Underrated Walkup - Deer Creek Trail

Page Type
Trip Report
Location:
Utah, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jun 26, 2015
Activities:
Hiking
Season:
Summer
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Underrated Walkup - Deer Creek Trail
Created On: Jul 13, 2015
Last Edited On: Nov 19, 2015
Box Elder Peak from Silver Flat
Box Elder Peak from Silver Lake Flat Reservoir
The first time I attempted Box Elder Peak I didn’t do enough research, and as a result we ended up on the Box Elder Trail (No. 44) instead of the Deer Creek Trail (No. 43). This would have been fine, but since it was early June, there were still some steep snowbanks over the trail which hindered our progress. With no ice axes there were a couple spots that proved difficult to navigate, and after slipping down one steep snow slope and grabbing onto a nearby branch to stop my fall, a sliced open finger dampened my mood and made me decide that I’d come back some other time to try it. We did catch some nice views of the south summit of Box Elder Peak from its eastern slopes, but nine years would pass before I’d finally come back around and give it another go (there were just too many other good Wasatch hikes to try first).
 
Valley east of Box Elder Peak
Little drainage to the east ...
 
South Box Elder seen from the West
... of South Box Elder Peak


Steep Snowfield
Steep Snowfield
Moon above South Box Elder
Moon above South Box Elder Peak

 

This time I’d be taking my brother Johnny instead of my wife, and with the hotter temperatures this time around I didn’t anticipate snow being an issue. It had been so hot in fact, that instead of starting at a normal hiking hour for me (~ 7/8 am), we figured an extra early start (~ 3/4 am) would make things easier for us, and would enable us to get back down to the car before the temperatures got really uncomfortable.

Second Try

Hiking by headlamp
Hiking in the dark

 

Sunrise over Silver Flat Reservoir
Sunrise over Silver Flat Reservoir

We got to the gate outside of the Granite Flats campground at around 3:30 in the morning, only to find that it was locked, so we parked at the dirt lot just outside the gate, where the dirt road branching off towards Silver Flat Reservoir is found. This only added a couple hundred feet to the start of the hike, so it was no big deal. Last time, we made our major route-finding error right at the beginning, so this time I was extra attentive to make sure we stayed on the Deer Creek Trail, especially since it was still dark.

Wildflowers along trail
Wildflowers along the trail higher up

Rocky terrain
Rockier terrain

 

The first branch in the trail was clearly marked with a sign, so we stayed to the right and followed the Deer Creek Trail. We encountered a small section of trail shortly thereafter that had been washed out by run-off water, which took us a few extra seconds of rock-hopping to prevent a fall in the mud. Coming to the second split in the trail, we stayed straight and to the right instead of cutting to the left, as prompted by the directions on this site. After just a hundred feet though, this led to a dirt road (most likely the one leading up to Silver Flat Reservoir). We backtracked all the way back to the first junction again, looking on the sides of the trail to see if we had somehow missed the second turnoff (spotting a cute little bunny in the process), but upon discovering that we hadn’t, we decided to cut to the left this time.


 

Wildflowers below Box Elder
Box Elder Peak and wildflowers
 
Box Elder alpenglow
Box Elder Peak dipped in sunlight

Box Elder wildflowers
Wildflowers ...

 

Box Elder garden
... of every color

We noticed two or three other turnoffs within the first mile or so of the trail, but discovered that they usually were just divergent branches of the same trail (on the way back down, we found that a couple of the western-most branches led to scenic overlooks). As we started gaining elevation on the east side of the drainage I became more confident that we were going in the right direction. The temperature was in the high 40’s, which is personally my favorite for hiking, and my headlight made it easy enough to see that I was optimistic we’d be able to make it up to the meadow around 9,500 feet around the time the sun rose.


 

Timpanogos alpenglow
Impressive views to the south ...
 
Timp Summit
... of Mount Timpanogos

Meadow signpost
Meadow signpost ...

 

Trail to north ridge
... telling us to turn left (south)

There was one switchback cutting back to the southeast (away from Box Elder Peak) that made me a little nervous that we’d somehow gotten onto a different trail, but my concerns went away when it cut back to the northwest. After that we came across a pair of glowing green eyes, which fortunately only belonged to a baby deer. Around 5 am the birds started chirping and at 5:15 the sky slowly started lighting up enough that we no longer needed our lights.


 

Johnny & Brandon
Johnny and I ...
 
Box Elder flowers & alpenglow
... enjoying the alpenglow

Box Elder trail
Trail to the north ridge

 

 

Around the spot where the trail starts going through some more rocky terrain, the scenery became very nice. To the sides of us were every color of wildflower (red, orange, pink, yellow, blue, purple, & white), and the views to the south (Mount Timpanogos) and west (Box Elder Peak) became better the higher we got. Just before reaching the meadow the first rays of sun hit the summit of Box Elder, bathing the peak in a bright orange glow.


 

First light on Chipman Peak
Early morning views of Chipman Peak ...
 
Pfeifferhorn from meadow
... and Pfeifferhorn from the meadow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More wildflowers
More wildflowers ...

 

Box Elder terraces
... and terraces

I went a bit crazy taking pictures at this point, so it was a little after 6 when we finally arrived at the meadow. The meadow was even nicer than I had anticipated, with scenic views of the Alpine Ridge and peaks like Pfeifferhorn off to the north. A lone tent was situated a couple hundred feet to the northeast, so we continued west along the trail so as not to disturb the campers. If I ever get into backpacking, this is a spot that would definitely crack my top ten places to camp in the Wasatch, as it’s far enough from the trailhead to deter most casual hikers from crowding the area, and the surroundings are top-notch.
 

Box Elder shadow
To the west were views of Box Elder Peak's shadowy silhouette ...
 
Kennecott from Box Elder Peak
... and the Kennecott Copper Mine in the distance

Long Peak & Bighorn Peak
Lone Peak behind Bighorn Peak

 

Since we still had a ways to go to get to the top, we continued farther along the ridge towards where the trail starts losing a bit of elevation (near the north ridge of Box Elder Peak) before stopping for a snack break. Along the way we heard quite a few coyotes howling in the distance, which was pretty cool. It was hard to tell where they were, but my guess is that they were somewhere down near the Dry Creek Trail to the northwest (the other trail that leads from the town of Alpine to the meadow we had just left, which is longer and gains more elevation on the way). We found a nice rock outcropping where we could see the shadowy silhouette of the peak stretching out over Utah Valley to the west, which seemed as good a spot as any for a little picnic. Below us to the south we also saw several deer bounding down the grassy slopes near the man-made terraces put in place to prevent erosion.

The Steep Part

Steep Box Elder
Looking up at the steep north ridge

Forest view
The trail entered some trees ...

 

Steep north slope
... and then crossed an open slope

After dropping back down a couple hundred feet we began the steep ascent up to the summit. The trail initially started up the edge of the ridge, but then crossed into the trees to the right (west), becoming more and more faint. Johnny started slowing here since he wasn’t used to the altitude, but we continued our way up the north ridge of Box Elder Peak. We crossed an open 40-degree slope towards a different line of trees to the west, and with no more signs of the trail we decided to go straight up from here.


 

Box Elder Peak cirque
Past the trees we saw the big cirque ...
 
Box Elder north ridge
... on our way up the north ridge

Lone Peak & Chipman Peak
Chipman Peak

 

Pfeiff, Sunrise, & Dromedary
Pfeifferhorn, Sunrise Peak, & Dromedary Peak

The steepness and altitude (this was my first hike in a while as well) slowed our pace, but eventually the trees opened up and we could start to see the remainder of the ridge leading to the summit. Off to the west (right) we could see the distinctive crater-looking cirque, which surprisingly didn’t seem that steep from our angle (looks more impressive when viewed from farther away on a peak like Lone Peak or Thunder Mountain). Finally getting back onto the ridge crest itself, it looked like we were about halfway to the top from the saddle near the meadow. Johnny wasn’t feeling well though, so he said he wanted to stay here while I continued to the top.


 

Alpine Ridge from north ridge
A nice resting spot for Johnny ...
 
Alpine Ridge pano
... with panoramic views of the Alpine Ridge to the north

Box Elder summit snow
Snow near the top

 

The remaining ridge walk to the top was easy, with no scrambling moves required, and the views back behind me to the north towards the Alpine Ridge were impressive. I finally crested the south side of the ridge just below the summit, and was greeted with an awesome perspective of Mount Timpanogos. From the top, I was able to clearly see the route I was hoping to take up North Timpanogos later in the summer, along with the big snow fields still present below the main summit and south summit.


 

Mount Timpanogos from Box Elder
Summit views of steep North Timpanogos ...
 
Timpanogos snow
... and the remaining snow in Timpanogos Basin

Box Elder summit pic
Success

 

I started back down after a short stay on the summit and soon met back up with Johnny, who was fine with going back down since it was already starting to heat up in the sun, even though it was only just after 8 in the morning. On the way back to the saddle below the meadow we went straight down a little too far before veering right, and as a result had to bushwhack over a couple little gullies and through some trees, but we soon found ourselves back on the trail.


 

Steep descent
Baby stepping down the stairs ...
 
Box Elder greenery
... on our way back down to the Shire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Baldy
White Baldy

Above the saddle we ran into someone on a horse, who apparently was trying to get all the way to the summit. The animal seemed surprisingly agile in beating a way through the trees where there was no trail, but I doubt he’d be able to make it all the way to the top like that (at least I hope he didn’t end up trying to do so, for the animal’s sake). Despite not requiring any scrambling for a hiker, I don’t think the steep terrain below the summit is conducive to horseback riding, unless you’re the Man from Snowy River.


 

Box Elder view
This log on the edge of the meadow is a perfect spot for a picnic with a view

Pfeifferhorn through trees
Pfeifferhorn through trees

 

 

On the way back down we ran into a few other small groups of hikers, all who appeared to be on their way to the top, and I was glad that we had chosen to do the majority of the hike in the cool early morning instead. Near the bottom we saw that what apparently were extra trail turn-offs were in fact just little detours to a couple scenic overlooks. The main takeaway I got from the route-finding at the beginning of the trail is that if after a mile you’re going up the right (east) side of the drainage below Box Elder Peak and can see the summit to the west, then you’re on the right trail.

 


 

Box Elder Peak scenery
More nice views to the south ...
 
Hot Deer Creek Trail
... on the now hot and dry trail

More Deer Creek wildflowers
Wildflowers in front of Silver Flat Reservoir

 

Deer Creek Trail pond
Pond near Deer Creek Trailhead

Box Elder Peak was a great hike, and while I wouldn’t say it’s quite as spectacular as Mount Timpanogos or even Mount Nebo (it seemed more on par with Deseret Peak in the Stansbury Mountains in that regard, although a bit steeper and more difficult at the end), it had some really nice scenery and is a walkup that I wouldn’t mind doing again in the future.


 

Deer Creek Waterfall
A little waterfall near where we spotted the baby deer on the way up
 
Box Elder Peak above trail
Looking up at the summit from near the bottom of the trail

Box Elder Peak Stats

DISTANCE: 10 miles roundtrip
DEER CREEK TRAILHEAD: 6,780 feet
SUMMIT ELEVATION: 11,101 feet
ELEVATION GAIN: 4,500 feet
DIFFICULTY: Class 2
TIME: 7.5 hours
 
North Ridge Route
Our route up the north ridge ...
 
Box Elder Peak
... of Box Elder Peak






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Marmaduke

Marmaduke - Aug 10, 2015 12:41 am - Voted 10/10

Nice page,

Interesting and really great photos!

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 10, 2015 2:30 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice page,

Thanks!

Viewing: 1-2 of 2


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