Saturday, January 12, 2013


Last week there were compass-wide green light conditions in the Northern Wasatch.  For many this meant the free rain to ski any and everything.  With a closing weather window and a single day to burn, the Lizard and I made a break for a much sought after climb that had been in our black book for some time.  The North Ridge of the Pfeiferhorn offers up about 1000 feet of moderate climbing.  Linking it up with the Northwest Couloir makes for a well rounded day of ski mountaineering in Was-Angeles.  

The crux of the day comes at 6:30am.  Living in Alta without a car is a double-edged battle axe, covered in the blood of a thousand beaters.  You’re spitting distance from one of North America’s most classic ski descents, and skin tracks shoot out in nearly every possible direction leading to numerous untracked pockets of Utah’s legendary pow, but the easy access of White Pine trailhead, Mineral Fork in Big Cottonwood, or the playgrounds of the Provo mountains all seem an eternity away.  Considering our options, which included borrowing car’s do drive the roughly 3 miles, we opted to add the approach to the trailhead into the adventure, nothing new for you other car-free folks out there.  Leaving Alta’s base we weaved our way down cat tracks and between condo’s.  Taking off the skis to walk a couple of times and eventually  just shredding the plow bank from Snowbird’s entry 1 down to the TH.

Elated with our resourcefulness and stoked for the amazing power of skis as transportation we arrived at the trailhead with only two other cars present.  How bout a new bumper sticker, Share the Road, but with picture of a skier?  Anyhow our stoke quickly gave way to silence as the miles-long, thousands of vertical feet approach ensued.  But we made good time, passing the only other party on the skin-track (also headed for the Pfeiff by way of the SE Ridge), and getting up to upper Maybird in a few short hours.  Decision time. 

Hoping to move fast and make it back to the trailhead in time to catch a ride back up-canyon before dark, we opted to by-pass the first, and what looked to be the most difficult climbing, portion of the ridge.  The North Ridge Chute offered a steep shortcut to this first obstacle.  Skinning gave way to booting which gave way to wallowing in near-vertical sugary-facets, definitely the most insecure climbing of the day.  I gained the ridge and threw an appreciative Lizard the rope. 

Skinning up the North Chute.   Liz wallowing her way up some vertical sugar.

Once we were both on the ridge proper the real climbing began.  Liz took the first lead, which turned into a solid block of simul-climbing. 
Liz on stone and in the zone.

We swung leads a few times, climbing till we ran out of gear or just felt like high-fiving.  Whichever came first.  The climbing was moderate for having skis on our backs, and overall quite pleasurable, with mostly quality granite, a few sections of loose or friable rock, and some exceptional exposure, setting, and aesthetics. 

Heading up towards the "lightning-bolt" crack, where we found some of the more exposed and challenging climbing on the route.

Front pointing to glory!

We gained the summit, snacked fast, and made for a quick turnaround. 

Obligatory Summit Photo.

The NW couloir had already been skied by a few parties, by the look of it,  so we were able to check out the other tracks and suss out the best way in.  Although it looked as if some folks had skied, downclimbed, or rapped in from the shoulder of the North Ridge, we opted for rapp in directly from the summit.  A full length dropped us off with just enough room to get our skis on and make a few turns before we were at the choke. 

Liz on the first Rappel. 

Another full length rapp landed us on snow once again, after which we enjoyed making some relatively low-stress turns, without relative exposure for the first time in the last few hours. 

Liz sending it below the choke.    Getting Smaller.

After we exited the couloir we b-lined it for the Red Pine drainage and the trailhead below.  We managed to keep a good pace and make good time all day, with plenty of daylight left  before we made it to the trailhead, even finding some quality turns on our way back out. 

More turns below the choke.
Amphitheater of Stone.

Not much traffic heading back up the canyon after 4pm on a weekend, but lucky for us the bus driver was feeling nice and actually swerved to pull over and picked us up right from the trailhead, unexpected treats like that can really make your day. 

It’s day’s like this that really set the rest apart, and make me recall a Thanksgiving prayer my uncle used to recite often.

Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub.  Yeeeaaaaaaayyyyyy GOD!