Elephant’s Head

Elephant’s Head looms like a huge tower over Route 108. Its position, exposure, and history make it not only a Vermont classic, but a truly unique cliff. While the rock quality here is not the best, the routes here are amazing adventures and can be climbed safely with good judgment.


Park a hundred yards down the Stowe-side of the top of the notch at a small pullout on the Mount Mansfield side of the road. Walk steeply downhill a few hundred yards and turn left into the woods. If you miss the turn into the woods, you’ll come to the obvious hairpin turn in the road with a great view of Elephant’s Head and Ragnarock. Tiptoe through the stinging nettles and locate a very steep trail in the gully coming down from the left-side of Elephant’s Head. Hike this until you come to the base of the Elephant’s Head Gully ice climb which is on the left-side of the buttress.

Still in Ramadi 5.10d 110’ ««

Scramble cautiously up the first pitch of Elephant’s Head Gully (per the winter route) to reach the obvious right-facing corner and hand crack on the south side of the gully. Climb steep, broken rock, past a bolt, to reach a large ledge beneath the roof. Jam the perfect hand crack above, traversing right underneath the roof. Step around and continue on a thin hand and finger crack. It may be necessary to belay here to minimize rope drag. When the crack ends, pull through a bulge on good edges, passing a bolt and pin, to a huge ledge and two-bolt anchor. Bert Severin: “Well worth the nasty approach”. From the anchor, two 60M ropes will bring you all the way to the base of Elephant’s Head Gully. Rack double cams to 2”, quickdraws, and long runners. FA Dustin Dearborn, Bert Severin, 2006

 1. Elephant’s Head Crack 5.9+ 200’ «««

A venerable adventure-classic of Smuggler’s Notch. The legendary Fritz Wiessner made several unsuccessful attempts to climb the crack before the first ascent was scooped by Adi Joerg. The first free ascent was picked up by another climbing legend, John Bouchard, in 1973. Be aware that there are scary loose blocks at the top of the second pitch. There are numerous, antique fixed-belays on the route. P.1 Climb the obvious crack in the middle of the front of Elephant’s Head. 5.8 100’ P.2 Climb the crack as it steepens and shoots out an overhanging, bomb-bay, offwidth chimney with a hand crack at the back. Wild! Tiptoe up over scary stacked blocks to the big ledge. 5.9+ 100’ There is no good fixed anchor on the big ledge, so be prepared to tie off blocks and improvise. P.3 John Bouchard climbed the final face to the top of the buttress on scary loose rock with little or no protection, but most choose to rappel from the big ledge atop pitch 2. 5.9 X 30’ To descend, rappel from the ancient piton and fixed gear anchor on the left end of the ledge (scary), or traverse to the right end of the ledge and boulder up, without protection (also scary), to a bolted anchor on the True North rappel route.  FA Adi Joerg, circa 1964 (narrowly beating Fritz Wiessner, who had tried it at least once before this). FFA John Bouchard, Fall 1973

Travis Peckham and Paul Hansen on the FFA of Ganesh (5.11d) 
Photo by Alden Pellett

2. True North 5.11c 200’ «««

A continuously engaging route up the main face and right arête of Elephant’s Head. A great route with many challenges. At the moment, the third pitch is fairly dirty and could use some traffic. Rack a few medium nuts for the first pitch and a few 2-4" cams for a 20-foot fist crack on the second. P.1 Climb the first few feet of the Elephant's head crack. Step right and follow bolts up the arête. Finish to the right at a two-bolt anchor. 5.10b 80' Move the belay, with difficulty, behind the gigantic leaning block on the left to another fixed anchor. 15' (very hard if you’re a large person). P.2 Climb the crack formed by the left-hand side of the block. Continue up the bolted face, pulling a difficult roof, then continue up easier rock to a two-bolt anchor. 5.11c 100’ P.3 Climb straight up the prow, through the gritty, pocketed headwall, then right to the arête. 5.11c 80’ To descend, climb the final pitch of Ganesh and do a 2-rope 60M rappel into the gully. Otherwise, make a short rappel down the ramp (skier’s right) to another bolted anchor. From here it is possible to reach the start of the route in three awkward 30M rappels using a single 60M rope. Dave Furman spearheaded the route with a number of partners from 1998 to 2001 including Ralph Tursini on P.1, Ian Howatt on P.2 and Travis Peckham on P.3. Dave Furman and Travis Peckham completed the first continuous free ascent of the route on Sep. 15, 2001.

3. Ganesh 5.11d 275’ «««

Fantastic position, incredible exposure, steep, sustained climbing and great moves make this route both brilliant and intimidating. P.1 Climb the first pitch of True North. 5.10b 80' P.2 Traverse right, past a bolt, to gain the huge overhanging corner. Climb this, with increasing difficulty, then make a tricky traverse right to a ring-bolt belay. 5.10c 50' P.3 Climb the overhanging blade of rock above the belay. Move left to gain the bottomless corner and crack above using artful, elegant technique- or by thrashing like a tuna on a trawler deck (your choice). Climb exposed steep cracks in the arête. Hang on as steep climbing continues to get steeper through a bulge passed on the left. Above the bulge, move right and finagle a rest by bear hugging the arête. Pull one last heart-breaking crux, then jog up to a nice ledge and a two-bolt anchor shared with True North. 5.11d 110’ P.4 Step right from the belay and swing out onto the wild, overhanging face. Stay low and traverse right past three bolts. Move up, passing a horizontal undercling and another bolt. A final right-rising hand traverse leads to an excellent belay at the top of the buttress. 5.10c 35' To descend, make a single, wild, free-hanging rappel with two 60M ropes to the terrace below. Scramble down the loose, dirty gully that flanks the right-side of Elephant's Head and thrash back around to the base of the route. It is also possible to rappel and pendulum down the fourth pitch (with difficulty) and then rappel True North (a total of five awkward rappels with a single 60M rope). FA In 1971, John Bouchard rope soloed most of pitches 2 and 3 on aid. Some decades later, Travis Peckham, Paul Hansen and Derek Doucet completed the FFA, splitting the third pitch into two pitches with a hanging belay, on Jun. 29, 2002. Peter Kamitses led the third pitch in a single push in 2003, freeing the pitch as it had been originally envisioned.