Peak(s):  The Elephant 12,865
Date Posted:  12/07/2021
Date Climbed:   09/15/2021
Author:  gore galore
 The Elephant of the Gore Range, A Tail of Some Completions, An Interception and A Few Incompletions   


The Elephant, 12,865

Point 12,252

Black Creek Point,” 11,084

by gore galore

I have always wondered how an elephant wandered into the Gore Range and became a part of these mountains. The origin of the name of The Elephant is shrouded in mystery and I can only deduce how it came about.

In 1931 a U. S. Geological Survey team of Charles D. Mitchell, R. E. Brislawn, Harold T. Weaver and G. A. Graham, caretaker at Black Lake made the fourth ascent of Mount Powell as part of mapping the Mt. Powell Quad. Their climbing report remarked on the view of the Mount of the Holy Cross. I can't help thinking that in looking south they probably spotted The Elephant because if you ever wanted to see an elephant in the wild of Colorado you can see one from the summit of Mount Powell.

The outline of the summit is broad like that of the top of an elephant's head and the northeast and southwest ridges bump up against the head to form the large ears. The north ridge forms the characteristic trunk as it descends from the head to an upturned end or snout just like that of an elephant.

In 1933 Kenneth Segerstrom of the U. S. Geological Survey and also a Colorado Mountain Club member climbed Dora Mountain and Eagles Nest with Harold T. Weaver. I can't help thinking that the subject of The Elephant from the views of the peaks climbed were part of the conversation between the two.

When the Colorado Mountain Club held its annual Summer Outing in the Gore Range in 1935 the first ascent of The Elephant was noted in the outing report. Although Segerstrom was not part of the outing the name of The Elephant was by then known to the club members.

I had made the acquaintance of Kenneth Segerstrom in 1986 and asked him how the name of The Elephant came about but fifty plus years had dimmed his memory and he couldn't recall. But I believe the connection of events between the U.S.G.S. with Weaver and Segerstrom and the CMC was how The Elephant came to be in the Gore Range.


I compare my span of almost 40 years of climbing The Elephant to that of a dreaded sports analogy. In the 1950's and 1960's football was known as a running game of “three yards and a cloud of dust” as opposed to a passing game. It was said of the forward pass that “only three things could happen and two of them were bad.” And in this respect, I would experience all three things good and bad in climbing The Elephant of some completions, an interception and a few incompletions.


I made my first climb of The Elephant as part of a backpacking trip to climb peaks in the upper reaches of the south fork of Black Creek in 1982. I ascended the south side from “Berlya Lake” on the Ormes “Gore-Tenmile Atlas” which I used in those days and descended the southwest ridge.

This was such a nifty COMPLETION but like that of Segerstrom's memory I don't recall too many details except some jotted notes, route lines on my map and some pictures one of which is me eating lunch with my large glass mustard jar prominently displayed in the picture.


I didn't return to The Elephant until the next decade in 1998. This time I wanted to complete a one day climb of some 19 miles from Highway 9 going up the south fork again. I angled left in the gullies below Point 12,252 which would figure prominently in a climb twenty-three years later. I gained the upper northeast ridge of the east side cirque to the left of 12,252 and met the ridge complications of a knife edge, a rock tower and some cliffs blocking the route before I made the summit from the north.

I would call this a COMPLETION except that it turned into a costly fumble and an INTERCEPTION on the descent. Because of the complications of the upper northeast ridge, I decided to descend into the north cirque which is rarely entered and down into the clutches of the worst of the notorious Black Creek valley.

Early survey maps of the Gore Range label the valley as Black Creek Canon. I don't have the words to describe this canon or valley and have to rely on someone else to describe what it is like to be caught in this quagmire.

In 1952 a Colorado Mountain Club party led by Allen Greene attempted to climb Mount Powell from Black Lake. Greene wrote in his trip report that “the canyon is a region of nothing but tangled down-timber, swamps, mudholes, rock-and-timber landslides, cliffs, and just about every other hindrance known to mankind.”

I remember the tangled down-timber the best and somewhere in this tangle of timber of Black Creek above the confluence of the south fork I was intercepted by nightfall. I was fortunate that in this first week of September the nights were still warm for I only had a light jacket as I settled in for the night on the ground between some logs.

I have long wanted to do a backpack trip up Black Creek to Kneeknocker Pass and Mount Powell or taking the northwest fork to Cliff Lake and Eagles Nest but after this experience and all these years I have never quite mustered the will power for this undertaking.


Eighteen years passed until I returned to The Elephant again in the next century when I had renewed interest in the peak in 2016. Part of my interest was for a recon of the southeast ridge of Dora Mountain to see if I could spot the location of “Parka Rock Aiguille” for a future planned climb.

The trail head approach road from the highway which I have to hike and the four trails to get to the meadows where the Colorado Mountain Club camped on their 1935 outing at the foot of the northeast ridge of The Elephant makes the approach hike seem longer than it might be. The approach road is 4WD and the initial three trails are maintained but the final trail is unmaintained, and its beginning location is hard to find. This trail appears on only one recreational map that I have seen.

But I always seem to persevere and once at the CMC meadows I set my sights on Point 11,084 at the lower end of the northeast ridge. The northeast ridge divides the south fork from the main Black Creek and would possibly provide a good view of what I was looking for.

The combination of a creek crossing from the meadows coupled with some circular talus deposits in the steep bushwhack of the timber led to the rocky outcrops of its summit. The views of most of the surrounding peaks of the two Black forks were there for the counting.

I now call 11,084 “Black Creek Point” and left a register of my passing on 7/24/16. Although I had no intentions of climbing The Elephant itself, I looked upon this summit as a satisfying COMPLETION on The Elephant massif.


The idea of climbing the mile and a half northeast ridge of The Elephant germinated in my mind but would not see the light of day until five years later in 2021. This time when I hiked to the CMC meadows, I was surprised to meet six fishermen from Wisconsin camped there.

When I inquired how they found this way-out place for them, one replied that they had read an article in the Denver Post from awhile back that had called the south fork Black Creek something on the order of the last great wilderness in Colorado.

This could certainly be true in 1935 when the Colorado Mountain Club camped in these meadows on their annual summer outing when they climbed 14 peaks of which 8 were first ascents. The thought of the south fork as the last great wilderness might even have been partially true into the 1970's but certainly not now as user trails attest to this that lead from the CMC meadows up valley.

In 2015 on the eightieth anniversary of this outing eight of us hiked into the south fork and climbed some of those peaks in tribute to those club members. I wrote of this in my trip report “Peak K and the 1935 Black Creek Tribute Trip of 2015.”

The northeast ridge which borders the meadows is not one of those clean cut high alpine ridges with the summit in the background as is seen in many high-country pictures. It begins in the rock outcrops of the narrow tree covered ridge of Point 11,084 and as the trees give way the outcrops and the crest of the ridge becomes more prominent leading to something of a small saddle at 11,240 before the ridge leaps skyward across the top of the bulk of the southeast face of Point 12,252 where The Elephant finally comes into view.

The ridge then follows the top of the east cirque at the 12,000 foot plus level and the aforementioned ridge complications to the summit of The Elephant at 12,865.

There is one brief trip report of the northeast ridge climbed from the CMC meadows in 2019 that I am aware of. I started from Point 11,084 to see if my register had been subsequently signed from five years earlier which it had not. The 2019 route probably began just above 11,084. My route stayed to the right on the peeled blocks of the ridge crest which in retrospect was not a good idea.

The day wore on me and I realized that my effort was for naught as I reached the 11,280 ridge points short of the saddle. I didn't get very far on my attempt of the northeast ridge and reluctantly threw in the towel not knowing what was ahead of me and the time left in the day to cover some considerable terrain. I considered my effort more of a Hail Mary INCOMPLETION as I retreated back to the meadows realizing that I will most probably never climb the northeast ridge of The Elephant in its entirety.

Although I wasn't successful in climbing the full northeast ridge, I was determined the next day to climb Point 12,252 of the ridge as this would be the last of the elevation points above 10,855 of Wichita Mountain on the 7.5M maps in the Eagles Nest Wilderness area.

I went up valley on a user trail through the brush and bogs for about a mile to a meadow below the southeast face of Point 12,252. I had no real idea of a route but the visual of the creek crossing from the meadow onto the edge of the northeast face seemed to reconcile with the map.

There were two head walls to overcome in the 1,600-foot ascent and backtracking on the upper one to find a route into the steep gully above where handfuls of grass and brush gave the perception of verging on vegetation pitches. I topped out on the ridge at 11,880 where the ridge leaped skyward and my high point of the day before below me.

Point 12,252 wasn't apparent so I kept to the right of the ridge on broken rock which was easier than the peeled blocks of the day before while aiming to a point where the ridge met the sky. In this nebulous area I found the miniature saddle from the map that I was looking for which would indicate that I was between contour line 12,240 to the northeast and 12,252.

I descended left from the miniature saddle and slightly below the ridge and then climbed back on the broken rock to the summit. After some map reckoning, I left a small register dated 9/15/21 with the notation that someone else will probably not be here for a while.

The Elephant was in plain view from my perch on 12,252 but at 1606 hours in the afternoon I was still about two hours away and as it was, I faced the prospect of returning to camp in the dark. I had made the gratifying COMPLETION of Point 12,252 that I had wanted to do but my next play was an intentional grounding for an INCOMPLETION as to any thoughts of continuing on towards climbing The Elephant.

I retreated down the southeast face route where darkness overcame me in the valley but unlike 1998, I had a camp in the CMC meadows to return to. And while in the darkness I thought that while the south fork of Black Creek is no longer the last great wilderness in Colorado it is still a wild place for The Elephant to be in the mountains of the Gore Range.

And I believe that I still have enough left in me to return another time from a different direction to finally stand again on the summit of the top of the head of The Elephant perhaps in 2022 being forty years from when I first climbed the peak in 1982.

Comments or Questions
Another Great History Lesson
12/08/2021 10:07
I climbed the Elephant in 2018, as the last peak of a long day (Ripsaw, I), we couldn't find a register it must be tucked well away. Looking at Gore Range topo, I've often wondered about the NE ridge and your report here sheds a bit of light but maintains the wonderful ambiguity that makes exploring the Gore Range special. Thanks for sharing.

Dave Cooper
12/10/2021 10:36
I think that the Wisconsin guys may have read an article by Dave Cooper who used to write for the Denver Post. He has some Colorado guidebooks also.
That trail up Black Creek is shown on the FS TOPO layer on this site's map page although it's placement is not totally accurate at the bend in particular.

gore galore
12/12/2021 21:45
JtheChemE - "the wonderful ambiguity that makes exploring the Gore Range special" is a great phrase and is something that has guided me in climbing and exploring these mountains.

planet54 - I was thinking the same that the Wisconsin guys "last great wilderness" quote might be from Dave Cooper in one of his "Trail Mix" columns in the Denver Post.

12/19/2021 17:43
It is very cool that you climbed all of the points on the map, that is a really unique adventure and something I doubt anyone has done before. Elephant was my last ‘rankedĚ point on the trip with JtheChem, a special peak indeed. Still working on the unranked, but the thought of all the points, that‘s impressive! You must be a hell of a gymnast by now after all that gorewhacking. Thanks for the history, always enjoy reading your stories about the range.

gore galore
12/19/2021 21:19
aholle88 - your comment is much appreciated and prompts me to clarify the wording "the last of the elevation points" adding "as being climbed or attempted" as there are three technical elevation points that I have not been able to climb solo although attempting and getting quite close to the summits before being stopped by the cruxes. There are also a number of contour line technical summits with historic or climber names that I have attempted but unable to climb by myself.

I have identified some 262 individual elevation and contour line summits in the ENWA of note. Three of these summits are lost to history although I have taken trips to locate them but have been unsuccessful. Getting around to all of these summits either climbing or attempting takes a lot of "gorewhacking" but I don't think anybody will climb all of these summits unless the lost ones are conclusively located. This has been another aspect that has attracted me to the allure and the unknown of the Gore Range.

I have also recently found out that there is an elevation point that is considered an individual peak. Although it is below the 10,855' elevation of Wichita Mountain, I will have to climb Point 10,337 as it has some prominence importance and add it to my summits.

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