Elephant Butte

March 23, 2009

The highpont of Arches National Park, a short but very sweet easy 5th class scramble

Elephant Butte entrance

Magic entry point

This dramatic and unmistakable slot in the rock marks the beginning of a devious route to the summit. It is just a short walk from the parking area and we easily located it by looking at a similar photo we'd brought along. The surrounding terrain can be confusing though.

Elephant Butte rocks

Cool rocks

We encountered this pile of rocks in the bottom of a bowl early on in the scramble. For some reason I found it highly aesthetic. The crux of the climb is located just out of sight to the left.

Elephant Butte crux


Kevin climbing up the crux, the only part of the climb where we were compelled to rope up. Since it cannot be protected, Dominic scrambled up first and set up a belay for the rest of us. A slip would have sent him tumbling down the little bowl into the rock pile - not nice, but not terribly serious. It seems to typically get a 5.4 rating, but we thought it could be as easy as 5.2.

Elephant Butte slickrock

Slickrock scrambling

After the crux, a short downclimb, and a rappel we began scrambling up easy slickrock slopes toward the summit.

Elephant Butte

Where did we come up?

The convoluted route we took to the summit started by the road that can be seen in the distance on the far left. A good route desciption is key to efficiently finding your way through this maze. The descent route is more direct but involves a free-rappel down terrain that cannot be upclimbed.

Elephant Butte

Direct descent

The boys making their way down the slickrock toward the exit rappel. The funky tower on the right is a great landmark for finding the proper gully to descend

Elephant Butte

Smooth chute

Dwight making his way down a smooth shoot that leads to the end of the road and a rappel station. There is a small bowl at the bottom of the chute that sometimes holds water and can be stemmed across. Several pitons on the far side of the bowl serve as a solid rappel anchor.  

Elephant Butte final rappel

Exit rappel

Kevin rappelling to easier ground in the descent gully. The final part is a free-rappel and a lot of fun. Apparently some sort of ladder used to exist here and remnants of it can still be seen.

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