Box Elder Peak – The Long Way

As part of my skiing redemption, this spring I have been working on summiting and skiing peaks that have previously eluded me.  Box Elder Peak is only 11,101’ (additional information), but has a beautiful northwest face that, when viewed from the Little Cottonwood Canyon ridgeline (Red Pine, Maybird, Hogum, etc), begs to be skied.


Five or so years ago, Chip, Audrey, Emily and I attempted this peak.  We ended up getting stormed out.  On this attempt, we started in Alpine and hiked the summer trail for a couple of miles to reach snow, then continued on skis.  For this attempt, we thought it would be more enjoyable to maximize our time on skis so we decided to start at the White Pine Trailhead in Little Cottonwood Canyon, ascend to the top of the Red Pine ridge, ski down into Dry Creek Canyon, ascend Box Elder Peak, then return mostly the way we came.  This route had a lot of appeal as it would be around 8,000’ of climbing and have 3 descents of 3,000’, 2,000’, and 3,000’.  There are not many places in the Wasatch to get that much vertical in 3 runs.

We didn’t have great snow coverage down low on the Red Pine Trail.


We made steady progress up to Red Pine enjoying a chilly, but bluebird day in the Wasatch.


We were treated to some fantastic snow on our long, 3,000’ descent into Dry Creek Canyon.


I have always enjoyed skiing into Dry Creek Canyon as the terrain is huge and you are looking up at the back side of some fantastic peaks.  Each time I ski the Pfieferhorn, I try to make a long descent into Dry Creek Canyon.  I was excited to get to ski 3,000’ down this time.  Unfortunately, our snow ran out and eventually we were forced to boot back down.


Once at the bottom of Dry Creek, we had a few issues finding our route up to the ridge, but we eventually made it.  The skinning was challenging with a mix of ice and new snow that easily slide off of the ice it was sitting on.  Ski crampons were a huge asset here, unfortunately, Paul didn’t have any so he struggle up the icy climb until we reached the ridge.


The final 3/4 mile (or so) was easiest done booting on the firm snow.



Once at the top, we were treated with amazing views of Timpanogos (the south Summit on the left is what Evan and I had skied 2 weeks earlier) and down to Tibble Fork Reservoir.


We were excited for our descent, until we dropped into a slope of solid ice.  Making the best of it, we enjoyed a long, scenic descent.


Since the snow was not great, we decided to traverse off the slope early to reduce our climb out.  We had also had a great idea that we could reach White Baldy from the ridgeline at the top of Dry Creek Canyon and then we could descent White Pine.  We made great time up the ridge and thought we were getting very close to White Baldy, but we knew there were several false summits.


Our route eventually got technical.  At this point of the day, we were over 8 hours and 7,500’ in and we were getting tired.


We had to make the decision to continue on through the crux, or down climb and try to find a passage through the sub-ridge rather than have to ski 1,000’+ back down into Dry Creek Canyon and have to climb out again.


We chose the down climb.


And were treated to some great turns in softening snow.

We were able to find a passage to avoid the long descent (and ascent) in to Dry Creek.


At the top of this passage, we still had some scrambling to get to snow where we could descend, but at least we could again see the Pfieferhorn, our descent tracks from the morning, and where we needed to be going.


As always, the views down into Dry Creek are amazing.  You can see Utah Lake and Provo 6,000’ below us in the valley and our skin track up through Dry Creek.


And finally we were back in Red Pine with it being mostly downhill to the trailhead.


Where cold beer awaited

I wore my Garmin Forerunner for the ski day.  Our final stats were just over 11 hours, 8,800’ climbing, and 18.5 miles.

For higher resolution, captioned photos, see the Box Elder Album.

Kings Peak – 3rd Time Is A Charm

A ski descent of Kings Peak is something that has eluded on 2 other occasions, but I was finally able to tackle the beast.  My first attempt was in February 2005.  Chip, Audrey, Andy H, Emily, and I packed for a 3 day trip.  We had full heavy touring gear (heavy tele boots, tele skis, non-free pivot bindings, etc) and were planning to camp for 2 nights.  We had a great trip, but were turned away at Anderson Pass due to weather. 

February 2005 Attempt

In March 2008 as part of our training for Elk Mountain Grand Traverse (EMGT), Chip, Audrey, Andrea S, and I attempted the summit in a single push.  For this attempt, rather than camp in the cold, we decided to leave Summit Park at 1 AM so we would be skiing by 4:30 AM.  We had hope do summit and return to the car in around 13 hours.  Since we would be doing the EMGT on Nordic gear, we decided to use the same gear for Kings Peak since the distance was approximately the same and the vert a couple thousand feet less.  We arrived at the trailhead to a lot of fresh snow and started breaking trail while it continued to snow.  The weather continued to get worse.  The picture below is the high winds we had on Gunsight Pass.  We had a turn around time of 1PM, we continued to push this back until finally at 4PM and just a few hundred feet below the summit we knew we had to turn around.  It had stormed enough that we had to break trail all the way back to the trailhead and finally arrived at the car after an 18 hour push and we still had a 3 hour drive home.  We arrived home sometime after 2AM making it a solid 25 hour round trip sufferfest.

March 2008 Attempt


After a second failure, I was wondering if Kings Peak had it out for me.  I had thought a lot about the peak since 2008, but just hadn’t found time to go back.  After taking up skimo racing this winter and having a successful Power of Four race, this seemed like the year to do it.  I had the right gear and a had already done a 26 mile skimo race.  The Utah snow pack was quite low so I figured this would be good and bad.  It would be good as we would hopefully be able to drive closer to the trailhead (previous attempts had us parked 3 miles from the summer trailhead since they don’t plow the road), but it would be bad as it would likely mean quite a bit of walking since there would not be consistent snow at lower elevations.  I sent out the email to some of local skimo racers and Eric (my partner from Power of Four) was in for a day of suffering.  We worked out the logistics and decided to drive to the trailhead on Friday night to camp in his Sportmobile and attempt the summit on race gear (race skis, boots, bindings, poles, and speed suits), but larger packs that would accommodate crampons, a stove & fuel, full shovel, probe, a down jacket, a few spare parts, a small first aid kit, and an emergency bivy.  Expecting hard snow up high, I also decided to throw in my ice ax.  As we expected, we were able to drive just over a mile closer to the trailhead.  We camped for the night and were treated to single digit temperatures in the morning.  Our goal was 10 hours round trip and we wanted to be skinning by 6:30. Our start was delayed since it was so cold that it took a little longer to get our boots thawed and on.  We left the van moving fast to keep warm.  At 10 miles in (Dollar Lake), we were averaging 3 miles per hour with stops and numerous sections of walking (note – we made the mistake of taking the summer trail instead of following the creek, this cost us probably 45-60 minutes).  Our feet were both killing us at this time from extremely sticky snow on the flat trail (we had only climbed 1,450’ in 10 miles) so we had to stop to tape our feet.  We knew the weather was going to be good so we left our stove, Coke, and Red Bull along the trail and continued on with slightly lighter packs.  From Dollar Lake we finally started climbing up to Gunsight Pass.  Things were going very good and we were at the pass in 4.5 hours.  Definitely not blazing speed, but we were happy and figured we could make the summit in another 1.5 hours.  We were able to get a nice long traverse through the rocks off of Gunsight Pass to the approach to Anderson Pass.  We made the decision to stay on the face of the summit instead of going up to the pass and spending a significant amount of time on rocks.   After having spend most of the last month at close to sea level in San Jose, CA for work, by the time we got to 12,500’ I was really feeling the effects of the altitude and I was moving slowly.  The snow on the summit ascent was perfect.  We were able to skin to about 13,000’ and then kick steps in without crampons the rest of the way.  We finally made the summit in 6:17 after a difficult last couple hundred feet through rotten snow and rocks.  The weather at the summit was sunny and calm.  We put on a down jacket and enjoyed a sandwich with views from the roof top of Utah.  We had a few hundred feet of good snow on the descent followed by a variety of breakable crusts and sastrugi.  We opted to cut the descent short and traverse as much of the distance back to Gunsight Pass instead of skiing all the way down to Painter Basin.  A short skin and we were back to the pass and on the descent back to our caffeine stash.  We enjoyed a quick shot of caffeine and started and 10 mile skate through soft snow back to the trailhead.  We were able to make good time back to the trailhead getting a little bit of glide on our skate and following the creek instead of the summer trail.  We crossed the creek over 30 times on snow bridges (most of which held) and had over a dozen spots where we had to walk across rocks and dirt. We reached the van 9:45 after starting.  Thirsty, hungry, tired, but by no means destroyed.  I definitely had not eaten or drank enough the entire day.  My water was frozen for the first 3 hours so I didn’t eat or drink during that time.  I drank just over 1.5L of water (plus a Red Bull) and only ate 1800 calories.

Kings Peak


SkiMo Season Wrap Up

My SkiMo race season continued until early March.  After the Jackson and Targhee races, I competed in the North American SkiMo Championships in Crested Butte.  The was the second year of the race and was the first year being an ISMF (International Ski Mountaineering Federation) sanctioned race.  This was a 2 day race with day 1 being the sprint event (2 laps of ~250’ climbing with a booter on the second lap) and the second day was the full race which included a technical rock section where we were required to have an ascender and via ferrata kit as we climbed to Mt Crested Butte.  This race was a great learning lesson about the important of gear.  I had a great placement getting on the fixed line, had a gear failure and had to stop for 1 minute and ended up in a bottleneck on the rope that in the end cost me 35 minutes.  Here are some great photos from Kevin Krill of the race (I am in #13). 

This race confirmed that I was going to commit some time to this sport and I ordered a pair of Hagan X-Race skis.  These skis reduced my race setup weight from 1,442 g (ski and binding) to 862g (ski and binding).  This weight was noticeable on my first day on the gear. 

I was hoping to extend race season into April, but instead my last race was the Power of Four race.  In this race you climb and ski each of the 4 mountains at Aspen (Buttermilk, Snowmass, Highlands, and Aspen) for a total of just over 26 miles and 13,500’ of climbing.  I felt this would be much more my style of race instead of the normal ‘sprint’ races.  This was a partner race and my partner, Eric Bunce, and I had a great day.  We were able to finish the 8th men’s team and 10th overall in 6:43.  Our goal was 7:30 so we were thrilled with this time.  We learned a lot about long partner races including team work when Eric had to take care of my gear when my hands and face froze on the top of Highlands and towing each other to keep our pace strong late in the race.

Two days after returning from the Power of Four, it was time to start getting the Powder Keg setup.  We were excited for this year’s race.  It was the 10th anniversary race and we had a large and fast group of racers.  Unfortunately, due to poor snow, we had a lot of unsafe terrain and had to spend an entire day working out a re-route to the course.  The modified course turned out great, harder, longer, more climbing – everything and ultra runner turned skimo racer wanted.  Check out the Powder Keg website for details on the course, results, and lots of great photos and videos.

What’s next? Well, since spring arrived far too early in the Wasatch, it is time to become a runner once again and start preparing for Leadman.  There will still be more skiing including an attempt on Kings Peak on April 6 and hopefully some more powder days and of course corn season.