ascent route: northeast ridge
descent route: Box Creek Cirque
members of trip: Justin Heller, Elizabeth Koutrelakos, and Zach Taylor
We did this trip sometime in May 2006. I am writing this report now in 2009. I did not write down the date back then so I was only able to count back the years. I know we did this right after finals week at CU so I believe that this was around the second week of May.
Justin, Elizabeth, and I drove to Leadville and hiked in about a mile on a nice day in May. It was sunny, warm, and very spring like. We set up camp and slept out under the stars that night.
We got up early and continued up the northeast ridge trail on Mt. Elbert. We hit snowline at about 10,900' or 11,000'. We had not brought snowshoes as we anticipated the ridge to be clean of snow. There had not been a good freeze the night before and the snow was thawing quickly. We postholed up to our knees and hips on a thin frozen sun crust that did not support weight more than half the time I took a step. I would take a step, weight my front foot onto the crust, and then have it break and plunge me through snow again after a second or two. It was quite tiring and time consuming. Once we broke to treeline at about 11,600' the snow cleared off and the ridge became clear of snow. We were able to hike up to the summit from there without much more trouble other than already being tired from breaking through sun crusts and postholing through snow for several hours earlier in the morning.
photo- pictured left to right: Justin Heller, Elizabeth Koutrelakos, and Zach Taylor. may 2006
We hung out on the summit enjoying the warm weather for a bit. Then we dropped to the east and rode directly off the summit down a low-angled slope with nice corn snow. We came to a roll over as the slope steepened and dropped into the Box Creek Cirque. This is the steep east facing headwall between the northeast and the east ridges of Mt. Elbert. We spread out and dropped in one at a time. The upper part of the headwall was nice and corned up but at 13,000' or so the snow became dangerously slushy as we dropped below the last night's freeze line. We quickly descended the last bit of the headwall and traversed left to hit the northeast ridge at treeline. We unstrapped went back to camp and broke things down. Then we hiked out and headed back to Boulder where we all lived at the time.
The Box Creek Cirque was a classic steep line. I really enjoyed this headwall. We hit it too late in the day so wet slab danger became an issue. After this trip I learned to time my descents by sun hit better and pay attention to whether it freezes on a night before a planned descent. This line is great with corn conditions but it is east facing and becomes avalanche prone very early in the morning so you have to be careful.