South Six-Shooter & Elephant Butte: Two Utah Desert Gems

South Six-Shooter & Elephant Butte: Two Utah Desert Gems

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Mar 23, 2009

South Six-Shooter Peak: My First Multi-Pitch

South Six-Shooter Pk, UT (6154')
2.5 miles RT, 1100' gain
Via standard South Face route (5.6)
near Canyonlands N.P.

Participants: Sarah Thompson, Dominic Meiser, Dwight Sunwall, & Kevin Baker


After an exhilirating, challenging, and exhausting two days of scrambling on The West Temple & The Watchman in Zion, we set out sights on a desert tower climb in the Indian Creek area near Canyonlands N.P. Also on the agenda was the highly coveted (at least by me) highpoint of Arches N.P., mighty Elephant Butte.

I'll have to admit I wasn't too confident I could pull off South Six-Shooter (SSS) when Sarah said she was interested in climbing it, but after doing some research it seemed like a reasonable climb. This would be the first desert tower for all of us and was my first multi-pitch climb and would be a fine challenge. This is supposedly the easiest tower to climb in the Moab area. Indian Creek is known for its plethora of world class big wall climbs. The southern Six Shooter is a 5.6 climb by its easiest route, with two pitchs of 5.6and one of 5.4.

The original plan was to take a shot at SSS after leaving from Zion early on Sunday. We would then hit Elephant Butte on Monday and head home. The weather would have other plans though. We arrived mid-afternoon a bit later than we would have liked and were greeted at the trailhead with some stiff gusts. It also looked like it might rain soon. We decided to head up the initial headwall and see what it was like higher up. Upon cresting the headwall, we were blasted with stiffer winds and pulled the plug on the day.

We decided to setup camp a few miles down Davis Canyon Rd amidst the swirling winds, which was a bit of a task! The risk here is you can get stuck out here for days if heavy rains come because a good deal of the road is in a dry wash!

Camp amidst a dust storm:

The winds abated after a couple hours and it turned into a decent night, although a brief burst of light rain had us concerned for a few minutes. The next morning dawned clear and cold and we headed up for another attempt. We headed up the now familiar lower approach, which is well cairned with a few class 3/4 moves here and there. The upper approach is also well cairned and we were soon at the base of the tower. The only problem is we would be in the shade for the bulk of the climb and it was only 35 degrees!

It was hard to keep warm as we geared up and I knew it would be a psychological challenge as 5th class terrain always seems much tougher in the cold! Warm views over to North Six-Shooter passed the time though.

Pitch 1: (5.6)/90 ft

The first pitch traverse across exposed, 4th class broken rock to a 5.6 chimney, ending on a wide ledge. Dominic led and did a great job throughout the climb. We all did well on this pitch and I felt pretty good about the summit prospects.

Dominic and initial traverse:

North Six-Shooter from top of pitch 1:

Pitch 2: (5.4)/80 ft

This was supposed to be the easy pitch, but it turned out to be a lot harder! The route traverses a ledge to a short crack climb up to another ledge. We must not have found the 5.4 line, because I had to rest on the rope a bit to get through this. Looking back at the mountain project description, I think the 5.4 line is via a ledge system on the ridge to the left, although I'm not for sure.

Sarah on the crack climb of the 2nd pitch:

Dwight the ballerina:

Pitch 3: (5.6 mantle/50 ft)

I was looking forward to the mantle move at the top since it's a climbing move that I'm actually good at, but it was much tougher than I was expecting! Dominic took his time setting pro, as the two thin ledges at the top are very awkward. He said his nose was touching the rock as he fought to keep in balance on the mantle move.

He was the hero and placed a couple slings in case we needed an aid! Sarah opted for a sling assist and I was hoping to pull it off sans slings, but it was not to be. Oh well, I'm a peak bagger, not a climber! Blame it on the cold and wearing gloves I guess! Dwight scampered up fairly quickly and we were all excited to pull off our first desert tower. Even though we were now in the sun, it was too cold to soak up the views on this airy summit.

The descent was a series of 3 fun raps down to the base of pitch 1. A double rope rap will get you down from the top of pitch 2.

Sarah raps from the summit:

The descent was enjoyable as we finally were able to bask in the sun and look forward to our next adventure on Elephant Butte, or so we thought!

The Six Shooters on the drive out:

Elephant Butte: A National Park Highpoint Gem

We had to backtrack to the town of Monticello as we didn't have enough gas to make it to Moab. We went up Hart's Draw Road because it was shorter than backtracking all the way back to Hwy 191, which turned out to be a huge mistake. The road climbs a long way to a pass and is not plowed in winter. Sarah's 4Runner sputtered, so she fired it up again a couple more times before it died at a snowbank that would have been a show stopper anyway. I was really bummed as our chances of getting Elephant Butte were fading. Luckily, Dominic was able to place a call to AAA and they got us some gas in an hour! With newfound hopes, we hightailed it to Arches!

Elephant Butte B, UT (5653')
Arches Natl Park highpoint
via West Fin
2 hr, 30 min RT
~3 miles RT, 700' gain

This magnificent summit has been on my radar ever since my first visit to Arches a couple years ago. It offers one of the most unique summit views in the world, a rappel on the ascent, challenging route finding, and some sweet slot canyon scrambling over high quality sandstone. It's not too often when you can combine a canyon scramble with a ranked summit, which is also a national park highpoint to boot!

We didn't get to the trailhead until 4pm, so we would to switch to turbo mode to ensure getting off this beast before dark. I was pretty excited to be here, and the views of this hulking mass of sandstone beckoned us onward.

The key early on is to pick the correct drainage between two fins. This drainage is littered with huge boulders.

The scrambling up this drainage is mostly no more than 3rd class with a 4th class rounded friction walk being the highlight when the slot narrows.

A side drainage to the right is the next thing to watch out for, which we promptly missed in our haste. We backtracked and found it, climbing up to a cool bowl where the crux of the climb lies. Above this low 5th class crux is a notch leading to the ascent rappel bolts at the end of a wide ledge to the left. Dominic setup a quick belay for this short crux.

Sarah on the crux:

Here's Dwight picking a harder line.

Video of Dwight on low 5th class section.

Here is Dominic on the first rappel below the notch. This rappel was a blast!

From the bottom, we headed right down a steep, narrow crack which Dominic and Dwight butt scooted while Sarah and I used the same anchor and rapped down that as well. From here, we made a left and enjoyed a fine, steep slick rock scramble angling climber's right to the upper crux. Switchbacks will cut the angle a bit here and it will not exceed 4th class if you pick a good line.

Dwight on the slickrock:

The upper crux wasn't too bad but a bit awkward, probably 4+. The wind was really blowing through this gap and blew my hat off, but Sarah saved the day and caught it.

Dwight on upper crux:

Once on the summit plateau, it's a short stroll to the true summit. You are greeted with views like this.

We couldn't hang around long due to the late hour, so I will have to make a return trip to further explore this amazing place. To avoid having to reclimb our ascent rappel, we found the narrow drainage to the left mentioned in the two trip reports we had, which leads you down to the final free rappel. The winds were blowing so hard through this notch that it tangled the ropes. Dominic was getting blown around, but luckily he rigged a backup prussik which helped him stay upright and untangle the mess.

The top of the last rappel:

From here, it's an easy stroll out of the canyon back to the road. What a way to end such an amazing spring break trip to Utah!


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-6 of 6

rpc - Mar 26, 2009 12:02 pm - Voted 10/10

very nice outing

great photos.


cp0915 - Mar 27, 2009 10:30 am - Voted 10/10

Excellent photos and TR

Very nice! Thanks for the stoke!

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson - Mar 29, 2009 10:54 am - Voted 10/10


Beautiful photos of two of my favorite areas, and a well written report!


HokieJim - Mar 30, 2009 2:49 pm - Voted 10/10

Chin strap?

Might be time for you to make a chin strap for that hat of yours Kevin, haha. Nice report and pictures!


altaboyd - Dec 17, 2010 9:49 pm - Hasn't voted

Great hike/climb/repel

I love Elephant Butt and you did a great job on this web page. Did you sign the log book on the top? Keep Dreaming High.


shknbke - Dec 17, 2010 10:03 pm - Hasn't voted


Yes, we did sign the register! EB is one of my favorite summits. Glad you enjoyed it too.

Viewing: 1-6 of 6



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.

Elephant ButteTrip Reports