Descent Route: South Slopes – Dry Creek Trail
The month of June had just begun and I just recently arrived in Salt Lake City to take a year off from attending UC Berkeley in order to save up more money to pay for my last year of college. I had spent my last few weeks in California squeezing in as many mountaineering trips as possible, and now that I was back in Salt Lake City, with the mountains so close, I was desperate to get out into the mountains. Luckily, my friend Alan Stenquist was interested in doing a hike, and we planned to do something in the Wasatch Mountains the first Thursday that I was back in Utah.
After pondering several options, Alan and I decided to hike Box Elder Peak – it was one of the few major Wasatch Peaks that I had yet to summit, and it seemed like a nice trip to see how the spring snow conditions were in the Wasatch Range. By default we had originally planned to hike the north ridge. I wanted to approach it via the Dry Creek trail in Alpine, since it gained 3,950 feet to the Dry Creek divide, but Alan talked me into taking the easier Deer Creek trail, which began in American Fork canyon and only gained 2,700 feet to the divide. Since there was still 4,341 feet to be gained by taking that route, I was willing to take the easier route. After looking at a USGS topo for the area and some photos I had taken of the north side of Box Elder Peak from Lone Peak the previous June, I could pick out what looked to be a more exciting and unlisted route heading up the massive cirque on the north side, winding through several cliff bands. As we drove to the trailhead Thursday morning, I tried to convince Alan to do this more adventurous route, but he wouldn’t budge – we would hike the north ridge from Dry Creek Divide, and I would return another day to try out my route.
After a straightforward ½ hour drive to the trailhead, we began hiking shortly after 7 am. We began at a fast pace, but slowed up after the first half hour. Alan kept falling behind because of some lingering knee pains and the vegetation in the canyon was affecting my asthma. I also realized that we had all day to do this simple hike, and there was no need to hurry. We stopped occasionally to admire the views of the canyon and the north face of Mt Timpanogos. The trail was well maintained and had a good amount of shade, but views were never obstructed.
Strangely, the Dry Creek Divide was not the lowest point on the ridge at the end of the canyon, but was instead about ¼ of a mile north and a few hundred feet higher. The trail switch-backed consistently to the east to avoid a large talus slope, and eventually crossed it near the top, just below some cliffs. The rocks here were piled in odd lumps that the trail wound around. As Alan and I wound around these piles of dirt, talus, and scree, I wondered if the slope debris was actually mine tailings rather than a result of natural erosion.
Soon after crossing the debris field, Alan and I arrived at a beautiful flat meadow at the Dry Creek Divide. We had been hiking for about 2.5 hours and were a little hungry, so we stopped to eat some snacks and take a few photos of Mt Timpanogos. From here the trail heading south to Box Elder Peak became very faint. It was obvious that few people hiked on this trail since little bits of vegetation were beginning to take root in the middle of the trail.
The headwall to the north ridge began at 9,400 feet and it still held a lot of snow. The lower part of the ridge offered a fun snow climb with a slope that undulated from as little as a 5o incline to over 45o within 20 feet of hiking. As we neared the top of the ridge, the snow became noticeably softer and soon we were post-holing with every step. Even though it was only a little after 10pm, the sun had already warmed the snow to a point were it was difficult to travel on it. I debated putting on my long pants and gaitors, but since the summit was so close I didn’t want to put them on for such a small distance. Since Alan had long pants on, I got him to break trail from this point to minimize the pain of snow crystals scraping my bare legs from post-holing.
Alan and I arrived on the summit at about 11:30, 4.5 hours since leaving the trailhead. The rocks on the summit seemed to be covered with lots of read algae, but once we got closer we saw that the red color was actually thousands of Lady Bugs swarming over the rocks!
The summit was marked with a tall pole, and it contained a summit register. I was quite happy to see this since I’m unaccustomed to seeing registers on Wasatch Peaks, and I’ve enjoyed their presence on Sierra summits. The log had a lot of coarse language and bitching (more so than in the Sierra summit logs), especially from a Lithuanian who ended his message by stating that he hated everything. I was caught off guard by this since the summit overlooked the Provo metropolitan area, which was surely one of the most conservative cities in the United States – I was quite amused. Keeping with the odd spirit of the summit log, my friend Alan ranted about how easy the peak was, and that he could have climbed it using a unicycle on a pogo stick. By the time we had eaten some food and signed the summit register I was ready to head down – the lady bugs had begun to swarm all over my bare legs and they were beginning to tickle me.
Alan and I decided to head down the south slopes and hike out the Dry Creek trail, and after securing a ride from his girlfriend, Alan and I took off down the west side of the mountain. It was mostly free of snow, suited us since it had become too soft to be enjoyable. Luckily there was a long snow sliver in a gully lower down, and it was just barely hard enough to glissade. Alan and I did a standing glissade for a few hundred feet, and by the time we got to the end of the snow, we were almost to the pack trail that circumvented the peak. It was faint but straightforward to follow back to the Dry Creek trail. A long, straight, steep trail led us down to Alpine. It didn’t have many opportunities for views, but near the bottom we spotted a gorgeous waterfall, perhaps 50 feet high and flowing strong.
Eventually we reached the mouth of the canyon and the beginnings of the latest urban sprawl developments. It had taken us about 2.5 hours to get down from the summit. After walking a short ways down the dirt road, Alan’s girlfriend, ‘fish stick’, arrived, and she shuttled us back to our car at the Deer Creek trailhead. Overall the moderately strenuous hike was very pleasant, with wonderful views, with some very interesting geological features along the route.