Location: North 38:06.541, West 110:48.812 (GPS at the summit)
Difficulty: YDS class 2 (just barely!)
Climbed: July 22, 2008
How to get there:
This is indeed a mountain where the driving to the trailhead is a main
challenge both in terms of distance and navigation. The small village of
Hanksville will serve as our point of reference. Hanksville is located at the
intersection between Hwy. 24 (connecting from Interstate I-70 to the National Park
Capitol Reef) and Hwy. 95 (connecting south to Glen Canyon National Recreational Area).
Hwy. 24 heads south from I-70 a few miles west of Green River.
The Henry Mountains (where Mount Ellen is the highest point) can be accessed from the east
and from the west. The west access is the best if you are arriving from Capitol Reef National
Park, for all other directions the east access is better. The following description will
detail driving directions from Hanksville via the east access, then crossing west towards
Capitol Reef. Thus, this description can be used for the two possible ways to drive. The reader
should have no problems with reversing the description below if s/he is arriving from the west side.
Starting from Hanksville, locate the intersection between Hwy. 24 and Hwy. 95 and set your odometer
to zero at this point. Drive south on Hwy. 95 (the signs say 95-east). Look carefully to your right
as you approach mile 20.3. There is a sign here saying "Scenic Byway". As you exit Hwy. 95 here and drive
down a small hill, there will be more signs, one saying "Bull Creek Pass" which is our trailhead
destination. The road is a good quality dirt road, most regular cars can make this if they have
an experienced driver and the conditions are good, in particular, the roads should be dry.
At mile 24.1, turn right, there are signs here. At mile 24.7, continue on the "main road" the same
way as the signs point. Similarly at mile 30.0, follow the main road. Finally, you arrive at
mile 33.6. Here you want to make a hairpin type turn to the right. Most vehicles will need to make this
turn by shifting forward and reverse a couple of times. There are signs here saying Wickiup Pass and
Hanksville in the direction you should drive. At mile 36.8, you arrive at Wickiup Pass, make a left
here (there is a sign for Bull Creek Pass). At mile 39.5, you arrive at the east-west divide of the
Henry Mountains - Bull Creek Pass. There is parking here on your right. This is the trailhead for
Mount Ellen, location N38:05.150, W110:48.145, elevation about 3200 meter.
In order to complete the access description,
we now continue from Bull Creek Pass going west. If you
arrive from the west, just reverse this description and you should be fine.
At mile 41.7, there is a road coming form the right, keep going straight. At mile 42.0, one should
also go straight, here a smaller road goes right (to a campground?), while a larger road goes left.
At mile 42.6, a small road enters from the right (ignore it). At mile 42.9, there is a small
road going left (ignore it). At mile 44.1, there is a cabin (with a side road) on your right.
At mile 44.6, you pass McMillan Springs Campground (on your right). At mile 47.1, there is a road
connecting from your left (ignore it), at this point a sign for Bull Ceek Pass, saying 8 miles points
in the direction we are coming from. At mile 50.3, one should keepgoing straight, a side road goes left,
having a sign saying "King Ranch 2 miles". At mile 51.7, there is a small, signed road going right, ignore it.
At mile 54.3, a road enters from the left side, it has a sign saying "Tarantula" and "The Horn", do not
go that way. At mile 63.4, you arrive at Sandy Ranch, there is a road going left that should be ignored.
However, a short distance BEFORE arriving at Sandy Ranch (as we are driving from Bull Creek Pass), one
must cross Sandy Creek. When we drove across, this creek was dry. However, the entire riverbed was indeed
just very sandy (no rocks to be seen). This may mean that a crossing could be muddy and possibly cause
difficulties (danger of getting stuck?) if there is (substantial?) water in the creek. In this respect,
the access from the east side to Bull Creek Pass may be easier/safer. The problem that has been reported
with the east approach concerns snow. Appearently, the snow may remain (and block access) on the east
side longer than what one would experience on the west side. There is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
office in Hanksville that may provide updated information on the road conditions.
Returning to our description, at mile 66.9, the dirt road ends and a paved road continues to Hwy. 24.
At this point, there is also a dirt road that continues towards Hanksville and connects with Hwy. 24
a bit closer (10 miles?) to Hanksville. The paved road may still be preferable for some drivers.
At mile 76.9, you finally reach Hwy. 24. This intersection is located immediately outside the boundary
of Capitol Reef National Park (ie. Hwy. 24 enters the park immediately after this intersection.)
The intersection is marked "Notom Road, route 1670" (that is the name of the road that we now are leaving.)
The reader will notice that the distance from Hanksville to the trailhead via the east route is 39.5
miles, with about 20 miles of dirt road. The dirt road on the west side is 27 miles, and the total distance
from Hanksville is closer to 70 miles. At the time when we drove the entire distance, the quality of the
dirt road was not different and I would have driven my ordinary passenger car across without any
difficulties. The Sandy Creek crossing may be an additional factor to consider on the west side.
Clearly, a high clearance 4WD vehicle is to be preferred when crossing the Henry Mountains.
From the trailhead, a clearly visible trail passes through the fence and heads
north along the ridge.
There is a trail register at the fence. This trail climbs gradually towards Mount Ellen, but sort of
ends at a point marked with a big cairn, just before ascending the final section of the ridge.
The terrain is a bit more rocky for a short section until
you reach the first of three fairly
distinct humps along the summit ridge. The highest point is located at the last (third) of these humps.
There is a summit register placed in a standard US mailbox
at this location. The terrain along the ridge
(between the humps) is less rocky and even has a faint trail
at least some part of the way. This route is (YDS) class 1 almost the entire way, but due to
the short stretch of rocks (with no trail) a class 2 rating has been assigned.
I did this hike with my wife Heidi and my son Pål Jørgen.
The main adventure was the drive across the Henry Mountains
from the east (Hwy. 95) and
all the way to Capitol Reef National Park on
the west side. We saw deer, then bigger elk, quite
a good number of them.
The highlight of the drive was coming directly across a large herd of
wild buffalo. These buffalo have been
here since 1941 when a number of animals were moved
from Yellowstone National Park. We spotted quite a few "baby buffalo",
so the animals seem to
be doing fine in this wilderness area.
The hike to Mount Ellen is rather short and trivial,
but nice as a family tour. We left the
car around 0730 and arrived at Mount Ellen in less than one hour. We spent about one hour
at the summit with snacks and water.
The view is impressive and the colors and variations
of the landscape
to the west (Capitol Reef) is just "unreal" (at least for a Norwegian).
We were back at the car around 1000, resuming
our nice drive towards Capitol Reef.
As we arrived in the National Park, dark clouds had assembled and a brief period
of rain, thunder and lightning just underscored how weather do change and why an early
start (like ours) is highly recommended for trips like this one.
Mount Ellen, as seen from the west. The highest point is
on the rightmost ridge.