Elk Range Overview
The high mountains of Colorado’s Elk Range are among the finest peaks in the Rockies. With Wilderness designation, these protected mountains are rugged, steep and aesthetically pleasing. Crystal clear streams, pristine alpine lakes and lush green vegetation are common sights.
The Elk Range can be sectioned into three sub ranges, the Central Elks (Maroon Bells, Capitol Peak/Snowmass Mountain, and the Conundrum/Taylor River area), the Raggeds (Chair Mountain, Ragged Mountain and the Treasure Mountain massif) and the West Elks (the Beckwith’s, the Owens Mountain massif, West Elk massif and the Anthracite Range.)
The scenic beauty of the Elk Range is mostly due to its unique geology. There are two very distinct geological types of rock that are clearly evident in the Elk Mountains, the tertiary intrusives, and the stratified sedimentary. The whitish, gray rock of the tertiary intrusives is responsible for the sweeping, skinny ridges that connect point-to-point, evident in Snowmass Mountain, The Beckwith’s, Capitol Peak and the Chair Mountain massif. Second, the stratified purplish-red, sedimentary rock of the Permian age, evidenced in mountains like Cathedral Peak, Teocalli Mountain, Pyramid Peak, Maroon Bells and UN13,336.
Over the years, the Elk Range has have remained in respectably good shape. Thanks to the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, we can visit large sections mountainous terrain knowing not much has changed since early exploration.
The Elk Range has a slight reputation for difficult and dangerous climbing due to the loose and crumbling nature of the prevalent geology. Most of the prominent high peaks in this range require solid route finding and climbing skills. If you choose to spend time hiking and climbing the Elks, expect a different experience every time out. The experiences here can be good or bad. It could be an experience you won’t ever forget, or an experience that you want to forget, but can’t.
- Thanks to Kane for use of this section.
This offically unnamed peak is famous for the highest named pass in Colorado which is Electric Pass. Electric Pass is named for the static electricity that apparently makes people's hair stand up when they are up there. However, when we summited it was windy about 30 miles an hour and rather chilly. Weather aside this is actually somewhat of an amazing peak. The hike up is not very strenuous and almost at a perfect eight percent trail grade most of the way. Also, since this is a 13er it is much less crowded than its nearby neighbors like Castle Peak and the Maroon Bells. If your plan was to spend some time in the Aspen area climbing and hiking this would be a nice aclimazation mountain.
First get to Aspen, Colorado since the road is essentially a dead end and Aspen is the only access point. From Colorado 82 take Castle Creek road exactly 12 miles South. After passing Ashcroft at mile 11 look for the trailhead sign on the right. take the dirt road about a half mile up to a small parking lot. A four door grand prix could at one time make it up the road. That leaves you at the Cathedral Lake trailhead. A useful guide for the area is Gerry Roach's Guide to Colorado Mountains 13,800 to 13,900 feet. This is the same trailhead and approach as Cathedral Peak.
This peak is also in the White River National Forest and as a result a permit system is now in effect. Climbers should register before climbing and carry permits during the climb. For a more detailed discussion of the permit issue see the Red Tape Section on the Holy Cross page: More Red Tape
Maps: Maroon Bells, White River National Forest
Aspen Ranger District Office
USDA Forest Service
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602
When To Climb
This is an amazing starter mountain for anyone wanting to get into climbing 13ers and 14ers in Colorado so expect more people on the mountain during the summer when a pair of tennis shoes are all that you need to walk up the path. For those more daring who choose to go out in winter this mountain with gentle slopes and a few hundred feet less elevation would present and interesting introduction. However, avalanche danger could be quite dangerous especially after record amounts of snow in the Rockies. It can be climbed in any season with the propper preperation, knowledge, and experience.
I would recommend this camping area to any one getting into backpacking or someone who wants to go basecamp backpacking with the family. The campground is just below Cathedral Lake about a ten minute walk from the shore, only about a quarter mile. As you are heading up the trail to Cathedral lake it is on the left side of the trail. This is a completely undeveloped campground no firerings or latrines. It is also just below treeline so there is some protection from the wind and sun since it it nearly 11,800 feet high. We used a bear canister, but a bear rope could have been hung from a few of the surrounding trees.
Remember that this is the wilderness and there will be future guests so be curteous and practice Leave No Trace, LNT, at all times so that future generations like myself can enjoy these area's for a long time to come.
Aspen Ranger District, 806 W. Hallam , Aspen, CO, 81611, Phone: 970-925-3445
Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC)
Click image to enlarge
Click here to view a 7-day forecast for "Electric Pass Peak