Elk Tooth sits 3/4 mile east of Ogalalla Peak on the border between Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness. This mountain dominates the view from the trail in the Middle St. Vrain Creek valley. Elk Tooth has a very steep south face, a 4-mile-long east ridge connecting it with St. Vrain Mountain, and a shorter but very rugged west ridge connecting it with Ogalalla Peak. A slender and obvious couloir on its east face also looks inviting.
Follow the trail up the Middle St. Vrain valley to about 10,800', then leave the trail and climb a gully (snow in June, loose scree later in summer) up to a shoulder east of the summit of Elk Tooth at 12,100'. This gully is not pleasant after the snow melts out, but the best footing is to the right side on grassy or rocky areas. Follow the ridge west over a few false summits to the summit of Elk Tooth. One false summit even contains a false summit register! The actual summit of Elk Tooth is ...[more]Browse More Classics in CO
Years ago, around 1990, I climbed this with my main climbing partner in January. We went up the valley to the south until we saw a good place to gain the ridge. Being January, the snow was hip deep until we started to go up and when we gained the ridge the snow was all blown off. The next mile or so went very quickly and our confidence only grew with the rapid distance being covered.
When we got to the part where it gets really steep, we moved to the north face as the snow had set up very solidly there. The slope was better than 50 degrees, but the travel went smoothly as the snow was well set up.
We made it to the summit and had a quick snack and watched the sun set. We decided to glissade down the south face as that went into the "correct" valley. If you look at the Google Earth map, you can see the gully just to the east of the summit, though it only has snow at the top and the bottom on the Google. That glissade into the black night in not very good hiking boots (for winter) was a true terror. The backs of my soles were curved to make trail walking easier, so I could only barely get any stance on the chute. I really worked that ice axe all the way down the thousand feet to the the base.
Well, we made it to the bottom shaken but very well. There is a large boulder field to cross that made for tricky travel, but at least we were out of the deep snow. But it could only last so long. Into the snow we went. After about an hour, we became used to walking to our hips in the fluff, when my foot just didn't stop going down. I am 6'2" and the snow was suddenly literally over my head.
About a half second later, my boot started to fill with water. I dove forward and swam breaststroke to move myself through the snow. I was very happy I had a dry sock in bag that night. We only stopped once or twice more in the next several hours of pushing through the snow.
We finally made it home at about 3 a.m. Thank goodness we thought ahead and had beer in the fridge.