Type: Trad, Alpine, 1000 ft, 8 pitches, Grade IV
FA: Charlie Fowler and Jeff Lowe, 1979
Page Views: 23,239 total · 183/month
Shared By: Tom Rangitsch on Aug 13, 2008 with updates from Mr. Hummus and 1 other
Admins: Lauren Heerschap, Mike Snyder, Jake Dickerson, Taylor Spiegelberg

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Black Elk was the "hardest route in the Cirque" for over 20 years. While technically not in the Cirque (see location below), it is one of the best routes in this area of the Winds. (Please note that the pitch lengths are estimates from memory and if anyone has better estimates, please post them in comments.)

P1 Scramble up ledges from the left side of the northeast face. Stay low when you have the option. The route finding for the very beginning of the roped climbing was a bit difficult. I actually tried climbing up too early in the ledge traverse and got completely hosed on some unprotected 5.11 slab that I had to retreat from. Rope up just before an orange colored section of rock (make sure you go far enough to the climber's right) and climb this to a large ledge (5.8 and not well protected). Next go left up a slabby right facing corner/ramp. Belay at the base of a very long, vertical, right facing corner. 5.8, 200+ feet, depending on where you rope up on the slabs. We had to simulclimb a bit to set up a proper belay.

P2 Climb the pretty right facing corner passing some small overlaps on fingers and hands and lay backing. Belay at a small stance. 5.10-, 110 feet. We didn't find the most comfortable belay spot here, it was semi-hanging.

P3 Keep going up the right facing corner up an incredible hand crack, awesome pitch. Belay at the top on a pillar/ledge that has a bolt on its right side. It's actually better to belay on the left side of this ledge as the next pitch starts from there. 5.10, 100 feet. P2 and P3 can be combined with a 70 meter rope.

P4 Climb up a gorgeous splitter hand crack that eventually turns into a small right facing corner. Pass a roof on hands, then one on fists and lay backing to a stance just above. Then it's just some 5.11 off fists for about 15-20 feet. Belay above this wide section in a pod or just above in a finger crack, depending on what size of gear you have left. Either way it's not a very comfy belay. 5.11a and 165 feet.

P5 Another great pitch. Climb a splitter hand and finger crack, making a fun crack switch right at about 40 feet to gain a right angling hand crack. Belay at the right side of a ledge at a finger crack. 5.10 and 150 feet.

P6 Make a difficult move off the belay to a right facing wall with a discontinuous finger crack. Climb under a huge chockstone on its left side and belay just past it. 5.9, 160 feet.

P7 Two options here. Either climb a right facing dihedral with bad gear (I got 1 good piece in 70 feet) and lots of vegetation to another ledge. Alternately there is a chimney/offwidth to the right of this. We did not do this option but it is described in comments below. IT seems like this second option is the preferred one, at least from the consensus of other MP users. 5.10, 70 feet for option one.

P8 Climb to the right of largish chockstone and continue up a fun gully/chimney with lots of options. 5.8, 180 feet.

From here scramble up ledges about 300 feet with some easy 5th class moves to the top.


Southeast face of Warbonnet. Approach from Jack Ass Pass between Arrowhead and North Lakes. Descent is scrambling down gullies to the climbers' left.


Stoppers, double rack with maybe an extra hand piece, long runners. A sixty meter rope is nice, a 70 would probably even be better (we used a sixty). Also don't forget a 3.5 and 4 Camalot (old not new) or equivalent for the crux pitch unless you are comfortable running it out on 5.11 wide fists.
S. Stember
St. Paul, MN
S. Stember   St. Paul, MN
This route looks great! Someone said they only got in one cruddy cam on a vegetated pitch. Shouldn't this route be rated R or X in that case? Dec 29, 2008
jayci Ferrimani
jayci Ferrimani   Flagstaff
That pitch is game on. The seam takes alot of marginal small stuff. it goes at about 10- I thik there could be harder but better protected variations. Worth checking out. May 27, 2009
This route is excellent, climbed it in the summer of 2003 and had a blast. We got off route(created a "new" variation?)but connected back with the corner/crack system on pitch 4. Great route for a strong 10- leader wanting to plug away on trick fist 11-.

Casey Bald
NH Dec 26, 2009
jackson, wy
jyount   jackson, wy
The route can be done in 5 pitches w/ a 70m rope. Spectacular climb.
Doubles to #3 w/ rp's, 3 #4 camelots, and an extra hand size piece Jul 13, 2010
Jim Howe
Salt Lake city
Jim Howe   Salt Lake city
P7 as described is easily avoided with a really nice pitch that starts on the right side of the huge chockstone. It is very obvious, It starts as a clean low angle corner right under the chockstone and steepens up. It is high quality in keeping with the rest of the route. It goes on for 70 meters and ends at the scramble to the summit. The topo that I have from the mid-80's shows it as the finishing pitch.
We did this route round trip from the parking lot in a 15-16 hours moving steady, but not trying to set any speed record.
I wouldn't use a 70M rope if I did it again, It didn't save us any time for the effort. But maybe I'm old fashion that way. Aug 3, 2010
anyone have an opinion on new #4 camlot vs. old. "widefists" makes me think the new #4 might be tipped out, sure is light though. Aug 3, 2011
Aaron Miller
Santa Fe, NM
Aaron Miller   Santa Fe, NM
Overall, this is a fantastic route. The 4 pitches that make up the bulk of this climb are impeccable. Crux pitch: you can take 1 to 4 pieces of 4" gear, depends on your comfort at this size. Both new and old #4's will fit in places. I brought 1-3, 1-4, and 1-5, all new style. A little runout but "relatively" safe.

Beware the first 5.8 pitch! This is no joke, probably should be rated R/X as you are making exposed 5.8 face moves with no real protection to speak of as you wander around to get to the ramp. A party started up a few minutes behind us didn't take it seriously enough! The leader fell and hit a ledge, I think he fractured his tailbone. They were able to get down OK and I saw him spend some time with his butt in the snow. I'm glad he wasn't higher up when he came off.

As for the last pitch, I can't speak for the original finish but the "exit right" variation turned out beautifully. I also recommend it.

Descent was pretty obvious, cross one drainage heading west from the ridge, then bust down to the first col. Easy. Aug 9, 2011
Jared Spaulding
Central WY
Jared Spaulding   Central WY
Charlie Fowler and Jeff Lowe, 1979 Oct 25, 2011
matt j hartman
Leavenworth WA
matt j hartman   Leavenworth WA
go right at the chockstone. left is a little dirty, tricky pro and hard for the grade. seems like the OG finish is the way. Nov 23, 2011
This route looks classic and am sad to say we didn't make it past the first pitch. It's previously mentioned that the first pitch deserves an RX rating. I can't actually speak to the dangers of that pitch but can say my partner didn't injure himself on it. He tried a moronic direct "variation" close to his on-sight ability and fell. Fortunately, only his ass and ego were bruised. Jun 24, 2012
Sandy, UT
notmyname   Sandy, UT
no sure what the fuss over the 1st pitch is, maybe people are starting too low?

Follow ramps doing a little move over a bulge to get to the left side of a horizontal white streak, seen from the meadows. Traverse right 15 feet into a short corner, place gear, and move right some more placing a nut and or small cam. It is easy 5.7 up and left into the corner. no sketch. If you are indeed going this way and bail, the rest of the route isn't for you (no offense).

The start of the corner is game on and dirty, but after 15 feet it eases and cleans up a lot. The belay is in a little chimney and sucks, but combining pitches is for the true hardman or someone with a giant rack.

The 5.11 pitch is 100% full on. Not for the beginning 5.11 leader, unless that person excels at 5.11 off fists. The crack turns into #3 and #4 camalot size after just 20 feet. You can get some smaller gear after quite a bit of climbing and back-cleaning big cams. I had 2 #3 camalots and 3 #4 sized camalots and found this to be very inadequate for a free ascent. I'm sure there are plenty of hardmen/women who excell at this crack, but most people suck at it. If you aren't running up 5.11 fists, I seriously reccomend as many #3 and #4 cams as you can find. But then, I can't reccomend hauling that crap up there, so don't feel bad when "TAKE!" comes bubbling out of your mouth and you handdog and back clean your way up. Last bit of advice - Wear your approach shoes on this pitch.

Things got severely windy at this point for us (including the 5.11 pitch) so that may have affected my memory of the difficulty. The next (5th) pitch is great, and longer than the guidebooks states. 5.10 for sure but not desperate. Belay at the grass below the chockstone.

The chockstone pitch starts out grass grabbing and placing cams in cleaned out pods, then is fun and easy up and right up a ramp under the chockstone. Climb up a bit past the chockstone and belay on a ledge.

The next two pitches (or one epic pitch) in my opinion, suck, and are heads up alpine lichen eating 5.10, but maybe we didn't take the path of least resistance. I can't comment on the left exit under the chockstone, but it sounds crappy too.

Lots of climbing packed into 1000 feet! It's not the Perch or the Hulk, but it is a full on alpine classic face. Jul 10, 2012
Hey guys, I just got back and I used this beta for the climb. I would like to note some useful stuff including the fact that most pitches are quite a bit shorter than noted by the OP. In addition, the last pitch has a lot of options. We did the right corner exit, which is a nice OW at 10. Check out my TR for detailed description and photos.

skisickness.com/post/viewto… Jul 28, 2012
matt j hartman
Leavenworth WA
matt j hartman   Leavenworth WA
Originally rated 10d. It only has about 15 feet that could be rated harder than 10b. get on it. go right at the start to find good pro and easy climbing. Besides the cruddy p7 (which can be avoided) at 10a, this is great stone all the way on a sunny face in the mountains. Get the view of the cirque from the summit. Magnificent. 3 number 4 sizes will sew it up pretty well. For rating scales, this is Indian Creek 11a. At Vedauwoo, Fremont Canyon, South Platte, Valley, etc it would be 10c/d (which is hard). If you think this route is hard at 11a then go climb Weather or Not (III 5.10) to the left. The first ascent party (like Lowe and Fowler) kept it real. I would say this has a lot of hand jams and a couple of fist jams, so long as your hands are 2 camalots or larger. Smaller hand folks will find the crux harder for sure but that doesn't really change the rating. Have a fun adventure and enjoy the range. Check out the Sundance Pinnacle if you are in the area as well. Great day 2 routes! IS it alpine if you wear a t-shirt all day? Once below the chockstone go right up the good, pretty cracks. The left isn't fun, the right is! Aug 1, 2012
What a fantastic climb....best I've done in the Winds, great rock and zero vegetation. Sustained and interesting climbing with great pro....put it on your short list!
Some comments:
Pitch 1 is not spicy, start far to the right and climb easily up to moderate ramps that take you up and left to the belay. The 5.8 move is just below the belay and takes good small gear.
Pitch 3 Great pitch...do not go all the way to the bolt, 20 ft. from top of corner exit on easy face climbing that takes you up and left to the belay ledge.
Pitch 4 Crux comes after the second roof. You wont be pumped because there are rests you can milk but the crux is pure 4 camalot crack and solid 5.11. Bring at least two new 4 camalots and maybe a 5.
Pitch 6 The moves off of the ledge are more like 5.10 and take small gear.
Last two pitches...I don't know where the OP went but the last two pitches from the ledge behind the HUGE chockstone are clean, enjoyable and not very difficult. Begin by doing the 5.8 right facing corner directly behind you that diagonals up and to the right 70 ft. to a ledge. From here there are two cracks....take the right one that takes you up a full rope length (5.9) to the end of the roped climbing. Aug 22, 2012
Excellent route. Dont let Matt Hartman tell you "it is a handcrack with a couple of fist jams". This is from a man who climbed meat hooks in the creek bare handed with blood pouring down his forearms. If you are not comfortable with off-fists the crux will smack you in the mouth. Hurt me so good. Oct 29, 2012
Is there a descent description for Warbonnet? Thanks. May 19, 2013
matt j hartman
Leavenworth WA
matt j hartman   Leavenworth WA
Head to the summit, or just below via class 3. The head south and west to an obvious gully with cairns. Loose class 3 all the way down. May hold snow in June. When dry you can walk down in comfy climbing shoes no problem. It will save weight for the 27 number four and five camalots you need to "free climb" this route. May 30, 2013
Nick Stayner
Wymont Kingdom
Nick Stayner   Wymont Kingdom
So just to clarify... are we talking OLD #4 camalots (new #5) for the crux pitch or NEW #4 camalots (old #3.5)? Jul 11, 2013
We had one new and one old #4 cam and thought the combination worked well. Jul 19, 2013
earl mcalister
Las Vegas, NV
earl mcalister   Las Vegas, NV
Climbed this route last week. I wanted to clarify that a new #5 is a total waste of time to bring up there. It will not fit. We carried the thing the whole day. If I were to climb it again I would bring a new #4 BD and an old 4. You can easily slide the cams up with you and make the crux very safe. Three #3's would also make the moves below the crux a bit safer if you aren't solid on that size (we had 2 and were fine). A 70 meter rope would allow you to link pitches 2 and 3, which I think would be amazing if you are conservative with your pro down low and it would give the person following the crux an amazing looong pitch to lead (if swapping leads). Excellent route, but I didn't feel it was as notorious as is suggested on this page or in some of the trip reports you read about it. Go climb it! Aug 1, 2013
here is a picture of the first pitch. very straightforward.

Jun 30, 2014
Charlie S
Ogden, UT
Charlie S   Ogden, UT
What a climb! Sustained and proud. Honestly, I couldn't differentiate difficulty between the 5.9 and 5.10 pitches. Full on effort and rewarding.

Seems to be a lot of discrepancy for the finish. We went "left" for pitch 7 and ended up in an overhanging offwidth. Apparently the same happens if you go right. We followed Steph Abegg's topo and it worked very well.

The fists (and subsequent discussion on off-fists) pitch is indeed a fists pitch. We took 3 #4s and managed. You have to dive in for the fists...but they're there, and some with some wrist locks. If you stay close to the outside, it is definitely larger than fists. Jul 26, 2015
Boulder, CO
michalm   Boulder, CO
Great crack climbing on quality rock. 2 old #4s were sufficient for the money pitch. A new and an old #4 would suffice as well. A #10 hex is fixed after the 2nd roof of this pitch. My partner and I climbed Black Elk in 5 pitches with 60m double ropes, roping up on the second ledge on the first pitch (seemed like the natural start of the climb), and simul-climbing the last couple pitches going right from behind the chockstone. There may be only 400-500 vertical feet of scrambling past the last pitch, but this equates to 1200+ feet of 3rd class to the summit. We promptly vacated the summit after my hair began to stand on end and we heard the sound of tearing silk overlaid with crackling and sizzling. Enjoy! Aug 18, 2015
This is an excellent route and it's all good, not just the OW pitch. It would be just as classic without that pitch, so get after it.

There seems to be a lot of internet hardman posturing about this route. I'll try to clarify it a bit.

If you want a route to compare the crux of this to, it's bg crack at Vedauwoo. The crux, above the second roof is nearly identical climbing, just a shade longer. Also rated 11a. It's 11a in the same way that the By Gulley or Steck Salathe is 9+. A totally legitimate rating but would be a poor choice for a first alpine 5.11.

Keep in mind fist size, at maximum depth, I got 1 rattly fist jam in the critical 20 foot section. I got numerous hand/hand stacks to stop and contemplate life and my netflix cue, unfortunately though, due to the subtle shape of the inside of the crack a stacking method won't give you much upward progress. If my fists were 1cm wider, I think it may have felt like a ladder.

For gear, I had a single #3 and single #4 new style plus a standard rack below that. It was adequate for me but if you're not comfortable in finding a locked position to slide up your cams, it would be dangerous with my setup. With 2 #4's and no pride, you could probably quickly aid this pitch. Aug 21, 2015
C Archibolt
Salt Lake City, UT
C Archibolt   Salt Lake City, UT
I'll go ahead and admit that my partner and I aided the crux. For us, it was hand stacks, and we just didn't have the technique or stamina to pull it off. We used two #4s (one Camalot and one Friend) and french freed through that 15 ft section.

I believe, however, that even at 5.10 C1 this is an absolutely beautiful crack climb. If your only hesitation for jumping on this route is that wide bit, then aid that bit and go for it. You are still getting hundreds of feet of super classic 5.10 granite. We felt accomplished at onsighting everything but the crux! I'd call it an alpine test-piece for a 5.10 trad climber.

As for the exit, we followed Jim Donini's comment above. We went right under the chockstone for a 70 foot 5.8 pitch ending at a small ledge with two cracks. We took the right crack again. This next pitch was 5.9+/10a through intersecting wide cracks. We belayed at the end of the rope. These last two pitches were clean and enjoyable. Sep 10, 2015
Dana Hawlish 1
Salt Lake City, Utah
Dana Hawlish 1   Salt Lake City, Utah
This route has to be as close to perfection in the alpine as it can get. clean splitter cracks on excellent stone, beautiful setting, varied climbing. every single pitch is fantastic except the first, even the final pitch (go right under the chock stone for sure.) and i think the crux is the best pitch on the route, a joyous struggle fest. so much fun. i can't say enough about black elk, you simply must do it. Dec 17, 2015
Tyler Rohr 2
Cambridge, MA
Tyler Rohr 2   Cambridge, MA
I can confirm that this route is incredible! One of my favorite climbs period. Setting/sustained/safe/epic/everything. Pitch 2-5 were perfect. And the rest was solid too.

Some helpful beta to supplement the rest of this thread.

Camp Approach: In between north lake and arrowhead lake a a very well established/marked trail head left to cut west around arrowhead (this is the 'climbers' route into the cirque). You will also be dead center in front of the climb at this point. Take the trail left and wander into the meadow clearly near the base of the climb and pick one of many great bivys with a stream near by at the low point of the meadow/boulder field (running water in August).

Climb approach: Walk up the obvious gully from the stream and cut right on the highest reasonable ramp that follows a white streak (there is one large ramp lower and one thin one higher that peters out immediately). Go as far right (climbers right) as possible before roping up and doing some easy moves up a pillar (maybe an easy traverse too to gain the pillar if you do the scramble a little differently). This protected fine and wasn't intimidating even at 6 am.

Pitch 1: Approach pitch. Move left on easy ground after starting as described above.

Pitch 2/3: We did about 2/3rds of the corner on pitch one but you can belay where ever. There are several comfortable/obvious options.

Pitch 4: The Money! Such a good pitch all around (both roofs are great!). The crux section is burly but awesome. I had 3 #4's but ended up just using 2 and leap frogging them the whole way.... I had to take a couple times but it is totally fine to climb this free doing that. Might be a little easier to send if you have more so you don't have to keep back cleaning I guess...

Pitch 5/6: Pretty obvious, just keep heading up and into the chock stone.

Pitch 7: There appears to be 3 options: 1. Left route on left side of chock stone - poorly protected dihedral. 2. Right route on left side of chock stone (maybe 5 feet right of option 1) - chimney thing that protects well. 3. Right side of chock stone - Not sure, looked clean enough though. We did option 2 and it was great. the chimney thing was short, fun, moderate, and protected well. After this we climbed bomber hands to the right of a 'small' chockstone.

Pitch 8: The topo suggests the gully but I chose the far right obvious crack (I think someone else did too here). It was a little dirty with the worst pro on the route (but still totally fine) but still super fun and recommendable. Probably goes at 9 or easy 10.

Pro: We brought doubles of .4-1, triples of 2-4, a few small things (which we used) and some nuts (which we didn't use). The triples may have been excessive but definitely got used...note we are wimps haha.

Anyway hope this helps! Awesome climb! Do it! Aug 7, 2016
Lyle Harte
Lyle Harte   Denver
One of the best routes I've done! In regards to the comment saying you can do the 2nd/3rd class descent in comfy climbing shoes, you're not wrong, but my partner and I would very much have preferred taking up approach shoes as our toes were in a lot of pain despite our climbing shoes being "comfy". Aug 27, 2016
Nick Stayner
Wymont Kingdom
Nick Stayner   Wymont Kingdom
So.... Kincos Eurotaped at the wrists is the beta for the crux? :) Jul 25, 2017
Eli .
Eli .   GMC3500
+1 for tennies on the crux pitch. Any two #4s would work, though we had a new and an old one. For me the pitch was all arm bars, I got one bad fist somewhere, which was helpful to bump a piece. Butterfly stacks don't seem like a good way to make upward progress at all, but all the beta on P4 is probably beating a dead horse at this point.
I found P2 awkward to protect off the deck. P6 felt like spicy 5.10 to me. Maybe I am a weenie.

Stellar route! Get on it! Jul 28, 2017
Max Tepfer
Bend, OR
Max Tepfer   Bend, OR
Two new #4s worked just fine. (it helps if you save them for above the second roof) You could place a 5, but if you're remotely solid at the grade, it's not worth the effort to haul it back and up there. I also only placed one #3 on the crux thanks to a seam on the left wall that took tip sized gear and judicious walking. The fixed hex is still there as of 7/3/18. +1 for going right at the top. Jul 5, 2018
Zach Alles
Snowmass, CO
Zach Alles   Snowmass, CO
The vegetated pitch 7 described above has bomber pro mostly the whole way. I took that line to check it out and got bomber pieces every 4-5 feet for the first 25 feet. It was actually pretty enjoyable climbing as well - a little more licheny than the rest of the route but then again you're on a mountain Jul 19, 2018