Garfield County High Point Trip Report

Mount Ellen (11,522 ft)

Date: June 3, 2002
Author: Scott Surgent

Bison sighting!

I followed the "High in Utah" (HIU) directions to a tee. Very accurate, but my mileage differed just slightly.

From the junction of UT-24 and UT-95 in Hanksville, the Sawmill Basin Road was 9.3 miles south along UT-95, and not well marked (the sign is set in a bit and very old and beat up). Six miles west along this road I came to the main road into the range, and re-zeroed my odometer. At about mile 4.5 I put my truck into 4WD, for better handling over the intermittent rocks and inclines. I came to Lonesome Beaver Campground at mile 9.0 - it was closed. I chose to drive to Wickiup Pass and found a wonderful campsite on a ridge top at elevation 9,340 feet, all to myself. I could see the Ellen range top to my north. Bull Creek Pass was 13.4 miles total from where I zeroed my odometer, about a half-mile shorter than HIU, but that's minor quibbling.

I camped at my site, and during the night awoke to soft pattering of sleet/snow on my truck. The next morning the weather was cool and unsettled, but the snow wasn't sticking, so I drove in the dawn darkness to Bull Creek Pass. As I made a turn on the narrow road, I spotted a large shadow in the road. A bear, I thought, but then it turned its head and I could see it was a massive male bison! I inched closer in my truck but he didn't move, just snorted once. He then walked toward me. I honked. He stood still. I didn't want to scoot by him - he might try to head-butt my truck. He then pooped on the road and took off running up the mountainside. He was big! I'd never seen one in the true wild before. It was one thing to watch all this in my truck. I wonder how brave I would have been had I been walking the road instead?

The hike to the top was fine - it began to sleet and snow, and the wind was coming over the ridge at about 10 - 15 mph, just enough to make the snow horizontal. I hiked quickly and found the true highpoint after a couple of false summits. As I hiked out the squall passed and I had really nice weather.

Round trip was under 2 hours, and the drive out went fine. Didn't see my buffalo friend, however.