Peak(s):  Ogalalla Peak  -  13,138 feet
Elk Tooth - 12880
Ooh La La - 12945
Date Posted:  08/02/2010
Modified:  09/24/2010
Date Climbed:   07/31/2010
Author:  lordhelmut
 Middle St.Vrain Basin - Indian Peaks Wilderness   

Elk Tooth-Ogallala Traverse

Peaks - Elk Tooth (12,845), Ogallala (13,130), "Ooh La La" (12,945)

Mileage/Vertical - 4 to 5 packing in, 5 to 6 climbing, 5000-5500 total

Time - quite a bit longer than expected. 10 hour day from camp.

Trailhead - Middle St.Vrain (not South Vrain). Its not marked from the road, but it's the same parking lot as Camp Dick, right across the street on the West side of rt.72 from the Peaceful Valley Ranch.

Stephanie (slynn4_13run) and myself met up after work at the Middle St.Vrain parking lot round 7pm Friday afternoon. Since not much has been documented about this region, I will do my best to elaborate on not only its complexities, but its insane aesthetics as far as rock quality, scrambling opportunities, views, etc. This one has got it all and I can safely say I've discovered my new favorite region of the IPW, it sounded like Stephanie agreed. In addition, whoever did these along with Copeland in a day is an animal.

Quick note regarding the parking lot. Camp Dick is aptly named. I've been trying to figure out the appeal of RV'ing for as long as I can remember and I still haven't come to any sort of reasonable conclusion. I love car camping when the opportunity presents itself and when it makes more sense than packing in and in a remote location. Playing some Jethro Tull, cooking some brats and drinking a lot of beer sounds fun and IS fun. But to relocate your entire family and belongings from your home to a campground littered with hundreds of other people is a ludicrous act? I don't think I'm bitter, just confused, if I was bitter that'd mean I was sort of envious, which is definately not the case. Camp Dick reminded me of the Pikas from the movie Snatch, I was just waiting for some bare knuckle boxing champion named Mickey wreaking of Johnnie Walker to come up and punch in my window, asking "if I like dags?". The kids all seemed to get a kick out of playing chicken with my car with their toy atv's and the parents looked to consider that pretty normal. This obviously didn't affect the "backcountry experience" since no one was higher up the basin, just trying to figure out why people spend thousands of dollars on gas guzzling, portable homes to "get away" from the worries and congestion of city life, only to be in a bigger quagmire of crowds.

Anyways, enough of that. For the approach. We began hiking up around 7:15pm or so up the 4wd road. Middle St.Vrain road is incredibly rough in areas (think quasi Lake Como) and then incredibly flat in most other places. A stock vehicle with 4wd low could make it with care, legs work better though. Once we reached the end of the 4wd road, we crossed a bridge and found a campsite about a mile up the trail, right along the creek at the beginning of a meadow. IPW is a permit area, just a FYI. Also, the trail, up to this point, was very flat.

Alarm went off around 3:45am, we were on the trail probably around 4:30am. The turnoff for the St.Vrain Glacier Trail was no more than a mile from our campsite, so we veered right and started to gain a little elevation. At a section where the talus/boulder fields meet the trail and it begins to head directly south across the creek, you can split off and head for an obvious notch in Elk Tooth's East Ridge. Keep in mind, its relatively easier to obtain the ridge sooner, but that just means more time consuming scrambling. As described in Summitpost, the author refers to a "scree gully from hell" which spits you out a lot closer to the summit, but it looks exactly as described.

The climb up wasn't horrendous, but it'd be hard pressed to call it fun. The views from the saddle were mighty nice though....

Elk Tooth E.Ridge from saddle

From where we gained the ridge, staying to the north side seemed to be the way to go. We kept getting cliffed out on the south side and wasted some time regaining the ridge crest.

Elk Tooth

We could finally get a decent view of the actual summit after hitting a bunch of false summit points along the ridge. The climb up to Elk Tooth is arguably the toughest and most arduous part of the day, so prepare accordingly.

summit of Elk Tooth, finally

Topping out on Elk Tooth's summit a little over 4 hours from camp, Stephanie and I refueled and then prepared for the traverse over to Ogallala. Keeping it consistent with the SP route description, the first half of the climb is performed mainly on the north side (right) of the ridge, with some class 2+/3 downclimbing. Around the notch at the halfway point, we crossed back over to the south side and were presented with our first obvious obstacle. A tower blocked easy access if you wanted to remain on the ridge crest. We dropped down on a descending traverse no more than 50 feet, got impatient and I tried to find a way straight up the middle of the tower face, via a vertical chimney with decent handholds. It was a fun, interesting scramble, but I got stuck 4/5 of the way up, didn't feel comfortable making a 5.5/5.6 exposed move not being roped up, so I backed off and we traversed around a corner and easily regained the ridgecrest.

traverse to Ogallala

some climbing up

nice perch

and some climbing down

Tower and view from saddle of traverse

got cliffed out, a rope would be nice here, retreat was interesting

looking back at Elk Tooth and the plains from saddle

Stephanie scaling the exposed, slabby sectino before final tower and summit

We both agreed the climbing and exposure along this ridge was quite manageable and highly enjoyable. There are probably more exciting traverses out there, but this one is indeed a classic. The final 100 feet below the summit is classic, IPW terrain, with a final tower to negotiate and slabs with decent cracks for handholds. We chose to head to the right of the tower, traversed along some ledges and then climbed the final 50 to 60 feet up talus to the summit of Ogallala. Lots of iconic peaks to check out from this vantage point in both the IPW and RMNP.

McHenry's Notch


"Iroquios" is a beast

Apache Mastiff and Lone Eagle Cirque

C-Powell-Eagle's Nest

Clouds were beginning to build, especially to the south around the Brainerd Lake Cirque. Longs and Meeker were shrouded in clouds as well, so we figured it was time to get a move on. Middle St.Vrain is encompassed by a wide horseshoe cirque, with Elk Tooth/Ogallala guarding the northern edge, "Ooh La La"'s broad hump standing out at the crest of the shoe and then grassy ridgelines to the south. We scurried over to "Ooh La La", spent about 10 seconds on the summit and made way for a weakness in the southern edge of the cirque's cliffs. We eventually found one and began to descend (think N.Maroon descent, bring trekking poles, it's a brutal knee workout). Clouds socked in every cardinal direction except for where we were, we lucked out. We heard some thunder down south, but only a few booms, nothing too close and it subsided as soon as it was heard.

Once we were safely down, the terrain flattened out, we performed some ugly, but brief bushwacking directly above Envy Lake. Below Envy Lake was some of the most pristine camping spots I've ever laid my eyes on (think Japanese Garden). There were plenty of cascading waterfalls, wildflowers, lush shelves of vegetation and other good stuff.

Traverse from down below

quite the tranquil setting

waterfall below Envy Lake

Around 2pm, we ran into the St.Vrain Glacier Trail, washed faces in a cool lake and then were back to the tent with cold beers waiting for us around 4pm (supplied graciously by Stephanie). After the beers were enjoyed, we packed up and out, arriving at the cars around 6:15pm and parted ways soon after.

a really cool lake along the trail

a parting shot

Biggest piece of advice, don't underestimate the time dedicated to obtain these summits. The approach couldn't be flatter, but the rest is time consuming talus gullies, class 3 to 4 climbing, a 90-120 minute traverse and a descent that is anything but straightforward. Beautiful region though, if I return (more like when), it'll involve packing in more beers, packing in further and enjoying the tranquil settings of some of the upper lakes (and doing everything in my power to avoid Camp Dickbag). Good climbing with you again Stephanie!

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

Comments or Questions
sand man
08/02/2010 22:15
I was looking at these peaks when on Copland recently. Looks like they made for an awesome trip! BTW, is that Mt. Toll in image #14?

08/02/2010 22:29
Thanks Sandman. No, thats ”Iroquios” Pk, which is the connecting peak of the Mohling Traverse (which starts at Lone Eagle and is hard to make out). To the right of Apache is the Fair Glacier and reclusive Lone Eagle Cirque. Toll didn't really stand out as much from this vantage between Paiute and Apache. If Toll is anywhere in these pics, it'd be at the way left of pic 15.

Doin It Right
08/03/2010 03:26
You're having a hell of a summer (year). Keep it up and thanks for the report.

quality rant
08/03/2010 03:39
a fine rant to compliment a fine report. well done

Thanks for the correction Drorhman
08/03/2010 15:32
Drorhman - I'll make the correction, Lake Envy was one of the cooler camping areas I've come across, thanks for the history lesson, you dad picked a solid region to hang out.

Saxmotor - McHenry's Notch is a prominent landmark from many vantage points. I fully intend on checking out the region to the north of it (Shelf Lake) in the near future.

Stephanie - good times!

Barry - If you are looking for an ”easier” one, maybe just check out ”ooh la la” and exclude the rest. The views to the West from there are worth the price of admission (not monetary, just physical).

Paul - Thanks man, when you get done those pesky 14ers, we shoulsd get out some time (and I'll grab that Broncos hat at some point or another if you still have it)

Scott - thanks man, any ETA on some Gores?

Dub - glad you appreciated the rant, I figured you'd feel the same way. I'm not judgemental, but when a guy in an Elway jersey yells at me for not slowing down enough, despite stalling out in 1st gear, cause his degenerate kid doesn't have enough common sense that humans lose when put up against machines.

Matt - I f**kin hate pikees! On the other hand, they woudln't have much interest in Camp Dick, no RV's came in periwinkle blue....

Lake envy
08/03/2010 17:31
There are several really idyllic camping spots near lake envy and lake Gibraltar, but the best is around the little lagoon at the valley floor, notwithstanding the mosquito population. An easy hike can be made to the divide from envy due west--avoiding the small notch--that rewards you with great views to the Indian peaks and several peaks and lakes seldom seen without significant treks. Btw, the nomenclature of the lakes is wrong on the isolation peak quad, but not in the board of geographic names files. A technicality. Do you have other photos of the area? Thanks again!

A lake of envy...
08/03/2010 17:33
Nice, Brian and Steph.

I remember when I first moved to this paradise on Earth and some guy at work quickly recommended Camp Dick. He said it was the nicest campground in all of Colorado. I kept it in mind. A year later I packed the truck with gear and drove up there for my first Colorado camping trip. I was suprised (more like shocked) to see little tents pitched on gravel between a popular backcountry access road and a 25 ft RV. With generator. That probably ran until 10 PM. Ahhh - the great outdoors. I don't take recommendations from that guy anymore.

I enjoyed your report. I haven't yet explored the northern section of the IPW. The peaks you and Steph climbed are on my short list, so I thank you for the beta. You've been on a tear this year, and I think we all appreciate your sense of adventurere while having a good time in the process.

So did I hear someone say Iroquois? Here's a close-up of Iroquois and Hopi taken this past Sunday. Some mountains just pass me by with barely a glance, and some grab my attention like a Pitbull around the neck. Iroquois is that kind of peak. Good luck on your climb. If you approach through the Lone Eagle Cirque, maybe I'll see you guys up there. I'm considering Cherokee, Hopi, and Achonee from Crater Lake within the next month. Just gotta find a few days to do it...

08/03/2010 18:02
Drorhman - my pics of the Lake Envy region are limited, I took a lot more of the valley immediately below. We were in a bush wacking war with some pretty nasty willowsd directly above the lakes, so pictures were kind of few and far between.

Kimo - Thanks for the comments. If someone ever recomended Camp Dick to me, I'd make sure to ”correct him” monday morning.

As for Iroquois, I'm plannin to hit that from the ”Lost Tribe Lakes” region, Wheeler Basin from the 4th of July TH. I'm intrigued by the descriptions i've read of it and yet another region of the IPW to explore. The Crater Lake/Lone Eagle Cirque is a place I have visited every summer for the last 3 years, I hope to see you up there as well. Have a good one.

Steve Knapp
08/05/2010 01:04
Nice climb and great report! Just missed you by a day, John and I were in there Sunday for Red Deer, Sawtooth, Algonquin, Coney Island. He drove up that road in his lifted Tacoma, very nasty. Not sure a stock vehicle could make the end of the road, crux is an area with two huge boulders across the road and a fairly deep water crossing. But from the end of the road these peaks were only 10.5 miles RT and 4300' of gain.

Timely report as I hope to get Copeland, Ogalalla, and Elk Tooth together soon. West ridge of Copeland to Cony Pass might be interesting. Thanks for the pics on the Ogalalla/Elk Tooth traverse, that should be fun too.

Best part of the front range
08/22/2010 04:32
The long approaches are what make these peaks so excellent. You really don't see anyone past the wilderness boundary. I did Elk Tooth last saturday, but had to bail on the traverse to Ogalalla. I did manage to get Ouzel and Ogalalla today from Wild Basin however. Wild Basin is equally, if not more, beautiful than the middle st vrain. With both areas, however, the area close to the trailhead is filled with yuppies with bear spray. Just remember to tell them that you just saw a mother bear with two cubs

Brian C
Great photos
08/23/2010 14:48
That is a fun route. Thanks for the photos (especially McHenry's notch).

St vrain glaciers area
11/30/2010 17:28
There are 2 great panoramic photos in the smithsonian library of the st. Vrain glaciers taken about 1910. There were no lakes and the glaciers were much larger---the entire south part of the cirque. Sadly the sv glaciers will likely be gone in 50 years given their rate of retreat. All the front range glaciers and snowfields are likely to recede as well
As for the willows, if wet, one might as well walk through the lakes themselves.
As for camp dick, I have always ignored the area...I will do so in the future.
Before the area was granted wilderness status in the 70's, local ranchers summered cattle in the middle sv cirque. They were a nuisance wherever there was a grassy spot. There was once a bridge over the msv--- near the wilderness border parking area just east of coney flats. Prior to that, the area was logged-some remnants of the sawmill remain in a scarred area--- the ecology is only now recovering...finally there was a second bridge crossing the msv at about the end of the "road", but it is long gone.
We should all be grateful for the wilderness legislation that brought the Indian peaks into protection.

01/19/2011 03:38
n/t, can't delete double posts

Sure, I like dags
01/19/2011 03:38
But, I like caravans more--not including RVs.
And by the way, your TR is Tip Top.

Ridge runner
IPW never disappoints
02/01/2011 00:24
I still can't get over how beautiful it is back there. And as much as I hate descending steep terrain, I did enjoy our little downclimb next to the snowfield. This is definitely a place to return to, and with more beer. Another fine scramble with you Brian! Hopefully Kiefer and I can join you for Iriquios.

02/05/2011 00:22
Terrific photos! Some vantage points are absolutely unique, e.g., the view east from the ogalala slabs, showing Lake Gibraltar and the small tarn at the bottom of the cirque, unofficially named Lake Elizabeth ( 1 of1000, I assume). Fabulous. The lake is ”Lake Envy”' , not the reverse. My dad named these lakes in the 1950's, and planted lake trout-- using the CU football team in ca. 1952 to carry 75 lb cannisters of minnows with Coach Dal Ward. They are remote. The shallow lakes at the valley bottom are magnificent and only exist because of deadfall trees at the east end...Some brook trout there. One of the great areas in Colorado.

Sweet trip
06/02/2011 14:57
and report again Brian. I need to get to that region more often. May take my wife to do an easier one next week.

Weird Peaks
04/18/2014 19:27
Brian way to find some of these less known peaks and expose us peak baggers to life outide of 14ers. I will be hitting some of these up after I finish my 14er checklist.

   Not registered?

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

Please respect private property: supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.

© 2022®, 14ers Inc.