Peak(s):  Mt. Wilson  -  14,256 feet
Date Posted:  03/22/2016
Modified:  03/25/2016
Date Climbed:   03/13/2016
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   Summit Lounger
 Bumming a Ride in Boxcar   

Bumming a Ride in Boxcar

Peak: Mt. Wilson
Date: March 13, 2016
Trailhead: Cross Mountain
Route: Boxcar couloir and NE gully
Distance: ~11 miles
Elevation Gain: ~5,000 ft
Participants: Greg Gorell and Natalie Moran
Time: 10 hours 40 min

Going up Boxcar

Greg and I rendezvoused at a secret camping spot a few miles from trailhead. Daylight savings time threw us off a bit, so we started at 6.20 am (new) or 5.20 am (old) time. It just snowed a couple inches, so snowshoes and skis went on right away. We cruised up the gentle trail to about 11,200 feet when we left the trail and started navigating towards Slate Creek. I wasn't expecting to see any footprints, but we kept seeing some faint ski and snowshoe tracks going in the direction we were headed. On occasion we'll lose them on the account of new snow, but then would regain them later. We came across a couple of spots where we had to drop some elevation - at least a couple hundred feet. I made a mental note that this section won't be so fun on the return.

South Wilson, Wilson and Gladstone make an appearance

Greg was taking any opportunity to accelerate, so I was playing a constant game of catch up.

On the approach, we casually talked about our mutual interest in South Wilson (time permitting) and my interest in skiing Boxcar (best case scenario, conditions permitting). As we were crossing under the apron of Boxcar, Greg stops me in my tracks with a simple question: "How badly do you want to go up Boxcar?". I could barely contain my excitement. "I'd love to, but is that even an option?" We poke around at snow, which appears to be very springlike. While I ditch the skins, put skis on the pack, click into crampons, get a swig of water and a couple of gels to eat, Greg is already halfway up the apron, has dug the pit and keeps zooming ahead. WTH?

Any hesitation aside, I threw some coals in the fire and cranked up the engine. I am heading up a very aesthetic line. Snow is knee deep with a solid base underneath. Conditions look prime for a great ski descent. The day is warm, and I am beginning to worry about snow heating up too much later in the day.

Every stop, I have to make a choice between taking a photo, applying lip balm or taking a swig of water - I cannot afford to do all 3 things, or I'll lose any sight of Greg. My photographic output is taking a significant nosedive. More concerning, my left knee is starting to hurt with every weight-bearing high step. It's been a nagging problem for last several months, and obviously frequent 14ers are not helping the recovery. I end up using some of the Greg's booter, but kicking an extra step for my left foot. Still wincing with every other step, I keep wondering if this hobby is worth the abuse I am putting myself through.

The land of lizards and pilot knobs

Looking back at Boxcar and dreaming about skiing the couloir in heavy spring powder

Greg keeps chugging ahead

We took a break at the top of Boxcar. I couldn't help but notice there was still quite a bit to go.

Neighboring peaks are looking ok

Greg is breaking trail in deepening powder

I thought this was a better line - oops

Traverse to the summit couloir turned out to be trickier than expected in deep snow. Having had enough of trailbreaking, Greg elected for a direct approach to the summit on rock, while I booted up to the top of the couloir.

Approaching the summit

El Diente

Last more difficult peak for Greg and #50 overall, he is getting close to the finish line

After a short stay on the summit, we downclimbed 2+ gully back to the top of the couloir where I parked my skis. As I transitioned to a ski mode, Greg made a quick work of the couloir.

Starting the descent - Greg

Turns right off the top were some of the best skiing of the day. Greg managed to take a few photos. Lower on the East face it was hard to open up the turns as the light became really flat.

We regrouped at the bottom of the gully, where our paths split. Greg was eyeing the mellow NE gully towards Gladstone saddle, while my skis pointed me to Boxcar - and I was ready for a ride. The narrow rocky entrance to the couloir was still icy - but the snow would be softer down lower for sure. Well, not so much. With the overcast skies and a little bit of wind, the corn in the couloir ended up refreezing. This made for a very careful and ungraceful descent. The glorious warm powder I was so looking forward to was frozen.

Frozen crust

Greg made a quick work of his line and watched me scrape the ice in the couloir. I thought that at least the apron would be skiable, but no such luck. I launched out of the couloir, expecting corn, but overshot my turn by about 20 feet as my edges caught nothing but ice. In fact, the snow was frozen all the way back to the treeline, where I was finally able to make more fluid turns. Except it was time to put skins back on! I told Greg to go ahead, as I was expecting some time in the pain cave for myself. After following some ski tracks, I finally merged back to the trail, transitioned back to ski mode, but was only able to catch Greg back at the car.

Escaping the icy chute

Weather cleared out by the time we got back to the parking lot

Thank you Greg for being an awesome partner and for your quiet leadership. It was fun to check out such an aesthetic couloir line so early in the season. Maybe next time, I'll have better luck with the ski conditions and with the direct summit descent. What a treat to be in the San Juans for the winter finale!

P.S. Also check out a new route description of East face on Mt. Wilson that Bill M put together after a recent ski. Taken on a sunnier day, the photos are outstanding and most certainly better showcase the beauty of the area.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Comments or Questions
03/22/2016 06:33
Your pictures are always fantastic!

Almost like buttah
03/22/2016 07:53
Looks like a fantastic way to spend a day, even if the snow wasn't quite ideal. Nice work, get some ice on that knee.

p.s. Nice job on selling the San Juans

Us skiers...
03/22/2016 10:49 & die by the continuous struggle between a blaring sun and that somber cloud cover. So sorry those darn clouds came in and re-froze things in the Boxcar! And, then, the sun comes out when you get back to the TH. Loved the report and pics, Natalie. Congrats to you & Greg! This report just reaffirms the beautiful scenery in that high basin on the east face of Mt. Wilson.

Summit Lounger
Couple o turns
03/23/2016 20:05
It was great climbing with you Natalie. Thanks for pushing the ascent up the boxcar. Sorry the snow froze on you, at least you got a couple of good turns in. The noise coming from your skis as you descended told it all.

Scrape scrape
03/25/2016 11:45
Boxcar is such a fine line that I can see myself going for it again, now knowing what to expect and timing it better. It would be nice to get a summit ski descent as well. I was told this one didn't count. Just need to get the knee healthy again, it's been neglected.

03/30/2016 07:56
What a great report! The pictures are awesome. Boxcar has been a goal for me to get to some day! 20 years in CO but haven't gotten there yet.

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