Seldom seen side of Mailbox Peak from Dirty Box Peak and beyond. Almost sent the entire Box Ridge solo to Dirty Harry’s Peak before getting cliffed out midway between DBP and DHP.
The route up the old trail was dry until about 3600 feet, then the snow was persistent. I suggest wearing microspikes at a minimum – make that mandatory – the way down after the afternoon heat was slick. Up and down the rock section to the summit was easy in spikes. It’s possible to glissade down about 500 feet from the summit. I set out today to simply climb MPB to get some vert in for the Facebook Group PNW Peak Baggers virtual Mount Everest Challenge. I felt good after summiting Mount St. Helens Friday, so after many years of researching, planning, reconnoitering, and a false start or two, took off down the ridge for Dirtybok Peak. My initial obstacle was route finding after another hiker decided to relieve himself right on the rocks I was planning to disembark upon – oh well.
I scrambled down the initial rocks and set forth on the ridge – it was fairly straightforward as the snow was still firm. Although narrow in places, the snowy ridge was navigable. About a quarter of the way along the ridge I encounter more rocks to manage – I went right descending from the snow to the rock, and back up to the ridge.
I pressed on towards the Dirtybox summit, finding a few old footprints, which were useful, however, they tended to vanish then reappear, most likely from additional snow and melt. The route to the summit is very wooded and I had to weave in and out of many sections of trees, making sure I maintained the ridge as it narrowed in a few places. I finally gained the summit which was rather steep, narrow, and precipitous in a few places – especially at the top. I walked the small knife-edge snow ridge and sat on the summit block for a few minutes. My 18th Home Court 100!
Now I was determined to progress further and see if I could send the ridge all the way to Dirty Harry’s Peak. I found a few trip reports and had a good idea of what to do in summer and found one from a month ago – no pictures, but some descriptions. I dropped to the North about 100-200 feet and traversed East on very steep snow. The slope was soft and with each step, I post holed up to my knees and often my waist. My axe held, and the steps were secure.
The steps I was following eventually took me right, back to the ridgeline, and to a steep section of the Box ridge that dropped right off. I could see in the ESE direction some trees that made it look like I could descend that way and find a path through the cliff – the only viable way down today was directly South, down talus and rock-covered snow slopes. I dropped about 200 feet before the snow was too steep and unstable for my comfort, it was starting to slide on its own and the angle was greater than 50 degrees from where I was headed, so I begrudgingly retraced my steps to the ridge and backtracked to where I previously attained.
I was determined to make it work, as I was equidistant between DBP and DHP, out of water and ate most my food, and emergency food, working the postholes for a while, and was frankly getting tired – I was looking forward to a manageable descent down DHP and long, level walk back to the fire trailing area and the MBP trailhead. I reconnoitered the North slopes and saw evidence of a track and a mellower slope below that looked like it would go East, around the ridge cliffs. I dropped and traversed about 1000m and quickly came to an area that appeared to be cliffed out to the East no matter where I went.
I was tired and resigned to the fact that I could not safely find a way ahead, and began to retreat, back towards what I thought was the ridge to DBP. Ended up I went due West and made for a ridge directly North of DBP. I was about 1000+ meters off to the North. This area North of the Box ridge between MBP and DBP is actually a beautiful bowl with flowing ridges and soft hills. I could see the MBP summit and thought I could make a bee-line for it, however, I would have to scale the North Face, and the entire ridge to my left was super steep and heavily corniced. I thought better and found a direct path to the West of the DBP summit where I could see the sky behind the ridge, knowing that the geography would lead me back to my tracks and safely reattain the right ridge. As I suspected, the heat softened the snow on the ridge and I made my way through heavy, sloppy, wet snow – it took a while, but I finally scampered my way up to the MBP summit, where some fellow hikers donated about half a liter of water, as I was out, and my kidneys were unhappy.
I rested, then made my way down, glissading through most of the upper slopes, and made good time down. Normally I do not really like this trail – it’s through the forest, which bores me, and is monotonous, but this afternoon the trees as always shielded the sun and a gentle, cooling breeze was flowing through the evergreens. It was a very pleasant and enjoyable descent. All in all, a super day snow scrambling, route finding, and exploring some seldom visited terrain. I highly recommended this route in the winter, as I was able to safely traverse and explore much of the North side of the ridge on the return route, and it is truly quite beautiful.