Jared Campbell - Wasatch

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pfeifferhorn, Wasatch Mountains, UT
By Jared Campbell

Length: 9 miles • Vertical: 3700' of gain • High Point: 11,326

The Wasatch Mountains rise abruptly to the east of the Salt Lake Valley creating a very defined line between sprawling sub-divisions and wild mountain terrain. Little Cottonwood Canyon is one of the many canyons cut into the Wasatch. Known widely for it's world class skiing, Little Cottonwood Canyon is also home to some of the finest rock climbing, bouldering, ice climbing, mountain biking, and mountain running around. The steep glacier carved walls in the lower portion of the canyon render virtually zero ascending possibilities for all but the most adventurous and skilled mountain folk. However, further up the canyon several trailheads provide access to several spectacular hanging valleys as well as the beautiful granite ridge that defines the canyon's southern border.

The Pfeifferhorn is an iconic triangular shaped peak located on this ridge and is accessed via 4.5 miles of perfection. Hiking books describe it as, "an advanced route involving exposed scrambling on a knife-edged ridge, excellent for 'strong hikers' who want a taste of mountaineering." As a mountain runner with a passion for vertical and just enough exposure to keep running interesting, the Pfeifferhorn is one of my favorite runs.... and it's only about 20 minutes from my house.

From the trail-head, you are greeted with a very well defined trail and a gradual climb for about a mile, the perfect warm-up. The trail splits and you go right following signs to Red Pine Lake. The gradient begins to get steeper as you enter beautiful aspen groves. The trail rounds the corner, where it begins to trend to the south. One must be careful at this point as the view off to the right is incredible and you can envision the glacier of roughly 20,000 years ago carving the canyon below you. From here the gradient is steady and steep as you climb past the Maybird Gulch turnoff and up to Red Pine Lake. The view is spectacular any time of year, but summer and fall tend to be my favorite.

Once at Red Pine Lake you can catch your breath as the trail contours around the lake's eastern edge. But, don't get too comfortable because the next climb is sure to have you gasping for air again. Most folks make the lake their final destination, which means that the trail from here is less defined. The angle picks up again as you wind through perfect white granite boulders. The final switchbacks up to the ridge are the steepest, but don't worry, you'll have a chance to catch your breath again once you gain the ridge.

Hiking on the knife-edge ridge leading to the Pfeifferhorn was amazing. It is this ridge that defines the southern edge of Little Cottonwood, which means that the view you have immediately upon reaching the top of the is incredible. On a clear day you can see Mt. Timpanogus, American Fork Canyon, and even down to Mt. Nebo, the highest point in the Wasatch Mountains. In about 1/2 a mile you'll hit the very exposed knife-edge granite ridge, which guards the final 400' to the summit of the Pfeifferhorn. Many folks stop here, but most of those who do press on move hesitantly across the 4th class terrain. If you're comfortable moving quickly over such terrain you'll surely get looks of "are you insane" from any hikers who happen to be around. Once across this 100-yard ridge section you'll be back on a very steep trail up to the summit. Take a moment on top to appreciate the incredible panorama you have before you. The views from this point are second to none in the Wasatch.

One of my earliest memories hiking as a kid was on the Pfeifferhorn and at a young age I was addicted to the cleansing feeling of the mountains. Sitting atop such a mountain is a great time to ponder, reflect, and also plan out your next objective. Your eye will be naturally drawn to the unbelievable ridge that defines Little Cottonwood's entirety, which has been in its entirety in 21.5 hrs.

While hiking we saw some goats on the Lightening Ridge in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

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