Peak(s):  West Elk Pk  -  13,035 feet
Date Posted:  06/21/2020
Date Climbed:   06/20/2020
Author:  Flyingfish
 A Swampy Route up West Elk  

West Elk Peak 13,035

June 19- 21, 2020

TH- Swampy Pass TH

Distance- 24.75 mi

Vertical- 5110ft

The West Elk Wilderness is one of the least accessed wilderness areas in the lower 48. With Mill Creek being easily the most used area. With that being said most of the trails in the wilderness area are not well used or maintained so having good navigation skills are pretty essential for effective travel. Living in the Gunnison Valley and looing up at West Elk year round is very intriguing. When the opportunity arose to give a two night backpacking trip a go arose it was easy to jump on. Since all the other TR's on West Elk are from the southern approach from Mill Creek this report should provide good information on the northern approach to West Elk.

Swampy Pass Trailhead is about 20 minutes farther up Ohio Pass from Mill Creek. The Road is very easy 2wd dirt with the parking area being very large with a pit toilet. The trail starts across the road and climbs quickly to provide a great view for the northern West Elks

Northern West Elks

From this point West Elk is directly behind and slightly right of the castles and seems a long way away. The trail meanders through an aspen forest while not really gaining or losing significant elevation for the next 2 miles or so.

Take a left at this junction
Easy ditch trail. Stay right for a few hundred feet then take a left down the hill.

After dropping a few hundred feet into a meadow you will climb the next few hundred feet into a pine forest. The trail then slowly gains some elevation while continuing slowly SW. After 4.5 miles the trail will open into another large meadow with incredible views of the castles and your first good views of the north side of Storm Pass.

Much closer to the castles.
Easy trail through the meadows


After another mile of walking through the meadows the trail turns south and at the end of the meadow there is a fairly sizable creek crossing. For us it was a get your feet wet crossing but later in the season there may be a dry crossing point.

Cold water 5 miles in.
Looking back at the meadow walk.

From the creek crossing follow the signs toward storm pass while you gain 300-400 feet of vertical. The ideal camping location for this approach is a lake at around 10,000 ft. This is around 7 miles and 1,500 feet into the trip. Above this spot there are not many flat areas for camping and reliable water becomes fewer.

Lake right beneath the castles.
Lots of camping available.
Large wetlands area.

From camp the trail up Storm Pass heads south along the wetland the does an ascending contour beneath the castles. From the Lake onward the trail becomes thin and hard to follow in places.

Avalanche debris along the trail.
Looking back down the trail.

The trail is easy enough as it climbs to ~11,200ft. From this point the trail climbs the north side of storm pass which is much steeper and less used than the south side of storm.

Trail moving between snow fields.
Trail just above tree line with the castles and Elks behind.

Looking up at Storm Pass.
Upper basin.

From the top of Storm Pass it is a straight forward ridge hike to the summit of West Elk. On the decent due to the wind and hazardous terrain just below the top of Storm Pass we dropped off the saddle into the upper basin and traversed east along the south slopes towards tree line and lower Storm Pass. Potentially when the snow is melted the trail up Storm would be easy to follow and use but with snow it was hazardous without traction.

Looking down the basin from West Elk.
West Elk from Storm Pass.
Elks spread out along the horizon.
North towards the Anthracites.

This route is very off the beaten path and the views are amazing. The trails may see less than 50 people a year and depending on use they might not exist in a few years. I would highly recommend spending some time in this part of Colorado. Unfortunately my GPX track is only from camp to West Elk and back but the rest is well marked.


Route overview.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

 Comments or Questions
Jon Frohlich

06/22/2020 12:08
I tried to climb West Elk years ago from Mill Creek but got weathered off. Made it to Storm Pass (figures) and had to turn back. Looks gorgeous this way!

Jump Roper

nice report
08/10/2020 19:49
What delightful log, thank you for taking the time to write it.

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