Mt Wilson: Slate Creek ascent, Boxcar Couloir descent
Crew: Brittany (mtnbikerskierchick), Kim (skiberly), Matt (pioletski)
12 miles, 4214' climbed and skied
View from the trailhead. L to R: South Wilson, Mt Wilson, Gladstone, Cross, unnamed, Lizard Head
Brittany and I had talked about skiing for a few days, thinking about heading for the Elks, but decided that the lines we wanted to ski weren't ready yet. Having a few days off work, and a window of reasonable weather, I suggested Mt Wilson. Brittany has skied Wilson, but hoped to get a cleaner summit descent (though we both agreed that her previous trip "counted"). After a little more discussion we decided to do Wilson, approaching from the south (Slate Creek) and skiing the Boxcar Couloir. The Slate Creek approach involves some cross-country navigation; that aspect appealed to me.
Kim, whom I had not met before, wanted to come along as well. Brittany described her as an awesome skier, and she should know, she's no slouch herself. So I was going to do this climb with two seriously bad Bettys. Hmmm. Male pride must be defended, at all costs! How to do this? One thing for sure: I damn well better know the way, stopping to ask for directions just wouldn't do! So I set out for a recon the day before, and will begin by sharing my notes.
Generally speaking, the route follows the Cross Mountain trail onto a broad ridge that comes down from Lizard Head Peak. Once on the crest of the ridge, the trail swings from northwest to due north; this route continues northwest and traverses cross-country into Slate Creek. I understand that this part is a royal pain in the summer, but on snow it's an excellent route (especially if there is continuous snow all the way back to the trailhead).
The trip begins from the Cross Mountain trailhead, two miles west of Lizard Head Pass, marked by this sign:
Calibrate your altimeter at the trailhead (10,050) - it is your primary navigation tool for this route. At first the way is straightforward, following a road more or less parallel to Lizard Head Creek. After about 1/2 mile, the road bears left at an inviting meadow; this sign confirms that you are on route:
From here, you follow the roadcut to 10,999 feet (it is not necessary to break 11 grand). At this point the bushwhack begins. Take a deep breath, hang a left and plunge into the dark scary woods. There is a series of low-angled benches between 10,800' and 11,000' that you want to follow. Take a gently descending traverse to connect them; if you find yourself on a steep sidehill then you are either too high or too low. (By gentle, I mean try to visualize yourself climbing back out without your skins on; if that seems ridiculous then your trajectory is probably too steep.) If all goes well, you will arrive at Slate Creek in a wide meadow at 10,800 feet, with grand views of Gladstone at the head of the valley:
and Lizard Head to your right:
If you need to re-tile your kitchen and you're feeling particularly burly, bring a big pack - Slate Creek is aptly named:
The famous Slate Creek slate
In passing, let me just comment that a good map-and-compass navigator is well described in and old Cheryl Wheeler song: frequently wrong but never in doubt.
On to the trip:
The trailhead is a rather desolate place to camp, although the moonrise over Sheep Mountain was beautiful:
Brittany arrived after dark, and Kim arrived sometime in the middle of the night. The trip began before dawn, as they so often do...
Sunrise found us arriving in the Slate Creek valley...
... and I finally got to see Kim's smiling face.
Brittany donned her stylish sunhat.
We paused for a snack below the outlet of the Boxcar...
... and continued up the Slate Creek Cirque. (Climbing the Boxcar itself is not a great idea, as it has a reputation for rockfall.) Here are views of Lizard Head...
... and upward toward the summit...
... and across to the Gladstone Saddle. Spectacular terrain!
The entrance to the Boxcar itself is through a notch at 13,600 feet:
Our route continued up the cirque to a col just south of the summit, affording a view of El Diente:
Unfortunately, at this point it was apparent that the snow was not continuous to the summit, so the descent would be interrupted by a 40' downclimb. This seems to be typical for Wilson, only a lucky few have had perfect unbroken ski descents.
Photos at the summit:
I placed my video camera on my helmet and handed my other camera to Brittany, whose camera was AWOL for the day; she and Kim traded off with it, so I am not sure to whom to attribute the rest of these photos. (I will add the ski video to this TR when I have had a chance to edit it.) Brittany and I put our skis on at the summit...
... and pushed off, then all too soon put our crampons back on for the downclimb. Kim was having no part of this silliness, she left her skis at the col, where the real skiing began. The snow was rather dense, wind-hammered and somewhat variable. Brittany and I dealt with it as best we could while Kim gave it some schoolin'.
The initial plunge
View back up to the summit from the top of the Boxcar:
Brittany taking the plunge into the couloir proper:
The Boxcar is a truly grand ski run: 1200 feet vertical, not counting the apron at the bottom, wide at first and narrow below, steep rock walls:
Kim entering the narrow bottom section:
Three happy skiers, ready for the traverse back home:
Brittany, thanks for coming out to play (and congratulations on your engagement to Frank); Kim, great to meet you!
EDIT: Here, only a week later, is the helmet cam video:
Thanks for reading!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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