Elkhorn Mountain aka Elkhorn Peak

Elevation: 9,095 ft
Prominence: 1,143

Climbing and access information for this peak is found on page 356. The USGS identifies this, the highest point on Elkhorn Mountain, Elkhorn Peak. If the highest point on a named mountain is not named after the mountain then why use the word “Mountain” at all. This website will stick with the name “Elkhorn Mountain.” Livingston Douglas has provided a extensive update which is found below. Updated November 2018.


Elkhorn Mountain is the most impressive Bannock Range summit and its view encompasses a huge part of southeast Idaho.

Rick Baugher writes “In 1877 Henry Gannett and A.D. Wilson of the Hayden Survey used this summit and about 35 other eastern Idaho summits in their triangulation scheme. They called this peak West Malade Peak and assigned a barametric elevationof 9220 feet. The USGS benchmark in place is dated 1934 and stamped “South Elkhorn.” T.M. Bannon’s Elkhorn station is to the north, seen on the right in the photo. The summit of Limestone is crowned with a beautiful well constructed 9 foot high stone monument. The sheer east face of the mountain drops off from this point and is “Tetonesque” in apperance. A pleasant circular hike, part trail, part crosscountry, can be done from the east side of the mountain, starting above the Forest Service CG.

Elkhorn Mountain's summit cairn. The view is to the north, Old Tom Muntain is seen to the left, on November 18, 1995. This Elkhorn Mountain is on the Columbia/Great Basin watershed divide. Rick Baugher Photo and commentary.

Elkhorn Mountain’s summit cairn. The view is to the north, Old Tom Mountain is seen to the left, on November 18, 1995. This Elkhorn Mountain is on the Columbia/Great Basin watershed divide. Rick Baugher Photo and commentary.

2018 Update by Livingston Douglas 

Date of Climb:  September 18, 2018

General comments about Elkhorn Peak:

Elkhorn Peak is the southernmost (and highest) peak on the Elkhorn Mountain massif. It is also called South Elkhorn Benchmark. It sits at the head of Mill Canyon and still has a massive cairn on top (as pictured above). The North Ridge is the easiest route to the summit and can be accessed via FSR-333/Summit Canyon Trail. The Eastern Slopes (referred to in the book) are no picnic. There is a prominent cliff band high up on the East Face that must either be climbed or circumvented.

East Ridge, Class 4

Access:

Malad Summit Road crosses over I-15 (no exit here). It is located 8.1 miles SSW of Downey on the Old Malad Highway. Set your altimeter to 0.0 at the junction of Malad Summit Road and the Old Malad Highway and begin your drive westward up Malad Summit Road. At 2.1 miles, you reach the Caribou National Forest boundary. The road now becomes FSR-041. At 3.0 miles, you reach the Summit Campground (LHS of the road). The road gets much rougher after this point and is not advised for passenger vehicles. There is parking space for 1-2 cars at the entrance to the campground. There is an informal campsite on the RHS of FSR-041 about 0.3 miles before reaching the campground. You may be able to pull off and park here as well (or just across the road from it).

Route

From the Summit Campground, hike (or drive) about a mile up FSR-041 to the [signed] trailhead for FST-333/Summit Canyon Trail. FST-333 is an old jeep road that is now an ATV trail. Hike up FST-333 for just over ½ mile to a signed junction in an open area where Mill Canyon forks. FST-333 goes up the right fork to reach the Elkhorn Divide at an 8,060-foot saddle. FST-334/Kents Canyon Trail (a MC trail) goes up the left fork and reaches an 8,020-foot saddle NNE of Kents Peak. Go LEFT onto FST-334.

Study the USGS topo map closely. [Please note that the map spuriously shows “Power House Road” going from Mill Canyon up to the summit of Elkhorn Peak and then descending the North Ridge of Elkhorn Peak. There is no such road/trail; it’s complete nonsense.] Your objective is to climb the East Ridge of Elkhorn Peak. The East Ridge descends to the unnamed drainage that FST-334 follows. The toe of the East Ridge meets the [dry] drainage at a point where the drainage makes a sharp bend to the R/W. This point is at approximately 7,420 feet.

Hike southward up FST-334 for about a mile to 7,420 feet in an open area at a sharp R/W bend in the drainage. Leave the trail and bushwhack briefly W (or NW) up easy desert scrub to reach the forested crest of the East Ridge. There is open scrub/gravel on either side of the ridge crest, albeit angled. The ridge crest itself is clogged with ridgeline trees and blowdown, so you must weave from side to side to find the optimal way to advance higher. Climb the ridge WSW then W up to 8,000 feet. In this lower section of the ridge, there is an obvious gully to the R/N. This gully disappears at the 8,000-foot level and, soon after that, the Northeast Spur merges with the East Ridge at 8,200 feet. At this ridge juncture, another [larger] gully emerges on the R/N side of the ridge. This wide gully dramatically cuts the East Face of Elkhorn Peak.

The ridge becomes well-defined here. The ridge bends hard L/SSW to skirt the R/N side of Point 8276. Once past this ridge point, the ridge turns back to the R/W and is now heading due W. Continue westward up the ridge crest through a flattish section. The ridge soon steepens and a massive ridge buttress blocks your way at 8,400 feet. Skirt the L/S side of this rocky buttress/cliff and return to the ridge crest by climbing a steep talus/scree + scrub mix. The footing is rather loose here, so be careful. The ridge steepens considerably here. At 8,900 feet, you reach the crux of this climb—a 50-foot headwall. As you climb the upper section of the East Ridge (above Point 8276), you can’t help but notice a cliff band that runs across the entire East Face of Elkhorn Peak. The cliff band is worse the farther north it goes.

This cliff band has moderated somewhat by the time it reaches the East Ridge, but it is still a serious obstruction. To surmount the headwall, climb up onto the first ledge (Class 3) and move L/S on the ledge to find a break/crack in the sheer face above you. Find a diagonal, rightward crack in the cliff face. The footholds on this 15-foot section are meager and the handholds are even more precarious. The moss and veg on the scanty ledges and protrusions make things even more problematic. This is full-on Class 4 work with exposure. It is short-lived but it will test your climbing skills, particularly when wearing large boots. Once atop this testy pitch, the slope moderates a bit and the climbing isn’t too bad. You are still on talus and slab rock, but it goes quickly. You reach the top of the headwall about 50 feet above its base.

From the top of the headwall, move R/N a bit to get back on the ridge crest. Scramble upward about 120 vertical feet onto the summit ridge. Once on the narrow summit ridge, scamper R/N for 0.2 miles and 15 vertical feet to the cairned summit of Elkhorn Peak. You will pass a USGS BM in a ground boulder about 100 feet (horizontal) before reaching the summit cairn. The area around the summit cairn is about 2-3 vertical feet higher than the USGS BM location. Near the summit cairn, there is a fire ring with charred wood in it.

South Ridge/East Spur, Class 2+ —DESCENT

Access

Same as for the East Shoulder Route. This route is part of a ridge traverse from Elkhorn Peak to Peak 8540.

Route

This route is part of a ridge traverse from Elkhorn Peak to Peak 8540 and Kents Peak. It follows the South Ridge of Elkhorn Peak to a ridge corner at 8,620 feet then turns sharply L/E to descend to a small saddle at 8,180 feet. On the USGS topo map, this looks like a pretty straightforward proposition. In reality, it is much more tedious and difficult than I anticipated.

From the summit of Elkhorn Peak, follow the narrow ridge southward for about 0.8 miles to a ridge corner. The upper section of this descent is on slab rock, broken rock, and short scrub (easy stuff). But you are soon dealing with hidden cliff bands that must be navigated. Downclimb the L/E side of the first cliff band. The second obstruction is a set of two ridge blocks. Descend a crumbly chute between them on the R/E side of the ridge crest. From the bottom of these blocks, the desert scrub gets thicker and rougher. When you reach the ridge corner at 8,620 feet, turn hard L/E and descend a very ill-defined ridge (initially a face) to a small saddle at 8,180 feet.

You cannot see the 8,180-foot connecting saddle from the ridge corner due to the forest that lies in between. Consequently, you must aim at Peak 8540 (the north end of the Kents Peak ridge).If you maintain an eastward line and aim at that high point, you should be fine. This section of the ridge traverse begins on open, thick scrub but soon you are battling your way through a dense forest (with tall, thick veg and blowdown mixed in). You may even encounter some side-hilling. The East Spur becomes better defined just above Point 8404. Once you pass Point 8404, descend E to the small saddle. Thankfully, the saddle is wonderfully-open, easy terrain (broken rock and short veg).

Climber Trip Reports

Mountain Range: Bannock Range

First Ascent Information:

  •  
  • Other First Ascent: East Ridge
  • Year: 2018
  • Season: Summer
  • Party: Livingston Douglas
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  • Other First Ascent: South Ridge/East Spur -Descent
  • Year: 2018
  • Season: Summer
  • Party: Livingston Douglas

Longitude: -112.32829   Latitude: 42.33389

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