|Best months for climbing:||Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Oct, Nov, Dec|
|Nearest major airport:||Grand Junction|
Elephant Butte is the highest point or peak in Arches National Park. The peak is a flat-topped cap surrounded by many towers and fins forming one big butte. The fins and towers of the butte contain many arches, including the very famous Double Arch. Elephant Butte is also next to and east of the popular climb of Owl Rock, its much smaller neighbor.
The peak is a fantastic ascent with one of the best views anywhere in the world. The easiest route is mostly a class 3 and 4 scramble, but with a few 5th class pitches thrown in for added excitement. The easiest route to the summit will take you through a maze of fins and canyons, and is a nice adventure.
Even though the route has a few pitches up to 5.4 in difficulty, this is still the easiest of the major summits in Arches National Park. It is a fun, but not dangerous ascent in dry weather.
The butte receives its name from a huge elephant-shaped-monolith.
From Moab, drive northwest along US 191 for a few miles to the Arches Nation Park visitor center. Turn right into the park and drive 8.9 miles to the sign for the Windows Area (just beyond Balanced Rock). Turn right and drive this road for 1.2 miles and turn left at a sign for the Garden of Eden Viewpoint. This is the trailhead.
From the trailhead, hike south and then east around Owl Rock. Drop into the drainage and follow it east. Look for the gap between two fins (see photo). Climb into the gap/gully/canyon. There are several boulder obstacles and it will be 3rd to 4th class in difficulty depending on the route you find.
You will climb over a few ledges and pass a side drainage on either side of the canyon before reaching a sandy and wide bowl in the drainage. You will see a side drainage to the right/south. Climb into this drainage and climb up it (taking a right at a minor junction) and to a saddle. Just before the saddle are two 5th class pitches. The first (rated 5.4) can be a little intimidating, and you should set up a belay. If the drainage is wet, forget about making the ascent. From the saddle, you will see the final ascent route up the butte.
Climb down the crack on the other side of the saddle and traverse left along a ledge. At the edge of the ledge, are five bolts and hangars which you use to reach the floor of the canyon below. The rap is about 60 feet or so. Climb down the canyon to a sandy valley. Make sure to drop your pack here and take a side trip down the valley to a nice overlook and also take the time to ascend the slot canyon dropping into the valley. It’s a fun little place.
Scramble east and to the top of the butte, finding your own way. Depending on the route chosen, it will be 3rd or 4th class, with two short 5th class pitches. The lower ledge might have a bypass, but we didn’t look for it, and we headed left and made a 5.3 climb using some tiny ledges and a small bush. From here, we followed the ledge to the right until we could ascend the final cliff band via a crack, which is also the standard route. From the top of the cliff band, hike to the highest point. Enjoy one of the finest viewpoints in the entire world. The summit register on Christmas Day, 2005, goes all the way back to August 1979. It appears Gerry Roach liked this place as he climbed the butte nine times. There are various other signatures of some semi-famous climbers.
Retrace your route to the crack. Notice a drainage to the west. The one you want is the one with the tower (see photo). Climb down to the drainage, perhaps via the 5.3 climb we did (down climbing this was the crux of the route for us), and make your way down in. Pass the tower on the left and follow the canyon down the butte. There maybe a pothole which you can stem around before reaching a big drop. There are currently three baby angles for rap anchors. Rappel 45-50 feet down the overhanging drop. Part way down are some pipes jammed in the cliff. Notice the timbers scattered about. I imagine that during the old survey days, a wood ladder of some sort was rigged to get above the drop, which would make a quick ascent route to the summit.
From the bottom of the rap, climb down one 4th class ledge, and hike down the drainage. Hike around Elephant Butte and Owl Rock and back to the trailhead.
50-meter climbing rope, helmet, aider/daisy chain (if needed), several slings, harness, a few baby angles just in case, a few small cams, though protecting some of the climbs is difficult due to lack of cracks at those places.
Use of motorized drills is prohibited.
Climbing is prohibited on any arch identified on current USGS 7.5 minute topographical maps.
Climbers are encouraged to employ clean-climbing ethics, leave dull-colored webbing when recovery is impossible, and access climbing routes via established trails, slickrock or sandy washes.
When To Climb:
Spring or Fall. Winters are usually sunny, but can be a bit cold in winter, but it can still be a good time to go. Summers are brutal with temps 100F (38C) or much higher; 110F (44C) is possible. Since the route only takes half a day, you could climb it in the morning hours in the summer.
From the NPS website (slightly edited):
The Devils Garden Campground is located eighteen miles from the park entrance and is open year-round. Facilities include potable water, picnic tables, grills, as well as both pit-style and flush toilets. There are no showers. Bring your own wood or charcoal for the grills. Some sites will accommodate RV's up to 30 feet in length.
Devils Garden is part of the National Recreation Reservation System (NRRS), which offers telephone and on-line reservations for both group and individual sites. Reservations are not accepted by the park, and the park does not maintain information about site availability.
The campground has 52 individual sites which are $10 per night and will accommodate up to ten people. Up to 28 of the individual sites may be reserved through NRRS for nights between March 1st and October 31st. Reservations must be made no less than 4 days and no more than 240 days in advance. There is an additional $9 booking fee for reservations. To make a reservation, visit www.ReserveUSA.com, or call NRRS at (877) 444-6777, (877) 833-6777 (TDD), or (518) 885-3639.
The remaining 24 campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis each day beginning at 7:30 a.m. at the park entrance station or visitor center.
Outside the park, there are additional campsites around Moab, along the Colorado River, and in Onion Creek.
Thanks to Scott Patterson for this description.