Mt. Elliott is a peak at the top of the Book Cliffs and a prominent landmark along US-6 between Price and Green River, though I never had much desire to reach the summit until somebody placed a geocache there in 2007. Since then, every time I traveled that stretch of US-6 I’ve looked up at the peak and wanted to go there. The trip requires either an ATV or dirtbike, or more than 20 miles of hiking, and you must cross the Price River when the flow is less than about 50 CFS (which is usually the case less than half the year). I didn’t get my ATV until early ’08, but even after then the river was flowing too high or I didn’t have somebody to accompany me on the trip, and it’s not a trip one should do alone.
This weekend things finally came together and I made a successful trip onto Beckwith Plateau and to Mt. Elliott. I’d noticed that three new geocaches had been placed on Beckwith Plateau last weekend, which meant that the river was passable and that there was an even greater motivation to go there. However, it wasn’t until Thursday that I decided to make a go of it. I asked Chris if he wanted to go–he has always told me to let him know when I was going. Cortney was supposed to have been busy all weekend, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity either. They both showed up at my house Friday evening and spent the night, and we left here Saturday morning a little after 8:30–later than I’d hoped. We parked the trucks just off the highway near Woodside and began our ride before 10:00.
The first several miles were on a smooth graded road, but where the county ends its maintenance the road is plagued with rockfalls and boulders. Most of it was easy on an ATV, but one spot scared the shit out of me. The trail went up and then back down a hill, but it sloped steeply to the south toward the river. I risked tipping over or sliding off the trail into the soft dirt, either of which would have resulted in my ATV rolling down the hill and into the river. I overcompensated for the off-camber trail by riding it a little too far up on the high side, and Cortney had to lend some weight to one side of my machine to get me past that spot. He and Chris made it without needing help. We continued toward the river crossing, which I was deeply dreading.
We stopped at the river crossing and gauged the depth and tried to figure out which line to take. We also tried to decide who would go first. Cortney “volunteered” to cross first, and though the water was really deep and pretty swift, he made it across without issue. I was still worried about Chris and I crossing it because we had smaller ATVs and less experience than Cortney. I went second. I felt like just closing my eyes and pinning the throttle. I took it relatively slow in 4WD and first gear, and made a pretty straight line across the river. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, and my machine didn’t stall out in the middle of the current like I’d feared. Chris also made it across safely, and we sat there for several minutes on the other side of the river recovering from the adrenaline rush before moving on.
The trail immediately climbed up some switchbacks and out of the canyon after the river crossing. It was a bit rocky, but it was wide and easy compared to what we’d already passed. After a couple of sections of switchbacks, we followed the top of the plateau almost all of the remaining distance to Mt. Elliott, and the trail gained 1,000′ in just under four miles. Just before reaching our parking spot for Mt. Elliott, there was a huge road cut and dugway that dropped 200′ in less than half a mile. We parked at the most logical place below the saddle that separates Mt. Elliott from the mesa to the northeast.
The hike was steep, and loose in places. Near the top of the peak I let Torrey off her leash because I needed both hands to scramble up some of the ledges. We gained almost 600′ of elevation over the course of 0.4 miles. The views once we reached the saddle were amazing now that we could see over the edge of the Book Cliffs to the north and west, but from the peak they were even better, with views to the south east into the central San Rafael Swell. We took some time to appreciate the views from the top and signed the logbook in the geocache. We also found a summit register that somebody had placed there last year, so we signed it as well. I later found a photo of the visitor register on SummitPost, taken by the person who left it there. We hiked back down toward the 4-wheelers, and rolled a few boulders off the backside of Mt. Elliott on our way down. We’d spent a total of about two hours hiking and taking photos and horsing around. We ate a few snacks back at the bottom, then hopped on the ATVs and continued along the trail toward its end.
We found one of the newer geocaches at a place where the trail reached the western edge of the Book Cliffs at an overlook with a magnificent view. After moving on from there, it began to snow. We’d already seen some light flurries at the top of Mt. Elliott, but it was coming down much harder now. It let up after ten or so minutes, and though it wasn’t enough to stick to the ground or keep the dust down on the trail, it made a mess of my sunglasses. After following the trail around the heads of two canyons, we reached the top of Elliott Mesa. From there, the trail was sandy in most spots, and quite fast. I spent a lot of time in fifth gear up there. It was relatively flat and there wasn’t much in the way of scenery, so it’s just as well that we were hauling ass. We reached the end of the road at the drill hole pretty quickly. There was another new geocache there, hidden in an old tire surrounding the cap on the drill hole. We were amazed that the entire stretch of road had been built just to drill one oil well which was more than two miles deep, and which turned out to be dry. After a brief rest stop at the old drill pad, we took a quick detour a half-mile away to an old corral where there was one final geocache. We also had a nice view down Short Canyon toward the Green River.
Since we’d ridden the entire length of the road and found all the geocaches in the area, it was time to head home. It was almost 5:00 PM, and we’d been on the trail for seven hours. We only had about three more hours of daylight left, so we had to make good time to get back to the trucks before full dark. We cruised along at a good clip, stopping only a couple of times for a minute or two to snap some quick photos. It took just under two hours to reach the river crossing, and again I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’d been worried that with all the storms and the warmer temperatures during the day that the river would be running higher than in the morning. However, the stick that I’d stuck in the mud at the water line on the far bank was still at the water line, so the water was about the same as we’d encountered in the morning. This time I crossed first, then Cortney and Chris followed. We made a quick stop at some rock art that we hadn’t stopped for in the morning, then sped back toward the trucks. We reached them at about 7:30 and loaded up the machines. Cortney headed south toward home, and Chris and I went back to my house where Traci had dinner waiting, and Chris and I enjoyed a couple of drinks to celebrate our successful adventure.
GPS Tracklog and Waypoints (Google Earth .KMZ Format)
GPS Tracklog and Waypoints (Google Maps)