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South Slopes and Couloir

South Slopes and Couloir

South Slopes and Couloir

Page Type: Route

Location: Wyoming, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 9.27248°N / 126.56625°W

Object Title: South Slopes and Couloir

Route Type: Scrambling

Season: Summer

Time Required: Half a day

Rock Difficulty: Class 3

Route Quality: 
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Page By: Bob Sihler

Created/Edited: Oct 8, 2013 / Jan 2, 2014

Object ID: 871030

Hits: 909 

Page Score: 74.01%  - 4 Votes 

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This is probably the easiest route on Elephant Head.  It was my descent route, and I do not recommend it as an ascent route.  Reasons why:
  • It's not very interesting except for a brief spot of scrambling near the top.
  • Going up the boulders and talus that comprise most of the route will be tedious and tiring.
  • Nearby there is a really fun Class 4 route if you don't mind some exposure.
I am pretty sure this route is what Bonney refers to as the East Side since he mentions using a small draw; he also calls it a Class 4 route.  The route, though, is really more on the south side of the peak.

Getting There

Near the south end of Pinedale, turn east onto a signed road for Fremont Lake.  Drive 14-15 miles to reach the Elkhart Park Trailhead.

For specific details, please see Bill Reed's page for Elkhart Park.

Route Description

Start from Elkhart Park, about 9400', and hike 10.5 mi to Island Lake, about 10,400'.  While this sounds like one of the world's easiest backpacking approaches, it is more strenuous than it sounds, for the route does not ascend a drainage or other naturally ascending line but rather has several dips and reclimbs that make the total elevation gain closer to 2000' (still not that bad but frustrating nevertheless).  And the first 5 miles are almost exclusively extremely dull hiking through lodgepole pine forest with no views of anything except more lodgepole pines.

Although there are several trail junctions along the way, with a good map and decent reading comprehension, you will not have trouble following the correct route.

Where you camp is up to you based on your itinerary.  Island Lake makes a good base camp because routes to Titcomb Basin, Indian Basin, and other areas nearby all branch out from it.

Find an unsigned but well-trodden trail climbing along an inlet stream of Island Lake.  The inlet and trail are on the southeast side of the lake; the trail climbs steeply and disappears in less than a mile but gets you to within plain view of the southern and eastern aspects of the peak.

Elephant Head-- South Aspect
Visible is the couloir that provides the easiest way to the summit, though it is far more enjoyable as a descent route.

From here, the way is pretty obvious.  Work your way along the path of least resistance (Class 2-3) until you are at the bottom of a large couloir.  Ascend the couloir.  Higher up, it forks.  Use the left fork; the right fork appears to turn into Class 5 near the top.  Near the of the left fork, there is a short bit of tricky scrambling that falls into that Class 3-4 category.  Soon, you will be on the flat summit with the cairned highpoint close by.

South-side Couloir
There is a tricky Class 3/4 spot near the top, but it otherwise is mostly Class 2.  As you head up from the base, there is a branch. The couloir to the right looks a lot harder higher up. This shot is actually from about where the branch is.

From Island Lake, it will take most people only 1-2 hours to climb the peak.  RT distance from the lake is about 3 miles.

Essential Gear

In early summer, an ice axe might be necessary in the couloir, but by late summer, the snow will likely be all gone.  If climbing in a group, consider helmets due to loose rock becoming dislodged.


Elephant Head-- South AspectSouth-side CouloirElephant Head-- South Side