Saturday, October 16, 2021
Red Elephant, Mill Creek, Bill Moore

A gent from the 4x4 group wanted to travel the Red Elephant, Mill Creek, Bill Moore Lake trails. It's been a few years since I last ran then so I said yes, I'll go. Weather was a concern and if the area received too much snow from a day or two prior the event might get canceled. In the end, weather was for clear sky and not much wind - it was a nice day out!

We met on the side of the road near the trailhead - a good spot to meet. I don't recall more than one or two cars passing by - a low traffic location. Hugh was there when I rolled up at 9:01am and Schmitty arrived a few minutes later. I recall hitting the trail at 9:30a. A nice BLUE SKY day.

Three or four jeeps entered the trail ahead of us and we didn't see them again, one side-by-side passed us early, before the difficult parts - passing us later in the day to head out

The Red Elephant uphill was more difficult than I remembered. There were two areas of interest and we looked at the routes - taking our time (about 30 minutes for each of the difficult sections). We were up top, at the campsite / vista point at 11:31am.

Mill Creek had some snow which led to a few side slips in shelf-ish areas for some pucker factor (lots of downhill trees for protection). The creek crossings had some ice.

The Empire Hilton (arrived at 1:04pm) looked somewhat / occasionally occupied. It was sporting a solar charged LED motion detection flood light above the door and some LED string lights across the main beam inside. The bunk beds at the far end are gone. Some roofing work has been tended (new screws visible in the roof inside).

A couple pickups were encountered at the second creek crossing but they were not seen again. A couple vehicles were seen on an option route to Bill Moore and they were seen as we aired up at the end of the day. While traffic was light - we were held up by one vehicle.

We made the lake at 2:39pm. Schmitty and Hugh drove on the poser rock and I took photos. We went to the lake (frozen), not much wind, for some photos. One huge bonus - NO MOSQUITOES!!! Yea!

As we came back from the lake another jeep was in the lot. Three guys out looking around. All of us headed out (3 + 1) at 3:00pm with our group in the lead.

The long descent down to the lake…. it's on a north face and had packed snow. One track (outside if I recall, more sun) looked reasonably clear and I had the thinking as I was coming down - I'll toss on the lockers to get the wheel with traction to get me up the slope. Schmitty went first while Hugh and I hung back. All of us made it up the first pitch with Hugh and I parking on the flat area after the first pitch. Schmitty kept moving and made it up about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the second pitch.

Rejected, the three of us backed down to the bottom - a good area to recoup as it was wide enough for easy passing and parking. The solo jeep waited at that base for us. We said to them - give it a try - and they did - and were rejected at the first pitch (tires at street pressure). Hugh thought he'd be able to make it - and he did - up to the top.

The three of us had radios and the solo jeep had a CB, which I also had. The four of us could easily talk. I connected a tow strap (kinetic rope) to Schmitty and thought we'd make it together - nope. About the same spot he was rejected, we were too (yes lockers enabled - though I need to check actuation for the front - I saw the LF tire not spinning when it should have been). He and I backed down to the intermediate spot where I'd toss on a set of chains (front axle, under the weight of the motor). Hugh, parked up top, walked down to me installing chains.

About the time we went to drive up, we noticed a white toyota coming down the trail. Hugh walked back up to tell them the deal. It appears the white toyota was part of a four or five vehicle party that wanted to get to the lake.

Knowing three vehicles were trying to get up, they started to winch the white toyota up the trail and I said - it's going to be a while - I might as well toss on the second set of chains. Yes, it was a while before the white toyota was moved. With four chains on, connected to Schmitty, we 4-lo crawled up the trail to near the white toyota - and we waited another couple minutes. Getting moving again, on the upslope, was no issue with good traction.

Up top I radio'd to the solo jeep that I was coming down forward and would need to turn around. They were at the base and when I got there (this hill event started an hour+ earlier) I said 'we'll be at the top in three minutes - and we were. The chains were the ticket.

The solo jeep had aired down after their first attempt and after getting to the top they thought they might have been able to make it solo - perhaps. Up from the hill at 4:56pm and past the folks wishing to get to the lake late in the day, we made quick work of getting down to Empire. We were off the trail just before sunset.

The gent driving the solo jeep invited us for drinks so we met in Idaho Springs and enjoyed some conversation for a bit (Thanks!). Overall, a quite enjoyable day.

Talking about weather concerns, several days before this event, I had commented that
"I'll toss in the tire chains - just to ensure they won't be needed."


A newer Garmin MapSource program has different profile layout. I am not a fan and I'm looking to make it back the way it used to be.

Mount Meeker (left) with Longs Peak (right)

Downtown Denver with Pike's Peak in the background (about 66 miles distant).

West on I-70

At the trailhead - ready to start the day.

Easy trail knowing difficult trail is not far ahead.

Looking east / down the valley with I-70

Parked at the first difficult spot - to look at it and spot the red jeep through.

Guidance from the spotter - who can readily see what the wheels are sitting upon / what rocks might be hitting the suspension / frame.

One winch line was pulled today. The red jeep's front differential was hung up on a rock.

The photograph flattens the rocks and the slope.

We're up top / past the difficult parts of the trail for today.

The aspen trees are bare

Starting to see the white stuff

At the first campsite / vista point up Red Elephant

Mill Creek - we'll cross it twice today.

The "Empire Hilton" (Empire is the nearest town). This is a general use / public use cabin in the mountains.

Someone has tended some roof work (note the shiny screws through the roof) along with added some LED lighting.

The second Mill Creek crossing - more ice!

Looking down at Georgetown

Family and I were here the weekend prior for some trail riding to Argentine Pass

Poser Rock at Bill Moore Lake

My type of posing

Bill Moore Lake

Click the link for a much larger picture

The white toyota - on the last ten feet of winching up the slick slope.

I'm sitting in my jeep, with the red jeep in tow, near the top of this slippery slope. If I didn't have chains I would not have been able to drive this far up AND I would not have been able to stop w/o sliding back down the slope.

Once this white toyota is out of our way, I'll pull the red jeep up and out and will return to pull up one other jeep sitting at the base of this slippery slope - and then head out/home.

Before driving down the slope - a view.

It makes a subtle right bend here, heads straight for 60 feet then makes a left bend and levels out for a bit before another straight slope to the bottom. We went down w/o sliding but getting up was a different story. If I didn't have tire chains, the slow process of winching up would have been the answer.

Up top with some sun - we'll not need the chains so I pulled over at a convenient spot and everyone helped removing them. They were off in but a few minutes.

Looking back towards where Bill Moore Lake exists - the left most valley

Nearing sunset - coming down to the town of Empire