Ascent of Elephant Butte on 2018-07-01

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:Dan Connors
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, July 1, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Elephant Butte
    Elevation:8405 ft / 2561 m

Ascent Trip Report

An Update TR to document how to climb all the best formations in the 3 sisters park and Denver Mountain Park (DMP) all in one scrambling and bushwhacking adventure.

This report and the GPS is not recommended for anyone who is looking for a nice stroll in the woods or to get up the easiest formations. This is meant for those that want to maximize scrambling climbing but keeping the difficulty below that needed to use ropes. All routes vary form class 2 to class 4. I typically avoid class 4 without rope, but this particular adventure provided many class 4 routes and crux moves so if someone wants to do it all class 3 and below you will have to select some alternate routes off this main GPS track (which is possible).


1) we parked at the main paved parking off Buffalo Park Road and headed up the main trail to where the Sisters Trail makes a "T"

2) instead of heading left (west) to the trail that takes you to the Brother, we headed straight up the rock formation at the "T"

3) enjoying some of the immediate slots where you can stem and chimney up class 3

4) continue up to the next visible formation with a huge boulder sitting on a pinnacle - that is your destination.

Some class 2, 2+ slabs take you up to a class 5 wall under the boulder peak. Can class 3 up to an easy slab of class 2 and the boulder top is 10 feet of class 3/3+

5) climb back down the slab and jump into the deep trough and re-begin your ascent up to the top of Brother via some excellent metamorphic rock with nice holds and jugs. can walk up class 2 or find many opportunities along the cliff side for a class 3 workout to the peak.

6) instead of taking the hiking trail down, bushwhack over towards the sisters and head for the obvious pinnacle
along the way. The GPS track enlarged will show a bunch of lines where we explored the entire feature and made sure it had an easy backdoor escape. People boulder here as there is lots of class 4/5 routes but low enough to have mats. There is an interesting seam to climb if one can enter it with some pretty tricky bouldering moves. For mere mortals that scramble instead of climb, there is a huge log placed from boulder to seam. Balance beam walk up the log and you can get into the seam. This route is class 3+ perhaps 4. It looks much harder than it really is. If you try it without using the log it is harder class 5 entry. Escape down the backside class 3.

7) South Sister is the trickiest formation of the three sisters and one brother. There is no class 3 way to finish the top. LOJ ranks it a class 4. Today, we explored every way up we could find.

7a) There is the chimney seam on the north face that is visible from all of the other sisters ( a big crack up the face) which you could argue is class 3 there is no exposure and the only way up with no exposure but everyone I have taken up or down that way says it is the hardest because you are stemming, foot wedging, and chimney motions so it is tiring on the body. I call it a class 3+.

7b) The hatchet slab. Looking from the south to the same north face is a steep hatchet shaped edge just to the right of the seam. This approach looks very precarious and few ever try it as it looks awfully exposed. The beginning move is class 4 as there is a commitment you must make and big drop off to the other side. But the there is a wonderful crack with great foot and handholds so it climbs very easy like a class 3 and 2+ at the top. The key is to climb on the big rock next to the seam and get around and into the crack to begin. I would not climb this in poor sole shoes but with decent vibram soles boots the traction is fine. I have always escaped by coming down the seam in 7a but today was talked into down climbing it by Dan (who hated the seam down climb earlier). It is a pretty steep with a lot of exposure in all directions (you are going down a narrow slab on a steep slope with consequences in every direction). I found that you could hunker down in the crack with feet wedged and actually down climb the entire feature facing out where you could see where to hold and actually dismount below the entrance. Dan was able to ladder down climb it and find his footing to dismount the way he came up but I was not comfortable finding the footing and reversing the first big commitment to back off. I think this is the easiest way to climb up the peak but it is the scariest in terms of exposure. Class 4/3+

7c) on the left side of the seam (north face still) are two ways up. One is a pretty hard scramble on a fairly vertical wall 80 degrees? that is class 3+/4 along the left edge of the seam. The hardest part if the first move off the seam over to it then it gets easier.

7d) this is a route i see people checking out often up there but nobody does it. I did not do it the ever until today. It is on the west side of the rock column and you access it from a boulder. The climb looks straight forward until you get on it and then a rock cantilevers you out from the wall making it a bit precarious. If you climbed up from the south side of this sister this is probably the easiest and safest way up. From the north side this is the hardest way up. You can go between the north and south side approaches by scrambling over this boulder. The trick to this route (it is over near a small pine tree) is to trust the wonderful huge hand holds above the blocking boulder and then you can swing your body out from the wall and climb it easy. There is consequences from a fall, and it takes some good hand and foot placement but is a fast ascent once you get around the blocking rock. Class 4.

7e) coming from the south I have looked at the chock stone crease route several times and the interesting slab-ledge-slab route before and finally tried the slab-ledge-slab route. It is right off the use trail on the backside of the peak near the saddle as you come from the Brother. The slab starts very steep but there are some wonderful steps in the slab up past a small pine tree that gets you on the first ledge. There is a tantalizingly interesting slab with weathered steps and jugs that is fin and easy to climb but has some steep exposure but the consequences are never too bad. Down-climbing this area would be harder but the up-climb is very intuitive and fast. Class 3/3+ in this area but it takes you to simple class 3 where you have choices. The easiest choice is to the right and it takes you to the boulder with final route 7d above. Going left takes you to a an interesting chock stone puzzle to go up and I have yet to try that. Another day?
The crux move to complete this is 7d so call this approach class 4.

8) then after enjoying every way you can summit the south sister the middle sister is the tallest feature. But it is the easiest to summit. Going to the right west face will take you up an easy ravine with only one solid class 3 move and the rest is easy class 3 or 2+ to the summit. There is a large rock that cantilevers out 10 feet and is great for photos "snout of the dog". The down climb takes you to another must photo that is a tall pinnacle eroded away from the parent rock. I should warn that from some angles it looks like you are sitting on top of phallic symbol so I have heard this rock called many things that can not be put in writing here. I wanted to find a new way to climb this peak so we approached the middle sister from the south sister and headed left. There is another obvious canyon with a chock stone (class 3) and once you clear the stone it gets easier class 2. Then the fun begins. You can head straight and there is a precarious narrow ledge with a good fall or you can head right up a steep crack to the top. This was the ticket. This finish to the top is a nice run of class 3+
depending on your routes in here you can do 3+/or 4 and make this summit more challenge than the west side which is pretty easy.

9) on the way to the North Sister you can find a small formation we have named "The Monkey Pharaoh Giving an Offering"
I know you will recognize it. It clearly make out the face of a monkey complete with eyes, nose, mouth, and ear facing to the left and the back of the head appears to have a head wrap like a pharaoh might have. and a hand reaching out to God. After all you have done, this is an easy short scramble 2+/3 to the top but the very top requires a difficult straddle of the hatchet head.

10) is the North Sister but this bad girl has three twins! The center pinnacle is the tallest feature and hardest to climb but way easier than the south sister.We climbed her form the south and north and there is plenty of options ranging from class 2 to 3. But there is at least one class 3 section in either direction. The most challenging way to summit is the back side class 3+ (takes some strength to pull up the 80 degree wall with poor hand holds) but there is at least 2 other way to close from class 2 to 3.

11) The over to the western pinnacle of North Sister and again two ways up this. From the right an easy class 3 but with one step over about a 30 foot drop. easy maneuver but don't look down. Or you can wind under the twisted rock from the left side as you approach. Easy class 3.

12) the eastern most pinnacle is easiest and the most climbed feature in the park. I have been in here for hours and only seen people on top of this pinnacle. It must have the least intimidating approach and is right off the sisters trail. The route is obvious, watch your head on one pine branch that has brained me once or twice. Only the starting move requires you to take pause and find hand placements to move but the rest is easy, fast, run up it type class 3. Class 3.

13) we then scrambled all the way down the remaining pinnacles of the North Sister heading east to the Elephant Butte. After reaching the forest, we bushwhacked through the woods, crossing 2 trails, and 2 roads and one creek to start our next adventure. A bushwhack/scramble of the Elephant.


14) Then we bushwhacked across 2 trails and two dirt roads and one creek to get to the beginning of the climb up Elephant Butte (Butte). I took a track heading just to the right of the middle part of the formation trying to find the big continuous scramble slab I found before. The GPS track attached finds it. You eventually come to a nice maintained but easily visible trail that winds you around a historic barb wire fence. Go left on the trail heading North and the trail shortly dissipates into a wall of rock. This is the main slab. The bottom is tricky, steep with lichen and moss in the shade and neither Dan nor I could hold the bottom with our shoe soles so we climbed up the side about ten feet and then entered the slab where some natural steps cut into the slab. this allowed us to get the middle of the slab and look up and go. Most of the beginning of the slab is just fun steep class 3 with plenty of grip.

15) about half way up you hit a ledge to relax and the next section is nearly vertical with some 75 to 80% slope walls. Looking down you can now see that you have ascended quite a ways easily and a fall from here would be a nasty tumble down a steep slab. But the traction is excellent so going up you never question that. Looking up now it is harder. This is no longer easy class 3. There are several choices here but we elected a seam that was hard. The exposure was not high consequences here since you take off from somewhat of a level ledge but the climb is tall and the technique to get up it required a lot of careful hand and foot selection. I struggled to find a place to get my hands to lift me up to the next spot until I found a nub of granite the size of an eraser that was just what I was missing to pull myself up. The difficulty of the finger grabs and toe placement was equivalent here to class 5.0 to 5.2 climbing but because it was bouldering height one would likely call this route class 4.

16) above this steep challenging scramble was more classic fun class 3 where you did not have to concentrate so much and could rush up for another nice 80 foot of climbing or more.

17) near the top another interesting puzzle. A large headwall with very vertical options. One could bushwhack around the left and find some class 3 with shrubs, or head far right and get around the headwall to some more class 3 but Dan was now full of confidence and ready to tackle more class 4. This was his first scrambling trip and I have never seen anyone take to it so easily like a spider-man. He found a seam/crack in the wall that was not totally vertical (perhaps 80 degrees and a lot of exposure). But there were some fantastic footholds and jugs up high so he ran up it. This was the last class 4 section we did for the day.

18) above this section was more class 3, then it dropped to class 2+ and finally the ridge. From here, it was a traverse across about 5 false summits each class 2, 2+ and some easy 3 until we reached the true summit Plenty of rock still to climb on the whole way!
19) there is still a large jar to sign in that is sitting in a dead tree stump near a hiking trail that goes from the last saddle (between the true summit and last false summit). If you take that trail down it bifurcates soon and you want to head left back to the Sisters or if you head right it takes you to the other parking area far to the north. I goofed with the tree down and headed too far down and to the north and we decided instead of backtracking to bushwhack a straight bearing all the way back to Brother. This side of the mountain has a lot of down-fall trees and was not easy. I would not recommend following my GPS path route home.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1354 ft / 411 m
    Total Elevation Loss:380 ft / 114 m
    Round-Trip Distance:3.7 mi / 6 km
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Bushwhack, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Weather:85F hot
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1049 ft / 319 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 974 ft / 297 m; Extra: 75 ft / 22m
    Loss on way in:75 ft / 22 m
    Distance:1 mi / 1.6 km
    Route:bushwhack and then long scramble see track
    Start Trailhead:saddle between peaks  7431 ft / 2264 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:305 ft / 92 m
    Gain on way out:305 ft / 92 m
    Distance:2.7 mi / 4.3 km
    Route:mostly bushwhack
    End Trailhead:saddle between peaks  
Ascent Part of Trip: Evergreen-3

Complete Trip Sequence:
1The Brother2018-07-01 a373 ft / 114 m
2Three Sisters-South Peak2018-07-01 b190 ft / 58 m
3Three Sisters-Middle Peak2018-07-01 c110 ft / 34 m
4Three Sisters-North Peak2018-07-01 d115 ft / 35 m
5Elephant Butte2018-07-01 e1354 ft / 413 m
Total Trip Gain: 2142 ft / 654 m    Total Trip Loss: 1237 ft / 377 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by William Musser
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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