Bighorn Flats, and for good reason. This portion of the hike is *very* flat, and very easy. I had occasional views towards Flattop, and eventually made it to Notchtop.

Of course, I wasn't on the true summit of Notchtop. I was still on the Continental Divide. The true summit was a short distance to the east, but that short distance is a technical climb (or, at least class 4, which I wasn't prepared to do). I struck out, across the flats, towards Knobtop.

Knobtop is a funny looking mountain from this vantage point. It essentially looks like a bulldozer piled a huge heap of boulders in the middle of a giant, flat field. It almost looks out of place. The trip to the top was easy boulder-hopping. On top was a broken jar register.

From here, I wanted to climb over to the Little Matterhorn, and then descend. But, I was unfamiliar with the route, and it looked quite exposed. Plus, clouds were coming in. I opted to climb nearby Gabletop Mountain instead.

Climbing down from Knobtop, I crossed the rim of Tourmaline Gorge to the top of Gabletop. Just as I reached the top, bam... rain. No thunder or lightening, just rain. I briefly visited the summit, which was the neatest of the summits I had visited that day, and then made my way down into Tourmaline Gorge. From the top of the gorge, the cliffs just below the summit of Gabletop Mountain are spectacular.

Whew, that gorge is *steep*. I paused and sheltered myself from the rain, until it passed. I also waited for the rain-soaked rocks to dry a bit before heading down. Progress was very slow for a time, until I found a stick. Strange, I thought, finding a stick way up here near the top of Tourmaline Gorge, way above treeline. Actually, the stick appeared to be a small fencepost that had (more than likely) blown over the Divide into Tourmaline Gorge. I used the stick as a walking staff, and behold -- my pace quickened considerably! From that day on, I became a proponent of walking staffs. With cloudiness above me threatening to rain at any moment, I made my way down the gorge, amid great views of the Little Matterhorn and The Gable.

Just above Tourmaline Lake, I found the skeletal remains of some sort of elk. About 100 yards away, I found more of the skeleton, and so on. Hmmm, looks like some animal sure tore this guy apart.

Tourmaline Lake is a pretty, isolated lake. For some reason (for which I kick myself today) I didn't have enough film to photograph the lake. That means I have to return! Oh, well, it is worth the hike.

From Tourmaline Lake, I had to climb through forest down to Odessa Lake, following the stream the whole way. There is little, if any, trail to speak of along this route, which explains the solitudeness of Tourmaline Lake and Gorge. I had Odessa Lake to myself, and took in the view. I took the trail to Bear Lake back, and in fact, didn't see anybody until I neared the Flattop Mountain trail junction. In all, it is a very pretty hike among some lesser-known peaks in the park.