San Miguel County Highpoint Trip Report

Elk Mountain (11,661 feet)

Date: September 26, 2002
Author: Adam Helman

The former approach road that took one up Elk Mountain is no longer servicable. I intended upon taking FR645 east from Highway 63, but encountered a construction crew and no access to FR645.

However I did manage to drive FR646 to the summit area. Ken Jones has a good trip report with actual distances of junctions along this Forest Service road.

The start of FR646 is within one road mile north along Highway 63 from the tiny community of Tererro. Highway 63 winds considerably and climbs steeply for this short paved section.

Once on FR646 the dirt road requires high clearance. I used 4WD for some of the more questionable sections - although I suspect that a skilled driver would find it overkill.

When I encountered FR646 it was about 4 PM with some 3 hours daylight remaining. My original intent was to scout out the road condition by driving 1,000 vertical feet (as estimated by my altimeter watch), and, depending on what I learned, on the following day I would either make it an all-day hike from the base (if a terrible road) or a shorter hike from someplace higher on the road (if a passable road).

If an all-day hike was required I would have to awaken before dawn. Since I did not relish that thought I decided to learn in advance whether an all-day hike was really needed. Hence the rationale for my driving up this road in the later afternoon to gain the relevant information.

I encountered a jeep descending the road after some 800 or 900 vertical feet. The occupants, two teenagers in olive drab hunting clothing, said they had been to the summit. Since I had no topo charts for this road and its environs I was eager to learn whatever they might offer. The bottom line was that I'd be OK if I simply went "Left, Left, Right" at three road junctions. They encouraged me to continue - and they agreed with my 45 minute estimate for driving the remainder. I continued uphill.

I knew that there were more than three junctions on the remainder of the road. Thereby I assumed that their "LLR" instructions referred to junctions where both possible paths are of similar width. Junctions where one of the roads is obviously minor compared to the other were not included in their instructions.

My assumption proved correct. The third junction is at 11,069 feet on a prominent ridge to the northwest of the summit. Take it right, downhill. Have faith that it shortly turns uphill and eventually finds you at the summit after some fifteen minutes.

I walked the final fifty vertical feet ("Helmanization") - arriving at the summit at 6 P.M. - later than I anticipated owing to having initially discarded the correct route after the third junction because I saw it going downhill... and going on a silly cross-country hike from a horrible road that I encountered higher up and which I believed at the time to be the correct road.