Ascent of Mount Elwell on 2020-03-06

Climber: Lucas Lochner

Date:Friday, March 6, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Elwell
    Elevation:7818 ft / 2382 m

Ascent Trip Report

Came up the north ridge roughly via the Mt Elwell Trail (under snow), from its junction with the Smith Lake Trail, which we began on from Gray Eagle Lodge.

Road was closed about 2 miles before Gray Eagle Lodge, but with just a sign sitting on the road that we drove around, since the snow barrier that had been pushed up here had melted away. Road was 90% clear for the next 1-2 miles, with a few patches of hard bumpy ice in spots that stayed routinely shaded. A small system had dropped a few inches here about a week ago, but otherwise it had been dry for the past month; road is not usually open to this point. Just past the turnoff to Gray Eagle Lodge, the road goes around into a shaded curve where snow coverage looked pretty continuous. This turnoff as was as far as we need to go and we parked on the side of Gold Lake Highway and walked down the snow-covered dirt road to the lodge.

Warm sunny day, but very windy ahead of anther small storm system, wasn't a problem at all for us on the way up as the north slopes of the mountain are very well protected beneath beautiful red fir forest. Up to the junction with Elwell Trail we were on foot across sun-exposed south-facing slopes as the trail passes through manzanita-covered face, soon after we were forced to put on snowshoes as the north-facing slopes of Elwell had actually gotten a good 6-8 inches a week ago which had stayed relatively powdery beneath the shade of the forest. Last 1/4 mile up to the ridge got pretty brutal with the wind whipping up and over from the west. Sun/wind-exposed areas were very icy and a bit sketchy whenever they got steep, an ice axe and crampons would've been preferable to snowshoes for the last 50 feet but we handled it without too much trouble. Register seemed full (and in need of new protection from the elements) but it was too windy to give much more than a brief look and be sure, only stayed a couple minutes. Fantastic views from the summit north to Lassen, south to Sierra Buttes and English Mountain.

Our route on the way down followed roughly a trail show on the USFS topo as we walked down over snow. With all the exposure to the sun everything was rather hard and icy, and the south slope is a fair bit steeper than the north. After the trail switches back to the northwest, it traverses some steep slopes above Long Lake which required us to take off snowshoes and do some careful kickstepping. Snow coverage beyond Long Lake was well shaded but at a lower elevation, and very annoyingly inconsistent, my girlfriend trying to hack at brush in snowshoes and myself postholing right and left. We also had a rough time keeping close to the trail from Gray Eagle Lodge to Long Lake and had to bushwhack through some brushy spots around numerous creeks, not sure if this is because the trail was under snow or brush/fallen trees around it aren't frequently maintained. Return on this from the south was a bit of a slog and I found the forest up on the north slopes more beautiful, but nice to get a more rounded view of the area by making it into a loop.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2198 ft / 669 m
    Total Elevation Loss:2198 ft / 669 m
    Round-Trip Distance:10 mi / 16.1 km
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2118 ft / 645 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 1978 ft / 602 m; Extra: 140 ft / 42m
    Loss on way in:140 ft / 42 m
    Distance:5.5 mi / 8.9 km
    Route:North Ridge via Mt Elwell Trail / Smith Lk Trail
    Start Trailhead:Gold Lake Hwy @ Gray Eagle Lodge Rd  5840 ft / 1780 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:2058 ft / 627 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 1978 ft / 602 m; Extra: 80 ft / 24m
    Gain on way out:80 ft / 24 m
    Distance:4.5 mi / 7.2 km
    Route:South Slope to Long Lake NW Shore
    End Trailhead:Gold Lake Hwy @ Gray Eagle Lodge Rd  5840 ft / 1780 m

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