Peak(s):  West Elk Pk  -  13,035 feet
Date Posted:  04/19/2020
Date Climbed:   09/23/2018
Author:  13erRetriever
 Mini Horse Pick-Me-Up  

West Elk Peak
Elevation: 13,035 ft.
Rank: 617
Date Completed: September 23, 2018
Mileage RT: ~18
Gain: ~4800

I think many of us have those select trips that we just like to keep to ourselves for one reason or another. If you're one of those people, you know the ones I'm talking about. West Elk was one of those trips for me. It still is to a great extent, but now that the COVID-19 pandemic has all but confined us to our residences I feel like I should be sharing at least a part of that weekend with a few animal-loving souls who may find some semblance of joy from our trip.

I summited solo, but I was surely not alone for this trip. In fact, there were 5 people, 6 dogs, 2 mini horses, and 1 donkey. I also took what it is the standard route (Mill Creek Trail) up this gentle giant, which has a trail all the way to the obvious ridge at Storm Pass. The existing trip reports on the .com were still valid as of a year and a half ago, so what I have to add isn't really about the route or the trail at all. Nope. Today, I'm just going to share a whole bunch of pictures of mini horses on mountains. Enjoy! Bonus: Harper Quinn still had a bow stuck on her ear from her Oktoberfest costume, so ENJOOOOOY!

For those of you wanting a little more than just pictures, I ended up on this mountain for the sole reason that it's a middle point between Denver (where I live) and Montrose (where my cousins and alllll the animals live). Cam was my cousin Bobbie's boyfriend at the time and was a big backpacker. Bobbie won't do anything without horses. Enter the Bobbie era of the pack-carrying mini horse, which was their compromise. Cam is no longer, but the mini horses have thankfully remained. Bobbie reached out to me a few weeks before Cam's birthday wanting to do a test run with her minis on a backpacking trip. Being the peak-bagger that I am, I decided on the Mill Creek trail so I could summit the lowly and remote West Elk Peak. I roped in an unsuspecting old friend who had just moved to Denver, and Cam brought another friend along to bring our people group to 5. We met at the Mill Castle TH at the end of CR 727 late Friday night after work and slept outside the horse trailer next to the fire. The next morning we were off. We planned on spending only one night up in Mill Basin and heading down the next day, and that's exactly what we did. We camped in the willows at about 11,800 ft and 6.5 miles in, and I woke up at 4:00 to summit West Elk solo in the sunrise. On day 2, we hiked back out and had birthday cake and a picnic that my grandparents had brought for a picnic from Montrose. I don't typically use GPS, so I don't have tracks to follow. What I can say about the trail is that it exists, it has enough downed logs to make hiking it with mini-horses ill-advised, that camping is nearly non-existent once you leave the meadows until you reach treeline and even then you'll be sleeping on a hill, and that it is absolutely gorgeous.

Dat ass doh. The donkey's name is Donkey. No, we did not ride Donkey. I should also mention that despite being a donkey, Donkey was the most well behaved equine on this excursion. I would say most well behaved animal but we know Harper Quinn takes the cake on that any day.
My pack horse of honor on this trip was none other than the lovely Mini B. "B" stands for something I won't specify, but she wasn't exactly the most polite little horse when Bobbie first got her from the auction block so I don't feel like I need to elaborate further. However, we got along swell on the trip and I'd backpack with her again in a heartbeat.
We would spend the next two days walking just like this. Harper had the good sense not to walk behind Mini B (she kicks) or in front of her (she nips) but nothing can keep Harper from walking near her mom, at least.
The Mill Creek Trail from the Mill-Castle TH starts on an old road in the forest, but soon opens up to beautiful meadows.
We didn't pass a single person on our first day until oddly enough at sunset when we were setting up camp waaay up in Mill Basin.
I'm pretty sure there was a pep talk going on here.
No pep talk ever needed for Harper Quinn, however. If she needs attention she is SURE to come find you. And if you don't want to give it, she is SURE to find a way to be the center of attention.
Bobbie heading up with Donkey and Cam heading up with mini horse #2, aptly named Farquaad for his little-man complex.
We were a little early for the aspen I think, but still had a spectacular show.
Ah yes, the third mini horse, Bobbie's majestic Great Dane Lilly.
Our equine companions taking a break, while two of the six canine companions keep watch. While we didn't see anyone on our first day until we made camp, we saw several groups on the second on our way back down. Each was fascinated by our trip and our choice (and probably number) of animals and we had a lots of photos taken.
The willows got really thick higher up in the basin, though remnants of the trail existed so we knew we were in the right place. Mini B wasn't too big of a fan of the overgrown trail, but soon after taking off that morning she learned that her ears were right at scratching height if she walked her head next to me, which provided lots of encouragement for her to keep pace.
Bobbie and Donkey sniffing out a campsite high up in Mill Basin.
Sweet Donkey.
Mini B chomping down as we consider where to camp up in Mill Basin.
Farquaad takes a nap as we set up, before we turned the animals loose to graze
Chubbs and Harper taking it all in at the end of the day.
The others were worn out after day 1, and weren't really interested in summits anyways. So Harper and I set out before the sun from camp to make it to West Elk Peak. The night before as we were all sitting around the campfire, two strangers has emerged from the dark to make their presence known and sit with us for a while at our warm fire. I think they ended up staying at our camp that night, but I was the first to go to bed so I can't be certain. In any case, I was completely alone on the trail in the morning. No headlamps. No voices. Just silence and darkness. I don't find myself solo on mountains very often, and never solo in the dark. We were almost to the top of Storm Pass when the sun began to rise.
When we did finally make it to the top of Storm Pass, I was treated to one of the best views I think I'll ever have. My phone camera just can't do these moments justice. Over to the left are the Castles, a unique rock formation best viewed from Storm Pass. The peaks beyond are the Elk Range. The mutt in the front is my reason for existing.
The ridge over to West Elk Peak. Very gentle, but longer than it looks.
Soon after reaching Storm Pass on our way over to the summit, we began to hear coyotes calling from the basin below. They sounded so close but I never spotted them. Being alone with my dog, I decided not to stick around. We made the summit quickly then turned around for camp, where numbers would be our greatest protection.
Last bit to the summit
On our return to Storm Pass, the lighting of the Castles was brilliant.
All of your Elk Range favorites.
Mini B had some kisses for me when I did finally make it back to camp. I was running behind schedule, so they had already packed up and were ready to go as soon as I got down. My feet were screaming for a break but I knew we needed to get back.
The conga line heading down.
Lots of green aspen, but lots of yellow too! Take a look at some of the other West Elk reports and you'll see how spectacular this area is when it's in its full glory.
I should mention that Chubbs passed away just a few weeks ago. He wasn't mine, but he was a good dog and I'm glad I had this trip with him.
Sweet girl is almost down to the TH for some of Cam's birthday cake and some great-grandparent hugs.

And for those of you wondering about the aforementioned Oktoberfest costume and source of the green bow, a little more joy:

Dog in a dirndl. We'll make it in time for the costume contest one of these years.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

Looks like a ton of fun!
04/19/2020 18:55
You've inspired me, I've gotta get back to the elk range...


Baby Harper
04/20/2020 08:04
What a wonderful trip! Doesn't look like you'll need too much convincing to go back with me one day ;)


04/20/2020 16:43
Seems like one of the prettiest areas in the state from the tr's out there. Must plan for a latter September one of these years. Thanks for the nudge!

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