Getting to the TrailheadOn Saturday, February 3rd, three of my friends and I decided to climb Box Elder Peak. We arrived at the trailhead about 20 minutes after we had planned at roughly 7:20 am. This is thanks to Matt who decided to sleep in a little longer than he should have. Due to the winter conditions you can't actually park at the trailhead, but have to park about 1 mile below it at Tibblefork Reservoir. So we put on our snowshoes and started on our way. About half a mile up the snow-covered road we were passed by some snowmobilers traveling quite quickly. Shortly after that, we arrived at the trailhead, clearly marked Box Elder 044 and started climbing. (This is a lesser used route. The recommended route is the Deer Creek Route found in the routes section.)
From the TrailheadFrom the beginning the trail ascends very rapidly and is quite steep. At the start of the hike, the trail was clearly marked and was easy to follow because many other people had formed a trail in the snow. The first couple of hours were quite uneventful. We passed a snow covered meadow on our way, went up a couple of very steep portions of the trail, but that's all. Eventually we came to a portion of the trail that was very hard to climb due to the snow conditions. It was very steep and the snow wasn't powdery, packable, or crusty, is was almost like sand. It was impossible to get any traction even with the snowshoes on. It seemed that for every step up, you fell 3/4 of a step back. It was only a couple hundred feet up this hill, but it was a very tiring portion. At the top of this portion there was a great view looking out toward Mt. Timpanogus.
Continuing onward we came to a ridge that looked to run up to the saddle on the west side of Box Elder's summit. So we decided to follow it. At this point all tracks from any recent hikers had vanished, and thus we were forging our own trail. We had read online that at about this point we should see a small, old rundown cabin, and sure enough about 10 minutes later we did. This gave us a little comfort knowing we were on the right trail. As we continued up this wide ridge, the trail got steeper and steeper and it started getting quite windy. The snow at this point was very crusty and in some portions we didn't break though, but in most spots it was to weak to support out weight and we kept falling through to the silty snow below.
Eventually we came to a point that we just couldn't go up the ridge anymore and so I took a look at the directions that I had printed off from summitpost. It mentioned that we needed to drop down from the ridge to the watershed to the west below it. We did this, but realized that we should have done this a quarter mile back or so. We had to cross a couple of smaller ridges traveling sideways on a steep portion of the mountain, making it very slow and tiring. After arriving at the watershed Matt and I sat down for a couple of minutes to catch our breath and let our calves rest.
At this time it was just Matt and I. We had left the two girls that we with us, Emily and Stephanie, behind so that we could hopefully make the summit. They were a half mile behind us because they were going much more slowly at this point. Matt wasn't feeling 100% at this time either because he had a cold for the past few days and the hike wasn't making it any better. About 1/4 mile up the steep watershed, Matt actually threw-up. Obviously he wasn't doing to well, but we seemed to be so close and so he decided to tough it out. We got up to the top of the watershed and had to climb a very, very steep portion that was right before the west saddle. We had periodically been keeping in touch with the girls on our newly purchased Motorola 2-way radios and they were coming along just fine. Both of them are quite tough.
This last portion before the saddle was a killer. Matt and I stopped every hundred yards or so to let our burning calves rest. We were on all fours at this point. I actually had my eyes closed and was just taking it one step at a time and every once in a while I'd open them and look up to see where I was and then close them again. We saw a portion of the mountainside that we decided would be much easier to climb. The portion we were climbing was on the south side of the peak and thus was in the sun for the majority of the day. This caused the snow to have completely melted and it appeared to be a nice rocky area that would be easy to climb by removing our snowshoes.
Near Death ExperienceWe did just this and began to climb. At this portion Matt was completely exhausted. He sat down for a couple of minutes and then we were ready. I was up ahead of Matt and started off up the mountain. I soon realized that this wasn't going to be any easier because the area was so muddy from the melted snow. But I already had my snowshoes off so I just kept on going. There was some definite scrambling through this area, made much more difficult by the mud. After about 5 minutes of this, I stopped to wait for Matt and couldn't see him. I moved around and I accidentally dislodged a small 10 lbs rock with my foot, just as Matt came into view. It headed straight for him, but luckily he was behind chest high rock ledge and he just ducked and it easily avoided him. I told him I was sorry, and felt kind of bad for being careless. We went a little further and Matt decided he had had enough. He decided to head back down to meet up with the girls. As he had been a little sick I was okay with that, but told him I was going to go up to the saddle to take a few pictures. Normally I would have called him some names and made fun of him for going back down, but I could tell he wasn't feeling well at all.
It was at this point that I almost killed Matt. He had just started down and was 15 - 20 yards behind me. I started heading up, carefully picking my way up the mountainside so as to not dislodge and loose rocks. I had gone probably about 10 feet and I put my hand on a huge (at least 300 lbs) boulder and yep, it started tumbling down the mountain. I guess with all the mud it was very unstable and it didn't take much to move it. Anyway, it was heading straight for Matt who had just dropped down a waist high ledge. I yelled at him at the top of my lungs thinking the whole time that he was gonna die. The boulder was about 10 feet in front of him when it hit into a huge rock and it exploded into about 25 deadly, serrated fragments all of about 10-15 pounds each. At this moment Matt dropped to the ground with his back to the rocks and somehow (it had to be protection from up above) not one piece of the boulder hit him. After staring at each other for about 10 seconds Matt just sat down and laughed. I laughed a little too, but my heart was sure thumping hard. I honestly thought for a couple of moments that I had killed my best friend.
After a few minutes of me giving my most sincere apologies to Matt, he continued on down the hill. I waited a couple of minutes so that he could get out of the way of any other potential falling rocks. Once moving again, I quickly got to the saddle and took a few pictures. It is quite a splendid view. Mt. Timpanogus is easily visible, along with Utah Lake and the Salt Lake Valley. Instead of heading back down the rocks, I traversed part of the saddle to a point where I figured I could just slide down the mountainside to where Matt, Emily, and Stephanie now awaited. I found a promising spot and started down. At this point I realized that the snow was very dangerous and that sliding would not be an option unless I wanted to start an avalanche. At the top the snow was hit by wind all day long and the snow was very crusty with a powder below it. My first few step the snow began cracking and breaking apart. Instead of sliding down on my butt I turned around and dug my feet into the snow, trying to touch as little area as possible so as not to disturb anything. I was a little scared at this point. I got down far enough to where the wind no longer hit the snow and the snow conditions here weren't bad and I from here I slid down the mountainside for a few hundred yards. I was quickly reunited with my friends. (I later found out that a couple other hikers were caught in an avalanche, Joe and Brian from SP, not far from where we were and counted myself quite lucky.)