Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Post Date:  05/12/2008
Modified:  05/06/2014
Date Climbed:   05/11/2008
Posted By:  USAKeller
Additional Members:   sdkeil, BillMiddlebrook

 Mt. Elbert Ski Descent (Box Creek Cirque)- South Mt. Elbert TH    

Box Creek Cirque Summit Ski of Mt. Elbert

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):

  • Comments or Questions

next year...     02/05/2011 00:22
I gotta do the Box chutes! Very TR!


Thanks     05/13/2008 11:41
So you provided the ski tracks that we followed up yesterday! Thanks (It‘s always nice having a set trail in the snow on a route you have never climbed before.


nice ski!     05/13/2008 16:17
i was eyeing those couloirs during a summer hike of elbert last year.


I‘m Old     05/13/2008 13:34
It was a great day with you guys! I was exhausted by the time we hit the top of that beast.


Pedestrian eh?     05/13/2008 15:28
Agreed, it was a great day with great weather. It almost makes up for the misery of Quandary the day before. Thanks guys for letting me tag along, however I think we need a better term then pedestrian. It makes it sound like you guys picked me up along side the road while driving to the TH haha! It was fun watching you guys ski the Box chutes from up on the ridge.

Chicago Transplant

Nice Job!     05/13/2008 17:09
Glad to see you getting on a little steeper route, nice work!Sunday was a great day for skiing, I was on ”Mountain Boy Peak” just to your west enjoying the ”creamy snow”


That was us!     05/13/2008 17:39
My friend Bernie and I came down from Jackson, and met Mikey to ski the highest in the Rockies. Turned out great, my first 14er. I will definitely be back. The area south of Twin Lakes looks sick! I made the tight tracks through the chute. It was all pow, a little north facing helped. That pic of La Plata is great.


You beat us to it!     11/30/2010 17:28
You must have been the guys with the van that parked 1/2 mile up. We had the black suburban and I passed you the night before after hauling trees out of the road. We were on the ridge, near 13,400', when we watched you nab the pow early on. By the time USAKeller and I got into the chutes, it was crusting over from the sun/wind but still quite nice. Let me know if you want some pics of your lines - from the ridge.


sure was!     05/13/2008 18:18
That Callapowder sure can crush it! I skied the line to the skiers right of callapow, she was nice....but she has balls!


Thanks everybody!     11/30/2010 17:28
Stefanpg: Glad you had some tracks to follow! When you say new route - did you climb up the chutes or are you talking about the East Ridge?

sdkeil: LOL. That's hilarious! You didn't "tag along." You kept right up with us and waited. It worked out a lot better than I expected.

scotthsu: Thank you! It looks like you guys had a fantastic day in Wilson Peak. Hopefully one day I can ski like you guys!

Mike: It was time to get something a little steeper in. I think the max we skied was 37deg. (?) in that particular chute. I've never heard of Mountain Boy Peak - where is it near?

callapowder: Congrats on your first 14er (and ski)! We saw you guys climbing up and skiing down the chutes, and your tracks on skiers right. We knew you all had powder on your runs; we had quite variable conditions a few hours later.

Chicago Transplant

Mountain Boy     05/13/2008 19:27
Mountain Boy is the nickname for UN 13198, its on the south side of CO 82 just before the winter closure gate near Independence Pass. It is so named because it is just south of Mountain Boy Park. I will put a TR up when I get pics of me skiing sent from my partners


Tight turns!     05/13/2008 20:30
mw1000: Those turns were nice and tight down a good-lookin chute.

Mike: Now I know where you‘re talking about. Looking forward to the TR!

Bill: Old? I felt old, overweight, and out of shape climbing that peak. I‘m only 24 years old, so that should make you feel ancient?! We were all dragging on Sunday. You were so cranky I thought you were going to fall in crossing the creek!


Oh, come on!!     05/13/2008 20:35
Cranky? Me?? I was all smiles when the skiing started. And who‘s the one that needed assistance while crossing the creek?!?


dragging     05/14/2008 20:39
Bill and USA, after I hit the ridge with the scree and put skis back on, I could only take 15 steps or so and stop cause I thought I was going to throw up. But once I started skiing, I was smiles too!


Which One     05/15/2008 12:53
Hey guys good work on the two descents. We are coming up from albuquerque, NM this weekend. Are are looking at a few ski descents. Grays/Torreys...depending on how far up the Stevens Gulch we can drive. I guessing not very far. What do you think about a day push here. What would the RT mileage be?

Other options..which you just did as well include Box chutes on elbert.

Princeton looks good after the recent 1‘ in the Sawatch.

If you had to guess which option would provide the best skiing?



Options     05/15/2008 13:52
Grays and Torreys may give you most open skiing back down and you might be able to drive the first 1/4 mile or so, but don‘t expect more than that.

The last time I viewed Princeton, it had continous snow, but it requires some climbing to get back to the road after a descent. With the recent snow, I‘m not sure how far you can get up the road.

Elbert is good, but the lower 1,000‘ is through the trees and could be a bit frustrating if the snow isn‘t firm - it was perfect the other day when we skied it.

All good options if the weather and snow conditions cooperate.

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