After last month’s trip to the Henry Mountains, I’ve had my sights set on Mt. Ellen. I wasn’t quite able to get to Bull Creek Pass last month due to snow drifts on the road, though I wasn’t prepared for that much hiking then either. I returned this past weekend and hiked Mt. Ellen. I’d also planned on hiking Bull Mountain, but scrapped my plans. I took Friday off work so I could spend the day getting my gear loaded and get an earlier start. I left Price at about 1:00PM, and by 5:00PM I had camp set up at Wickiup Pass (9,240′ elevation). I’d driven in from Hanksville on the Sawmill Basin Road, which was a little rougher than the Crescent Creek road I’d used the previous month. I set my tent up under the shade of a big pine tree and then did some wandering around camp to familiarize myself with the area. I spent most of the evening reading a book, and while sitting there I saw only a few vehicles pass by.
I went to bed sometime before 11:00PM, and the wind was pretty gusty, though the trees blocked most of it. I normally don’t enjoy tent camping in the mountains because of bears, but I’d read that there are no bears in the Henry Mountains, so I felt like I could sleep soundly. I was wrong. Although the wind didn’t disturb the tent much, the sound of it blowing through the trees helped to keep me awake. Early in the morning I awoke to the sounds of some large animal walking through the trees, and it sounded like it was less than 100 feet from the tent. Occasionally it would make a snorting sound, much like I imagine a moose or elk would do. I slapped the inside of the tent and yelled, “Go on, git!” a few times, and I didn’t hear the animal after that, and I managed to get back to sleep. I was awakened again less than an hour later, and this time the animal was closer to the tent. I again slapped the tent and yelled, but the animal didn’t leave this time. A little nervous, I crawled out of my sleeping bag and put my shoes on, grabbed my handgun and a flashlight, and went outside to try scaring the animal off. I fully expected to see a large, dangerous wild animal. Through the trees I could see my flashlight reflecting on two pairs of eyes about a hundred feet away, but I couldn’t see what type of animals they were attached to. I cautiously moved forward in an attempt to see the animals and hopefully scare them away. I got close enough to see what they were, and I breathed a sigh of relief and said out loud, “Are you shitting me–it’s just cows?” Yeah, I felt pretty foolish after that. I returned to bed and tried getting some more sleep. At about 4:00AM, a truck pulled into camp and some guys unloaded their ATVs from a trailer and, from the sounds of things, tried sleeping on their trailer for a bit before eventually starting the ATVs up again and leaving. It was a very sleepless night for me, and by 7:00AM I was out of bed and getting breakfast ready.
I made oatmeal and coffee, and while having breakfast I took Torrey over and introduced her to the two dogs that had been left in the bed of the truck that pulled in earlier in the morning. I left my tent set up because I was still hoping to stay another night and hike Bull Mountain the following day. At a little after 8:00 I was driving up the mountain toward Bull Creek Pass. I quickly found a geocache there, then started the hike up Mt. Ellen. The view to the west toward Capitol Reef was just amazing. There were three ATVs parked at the trailhead, and I met their owners as they were coming down the mountain. They were hunters, carrying spotting scopes and scouting for deer. The first couple of miles was pretty easy, with mild to moderate elevation gain and a few rocky patches on the trail. After about an hour of hiking, I ran into a big snow drift just east of the ridge, which was the only snow I would see on the hike. Another half-hour later I was at the high point at 11,522′. It’s not only the highest point in the Henry Mountains, but also the highest point in all of Garfield County. I found the geocache at the high point, and also signed the BLM summit register left in a mailbox buried in a rock cairn at the summit. It was a nice place to finally rest for more than a couple of minutes. Once I was well-rested, I continued hiking north.
The entire mountain is called Mt. Ellen, but to add a little confusion, there is a peak called Mt. Ellen Peak (11,506′) about another mile north of the high point. I wasn’t looking forward to losing 400 feet of elevation only to gain it all hiking up Mt. Ellen Peak, but I couldn’t leave without also summiting that peak. I hiked down into the saddle between the peaks and started up Mt. Ellen Peak. The trail switched back and forth up the peak, crossing some big rocky stretches near the top. I’d been worried about Torrey being able to negotiate the rocky sections, but she handled them like a pro. Considering that her first hike was Marsh Peak in the Uintas, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Distances seemed deceiving as I was ascending the peak. The peak looked much farther away than my GPS was showing, and I made better time that I expected despite getting a little tired. I made the summit and spent some time finding the geocache there–it was hidden much better than the one on the high point. I took a few photos from Mt. Ellen Peak, then reversed course and followed the same route back to Bull Creek Pass.
On my way down Mt. Ellen Peak, I spotted a couple standing in the saddle between the peaks. I stopped and talked with them for a few minutes, then moved along and started the ascent up to the high point, which was the last remaining difficult portion of the hike. I got almost to the high point and saw another couple resting near the summit register, and they had a small child with them who was probably less than two years old. I leashed up Torrey just to put their minds at ease, although she has very good trail manners and probably would have ignored them. I chatted with the couple for quite a while. They were from Moab, though neither is a Utah native. He used to work for the BLM but is now a full-time artist, and I found that we had a considerable amount in common, despite the obvious differences. I also learned from them that the other couple I’d met in the saddle hadn’t come from Bull Creek Pass, so they must have hiked up a different, much more difficult route. They were more hard-core than they looked. After saying goodbye to the Moab couple, I made good time back to the pass where the truck was parked.
I’d been nursing a headache all day, probably due to the lack of sleep. Ibuprofen couldn’t control the headache, and I knew that I probably shouldn’t spend another night on the mountain. I needed to sleep in my own bed if I was going to rid myself of the headache. I returned to camp and met the guys who’d arrived at 4:00AM that morning. They were from the Salt Lake area, and it was their first trip into the Henrys. I ate a quick lunch and took down camp, said adios to the fellows, and drove down the mountain, passing Bull Mountain with only a slight twinge of regret–the steep slopes would have to wait until I was running at 100%. Despite the headache, I didn’t want the weekend to be entirely over. I decided to take the long way home, west on UT-24 from Hanksville and through Capitol Reef National Park, then north on UT-72 to Fremont Junction and then UT-10 home. I found a couple of geocaches along the way, but only those which where close to the road and didn’t look too lame. I thought about attempting to cross the Fremont River near Caineville Reef to find one geocache, but the river was running too swiftly and I was unfamiliar with the river crossing, so I skipped it. I stopped in Torrey to chat with Bob Palin, and had quite a nice visit with him at the Wayne County Visitor’s Center. The headache hit me with a vengeance after leaving Torrey, and I only stopped for photos once after leaving town. It was my first time driving over UT-72, and the drive itself was pleasant, but the views from the summit were simply amazing. Sunset is definitely the best time to be there, and I just happened to make it at the right time. I got a few nice shots, then headed north toward home. I started getting very drowsy after passing through Ferron, and I ended up taking a 10-minute nap parked alongside Main Street in Castle Dale, which really helped me feel better. The remainder of the drive home went quickly, and I was in better spirits. I did nothing except shower and go straight to bed after getting home, and slept for 10.5 hours straight, finally awaking without that damned headache.
GPS Tracklog and Photo Waypoints (Google Earth .KMZ Format)
GPS Tracklog and Photo Waypoints (Google Maps)