Elkhorn Mountain South (a.k.a. Mt Colwell) is an inconspicuous peak located on the mountain divide between Cervus Creek and the Elk River, between Elkhorn Mountain and Rambler Peak. It is easily seen from the popular hiking destination at Landslide Lake as the open rock and seasonal snowfield above the valley opposite Mt Colonel Foster.
Although it's easy to overlook this mountain it does have a very impressive East Face with significant climbing potential. Unfortunately the lower 2/3 of the face is fairly heavily vegetated but the upper third is superb rock and the winter potential of the massive 1400m long couloirs is outstanding.
Pay close attention to all the descriptions for this peak because the wording can be confusing. Elkhorn Mountain is a separate peak from the adjacent Elkhorn Mountain South, you do have to travel to the south of Elkhorn Mountain to get to Elkhorn Mountain South so there's a lot of use of these three words which is easy to mix up.
Access to Elkhorn Mountain South is via the Elk River Trail off Highway 28.
The most direct route to the summit is using the Elkhorn southwest approach from near the Gravel Flats campsite on the Elk River Trail. There have been a couple of variations to this approach but the current best version follows the left (north) side of the prominent steep creek drainage that runs down the hillside from the base of the South Ridge of the main Elkhorn Mountain. From just south of the Gravel Flats camp site on the ERT look for a safe place to cross the river (a large hemlock log that spanned the river here for many years has now been washed away) Look for a small dark talus slope just above the river on the Elkhorn side as a landmark. Cross the river and head up the hillside. There is flagging. If you reach the base of the talus slope described traverse underneath it to the right (south) and then follow the right side of the talus keeping well into the trees up the hillside. The terrain narrows to an obvious forested rib which is followed in a beeline straight up the hillside.
Eventually the rib meets a series of sub-alpine ledges. Keep heading up keeping right. Steep cliffs drop off into the drainage you've bene paralleling. The trees suddenly end abruptly at a short steep drop off with either seasonal snow or loose sandy gravel. Choose a good spot and drop down the slope into the gully. Descend the gully a short distance until you can head up the righthand branch directly up to the col at the foot of Elkhorn's South Ridge. From the col the route up to the summit is a straightforward hike up open rock slabs and seasonal snow slopes. In winter or other periods of suspect snow stability these slopes should be approached with extreme care as they are huge and at a ideal angle for avalanche to propagate.
Camping along the Elk River Trail is only permitted at the designated sites at Butterwort Creek (6km in) and the Gravel Flats site (~10km in). The Gravel Flats camp is the most useful base for a day trip to the summit of Elkhorn Mountain South. Backcountry camping within Strathcona Park must be more than 1km from a road. Otherwise the considerations are as for all backcountry overnights: practice strict leave-no-trace, don't flag or otherwise mark any hiking routes and remember that no fires are permitted in Strathcona Park backcountry at any time of year
regardless of the Provincial Fire Ban status.
Guidebooks & Other Links
Local guidebook Island Alpine Select