| Mt. Elbert Ski Descent (Box Creek Cirque)- South Mt. Elbert TH
Date: Sunday, May 11, 2008
Group: BillMiddlebrook and I (skiers), and Shawn (pedestrian)
Route: East Ridge ascent (5mi.) and Box Creek Chutes ski descent (5.75mi.) from South Mt. Elbert TH
Stats: 10.75 miles; 4,500’ climbed; 4,100’ skied; 9 hrs 20 min RT
Our routes on Mt. Elbert from U.S. 24 (red=climb; blue=ski):
Topo of the route (yellow=drive; red=climb; blue=ski):
sdkeil picked me up Saturday evening and we met Bill at the 2WD parking area at the South Mt. Elbert TH. Prior to our arrival, Bill drove up the road to check it out; the first mile is clear of snow. The last mile has patchy snow in the lower half, and continuous snow in the upper half. He figured it was best we just walk up to the TH, rather than take the sleds. After a little shut-eye, we hopped in Bill's truck and drove to 10,085ft. We started walking the road at 6:15am. After a few bends and a lack of desire to carry them, we put skis on, and sdkeil stayed on foot. Our primary goal was to ski the Box Creek Chutes (a new ski route for both of us), but if the snow looked too hardpacked, we were sticking to the East Ridge.
Time for the skis to go on:
Crossing the bridge at the TH, Bill lazy to take the skis off! (So was I)
Thirty-five minutes later, we arrived at the trailhead and continued on up through the aspens, able to see skin tracks from earlier that morning.
The first solid view of Elbert from a clearing near 11,400ft.:
Bill skins up to treeline:
From treeline to the saddle at 12,400ft., the snow was pretty thin with some areas of hard sastrugi. At the saddle, we took a food break.
Heading up to the 12,400ft. saddle. East Ridge route is seen. The summit looking windy:
About 600ft. higher, most of the East Ridge was wind-blown so the skis came off up to about 13,500ft. At 13,400ft., we were able to see a group of 3 skiers entering the Box Creek Cirque, each skiing their own chute in nice powder. We scoped out a line, right in the middle of the cirque.
Near 13,000ft., we took the skis off for a majority of the East Ridge:
Our first good look at the Box Creek Cirque, with recent tracks (taken from ~13,500ft.):
Climbing up the ridge, with Mt. Sherman and surrounding Thirteeners (center) behind me:
sdkeil climbs the ridge, still to put snowshoes on during the climb:
Gusty winds were out of the west, but shifted to coming out of the northeast. It was warm and sunny, and without a breeze, it would have been more tiring than it already was. How could a climb up a gentle slope with gradual gain be so exhausting? It was slow going for all of us. As we neared the summit (or what we kept thinking it was), we would see large snow drifts or rock patches that appeared to look far away and like a summit, but we realized they were only 30 feet from us as we got closer.
The dry area in the foreground of this photo is the only short section we had to remove skis during the descent. sdkeil nearing the summit:
I finally made the summit at 12:25pm (6hrs. 10 min. total including several breaks), Bill and Shawn 10-15min. earlier. The views seemed endless on such a clear day. We waxed the skis, took a few photos, and began the descent at 12:55pm. The plan was for sdkeil to take the same route down, and Bill and I would give the chutes a go and meet him back at the 12,400ft. saddle.
La Plata Peak from Mt. Elbert:
A zoomed-in photo of the Elks:
sdkeil and I on the summit of Mt. Elbert:
Shawn started back down the ridge (still not having to use his snowshoes) hoping to grab a few glissades in, but the snow was too soft to do so. We started down too, only taking our skis off briefly on a rocky patch just below the summit.
Bill skis off the summit:
And I followed, on the low-angle upper East Slope:
Shortly after, we arrived at the top of the cirque. We dropped down slightly farther to get a better look at our line. Bill made a few ski cuts – a lot of sloughy powder in the upper 1/3 of the chutes with a firm base underneath. The tracks a few hours earlier already had wind-deposited snow covering most of them.
Bill dropped in first making a couple of ski cuts and traversing over to the next chute on skiers left:
I went next and met him at a safety zone in the second chute:
The snow was quite variable – sloughy powder up top to areas of crust to creamier snow at the bottom. Once we got our rhythm going, we had to stop when the snow condition changed. Our legs were pretty tired, so taking a conservative line down stopping every 5 or so turns was best.
More skiing. Bill lays down his turns:
My turn again. Hey, I like this!
We then skied it out into the basin on creamy snow...
I finish my turns out (from a distance):
sdkeil took a few photos of us skiing down the chutes. Can you can find us?
The line we took down the Box Creek Cirque:
Down below the cirque, a small rocky area required us to take off skis. We had to contour around the base of the East Ridge staying fairly high to meet sdkeil at the 12,400ft. saddle. Skiing this contour was mostly continuous. We thought we would be waiting for him – on the contrary. He beat us down by a little while…
...and maybe took a nap. sdkeil waiting for us:
We continued skiing down, northwest of Bartlett Gulch (west of the main trail) and met Shawn again near treeline. Despite us being on skis, we didn't have to wait long for him, or vice versa. Really soft snow and post-holing finally forced him to use his snowshoes.
Let's take another break. Shawn finally uses his snowshoes for the first time:
Skiing through the trees wasn't bad, just more soft corn to manage (bummer!). It wasn't a place you would want to be without any form of flotation though. We were able to ski back down most of the road, milking it for all it was worth by skiing every inch we could.
Crossing the creek on a narrow patch of soft snow (a little tougher when you're tired), or walking right through it:
We arrived back to the truck at 3:30pm, happy to be there and take our boots off. Albeit longer than expected and tiring, we were pleased with the great day we had on Colorado's rooftop. Great ski, Bill. And, it was so nice to climb with you again, Shawn. Just like old times. Nice day guys (minus all the climbing)!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):