The Box


The Box sits at the head of both Wildhorse and East Fork drainages for amazing views on a cold November day.

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Matt, Rob, Zach and I had been zapping emails back and forth all week. Goals? Weather? Driving?

Finally we were off at a little after 5, minus Zach. The three of us, a little sleepy, shoehorned into Matt's new (used) Ranger pickup. Lots of talk about the iffy weather forecast, exactly when "the big storm" was supposed to hit, and whether or not the predicted lull with sunshine might appear that afternoon.

We had some beta on the road conditions, so had high hopes on getting close enough. We finally pulled over at the end of the car tracks at the PK Pass trailhead, about 7800'. We started on snowshoes at 9:30 following ATVs tracks to the end of the road in about 6-7" of soft powder.

Taking a break

It was stormy as we continued up the trail, with a little snow blowing. It was cold, but the steady work kept us warm as we worked our way up the valley, mostly on the trail. I had been up this valley in September on a climb of Big Basin Peak, so I sort of knew where to look when the trail wasn't obvious.

As we made our way higher in the canyon, we spotted a number of goats on the cliffs overlooking our trail. Well, Rob and Matt did. All I could see was the goat tracks.

Trail in the storm
At about 9000', the flattish valley has a 1200' headwall. Normally this is fairly heinous talus, but today we were able to snowshoe the whole thing, only occasionally stepping on rocks. As we neared the top, our route appeared, noted by the trees atop the cliff band. Getting from the snowshoe snow to those trees would be the crux of the climb. Start of real climb

We found a protected spot (protected from things coming down from the upper mountain) to stop and remove the snowshoes. But in the highly variable snow conditions, which went from pretty firm suncrust to deep drifted powder, I opted not to put on crampons yet. Which worked well because we had to do a little rock climbing to get to the first trees. Rock climbing where the rock is buried in snow. Not really hard, but a little exciting because things were pretty slippery.


Peak 10805

From there, we continued in the variable snow, using the occasional trees as protection as we wound up and through. Protection from possible falls, but also from the increasing wind.

You can see Matt right below me. The rocky ridge in the background, upper left, is the Little Matterhorn, which you will see again later.

Down the route

Once we got above the trees, it looked like the talus would make the climb easier, but this was not the case. The talus was both slippery and unstable, a bad combination: either your foot would slide on the rock, or the rock would slide under your foot, down the hill. So we finally switched to crampons and started up the edges of the avalanche gully. By now we had figured out that the snow was actually pretty stable and there were no 'bombs' further up the mountain, so the only real trouble was the slippery drifted powder on top of the variable suncrust. And the up. Lots of up.

Upper route

The gully we followed tops out on the summit ridge only about 150' below the summit. We all noted considerable foreshortening here, though, and the top appeared to be a long way off.

When I happily reached the top at 2:15, the tired batteries in my camera succumbed to the cold. I'd guess it was about 15°, and the wind chill made it seem substantially colder. So the summit time was pretty short. Too bad, because the sky was opening up and the predicted sunshine made for some really incredible views of the bigger Pioneers, Wildhorse Canyon, blah blah blah. Really beautiful. Matt and Rob are going to share their pics, and I will add a few to prove the view.

Summit ridge
Ducking off the top to get out of the wind, it started warming up. But we had to walk carefully. With the thin snow cover you would occasionally contact hidden rock, which would tip your crampons and try to throw you on your nose. And the powder on the suncrust was slippery unless you could kick hard, which is awkward on descent. Matt descending

On top, I had put the camera into an interior pocket so the camera was once again working. This is looking down the East Fork with Grays Peak on the horizon. I'm not sure the camera captured the incredible lighting. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Note the shadows creeping out across the valley. We had set a turnaround of 2, but stretched that out in the clearing weather. But as the shadows slid out from McIntyre and Jacqueline peaks, it was turning into a race to get to the car before dark.

Shadows creeping across the valley floor

We got down to our snowshoes just in time to have the sun go down and the temperature drop. Cold fingers wrestled crampon buckles, then numb fingers wrestled snowshoes buckles.

It was nice to fiinally get moving and warm up a bit. Although getting down the talus headwall was a little tricky on snowshoes and tired legs, I'll have to say it was way easier than my last time down this when the talus was dry.

Snowshoeing down the valley

This is another view of the Little Matterhorn, viewed earlier. Looks a little more impressive from this angle. Also notice the large ice smear in the lower left corner.

Little Matterhorn

Here's Matt and Rob on our way out. A faint red line shows our route, and a bigger line shows approximately where the summit is.

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Here's Rob with our summit lit up behind him.

When we finally got down to the well-packed trail seen here, we were all pretty tired. It was nice to have a smooth packed track for our downhill cruise, even if we had to race the sun. When we got to the truck, it was getting pretty dark but we could have gone without headlamps for at least another five minutes.

Matt's trip report

Rob with The Box in sunshine

Mr. Natural Home | 2009 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski