Mount Ellen

After spending a restful night in a motel in Hanksville, Utah, Zosia Zgolak and I headed for the nearby Henry Mountains on 12 October 2016 to hike up Mount Ellen, the highest point in the range.  According to the route description in, there are two different approaches to the trailhead at Bull Creek Pass, and we hoped to get some updated information on road conditions from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office in town.  Before getting there, we stopped at a local gas station where a lady with a big red truck full of dogs offered to lead us up to Bull Creek Pass via the eastern approach since she was headed up there anyway.  However, before Zosia and I had a chance to get back in our car, the lady took off without waiting for us.  Returning to our original plan, we visited the BLM office which is located near the end of 100 W street in the southwest corner of Hanksville (the BLM office is incorrectly marked on Google Maps).  The lady in the BLM office recommended that we drive to Bull Creek Pass via the western approach as the roads were apparently in better shape there.  Heeding her advice, we drove west along Highway 24 before turning south onto the Notom-Bullfrog Road.  At a signed junction, we turned eastward and began the long drive up to Bull Creek Pass via McMillan Springs Campground.  The dirt road is generally in pretty good condition, but it is quite steep in a few places and occasionally rough enough to warrant having a high clearance vehicle.  A few kilometres before Bull Creek Pass, Zosia and I were a bit surprised to see a Honda Civic sedan parked by the side of the road, and it appeared likely that we would have company on Mount Ellen.  The trailhead at Bull Creek Pass was deserted when we arrived, but just as we were about to start hiking, the big red truck full of dogs drove by presumably after climbing up the eastern approach.  The truck stopped at the pass, but the lady we met at the gas station did not get out of her truck.  If I had to guess, I would say that she was probably just as surprised to see us as we were of her.  After a brief pause, the truck continued along the road down the way we came up leaving Zosia and me to speculate as to why the lady would take such a roundabout route to get to wherever she was headed on the west side of the Henry Mountains.

Compared to the epic drive to get to the trailhead, the actual hike to the top of Mount Ellen seems almost anticlimactic.  We had no problems following a good trail which heads northward before disappearing on the broad North Summit Ridge.  Except for the presence of a register, the true summit is hardly distinguishable from the couple of minor bumps leading up to it.  While we were perusing the summit register, we were joined by a lone hiker returning from a slightly lower point to the north known as Mount Ellen Peak (yes, the name seems redundant).  The hiker introduced himself to us as Dwight Wolf, and not surprisingly, he was the owner of the Honda Civic--actually a hybrid--we saw on the road earlier.  It turns out that his hybrid car's propulsion battery was exhausted by the steep climb up the road, and hence, Dwight chose to walk the remaining distance to Bull Creek Pass.  We also learned that Dwight is from New Hampshire and that he was in the midst of a month-long solo peak-bagging road trip.  After chatting at length about mountains of all sorts, we exchanged contact info and parted ways as he headed back to the trailhead while Zosia and I set off for Mount Ellen Peak.

Getting to the top of Mount Ellen Peak entails a loss and re-gain of about 125 metres, but the going is easy.  After another lengthy stop at this lower summit, we retraced our steps back over the top of Mount Ellen and returned to the trailhead without incident.  Just as we reached our car, we saw a large grader lumbering up the same road we had driven and continuing over Bull Creek Pass.  I was a bit surprised to see the road being bladed on this day, especially since the road condition was not that bad in my opinion.  More importantly, I was thankful that we were late enough getting back to miss running into the grader on our drive out.  Maneuvering on the steep narrow road to get by the grader would have been tricky.  The long drive back to the Notom-Bullfrog road went without a hitch, but instead of returning to Highway 24, we turned south and drove into Capitol Reef National Park for our next adventure.
I guess you should watch out for rockfall when you enter and exit the store! This gas station and convenience store in Hanksville is actually built right into the surrounding rock.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Gotta love starting a hike above tree line! The trailhead is located at Bull Creek Pass (3182 metres).
This might be fun to ski in the winter (it's been done)... Zosia hikes along the broad North Summit Ridge.
Yep, it's a little dirty! Dwight looks away while Sonny writes a limerick in the summit register.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Summits don't come easier than this!

Zosia and Sonny stand on the highest point of Mount Ellen (3509 metres) and the Henry Mountains.


Where all "good" deer go when they die. Are there any "bad" deer? Zosia heads for Mount Ellen Peak.  The bump to the left is known as Deer Heaven.
Look for a good trail to the left! The summit of Mount Ellen Peak is further away than it looks here.
Zosia always loves to horse around on a summit! Zosia holds up what appears to be the lower jaw bone of a horse.  The red can at her feet holds the summit register for Mount Ellen Peak.

10...9...8, 7, 6, 5, 4...3...2, one second please...please Mr. Kennedy...uh oh...I don't wanna go/please don't shoot me into outer space!

Sonny and Zosia look like they are ready to launch into space from the summit of Mount Ellen Peak (3508 metres).


Looks like a whole lotta nothing from up here! Much of the San Rafael Swell can be seen to the north.  The town of Hanksville is visible in the patch of green at right.
Canyonlands will be my top priority the next time I visit Utah... Bull Mountain sits in the foreground to the northeast while the La Sal Mountains can be seen on the hazy horizon.  Canyonlands National Park stretches across much of the intervening landscape.
Hey, I can see Dwight...I think! The main massif of Mount Ellen stretches away to the south in this view from the top of Mount Ellen Peak.
It may be worth coming back someday to climb Mount Pennell... Beyond Bull Creek Pass (centre) is the South Summit Ridge of Mount Ellen.  Visible in the distance at right is Mount Pennell.  Also visible further right on the horizon is Navajo Mountain.
Now there's a thankless job! A grader rolls by at Bull Creek Pass.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Mount Ellen Peak kinda looks higher from this angle!

From the road on the drive out, here is a more comprehensive view of Mount Ellen Peak and the North Summit Ridge of Mount Ellen which includes the highest point.


The drive was harder than the hike! Total Distance:  9.2 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  4 hours 21 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  327 metres

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