“I sure wish I had my whippet,” I commented, but in the end I did just fine without it. There we were, my buddy Rich and I, at the col between Maybird and the Pfeifferhorn looking up at the SE face and wishing we’d brought our ice axes or better yet, my whippet. “It’s not that I’m scared of falling while I’m skiing down, it’s that I’m scared of not being able to stop should I fall while climbing up – or having something pull out and pull me with it,” Rich says to me. I agreed.
We decided that although without an ice axe we’d be crazy not to press on having come nearly 4000 vertical feet and 6 hours to turn back just 500 feet from the top. Onward and upward we headed.The SE face of the Pfeifferhorn (known on some maps as Little Matterhorn Peak), wasn’t really our destination as we set out from the White Pine parking lot that morning. There had been talk of bagging a peak, but when it came down to it, more than anything I just wanted to explore the upper reaches of Red Pine and Maybird, areas I had never seen let alone skied. But I think Rich knew exactly where we were headed, although he didn’t really reveal it. As we gained elevation and spotted many glades of creamy untracked powder, I’d suggest stopping to spin a few lapss but Rich would just say, “Oh let’s keep this in mind for later”. Yea, later.
The higher we climbed the more amazing the vistas were, with untracked peaks with an innumerable amount of lines to be skied, most with a fair mix of steep rocky outcroppings to negotiate. The complete lack of people in this slice of paradise was even more amazing. The higher we skinned, the more I couldn’t help but look back at our skin track as it meandered it’s way down the valley, my eyes straining, searching for the inevitable party of skiers, but the inevitable never came. In fact, after the party of 4 snow-shoers just before the bridge at Red Pine Canyon, we’d not see another person until we got back to the car, 7 1/2 hours later.
We soon emerged from the trees to find a sub ridge that led us around the frozen lake to the upper reaches of Red Pine Canyon. The route we would take to the ridgeline at the back of the bowl was obvious, so Rich and I skinned in silence, just the sound of the wind drifting snow to keep us company. Off to the west we could see the tip of the Pfeifferhorn, a craggy imposing peak. It’s long been a target of mountaneers in the winter and a bold rock climbers in the summer. The view we had offered little encouragement or opportunity to actually ski the thing, let alone climb it.
The wind picked up the higher we got, until it was a full-fledged 25-35 mph wind, with gusts around 40. Near the ridge we shouldered our skis to boot up the rocky rib where alas we hoped to gain refuge from the blasting of graupel and ice particles that were putting the hurt on any exposed skin, primarily our faces.
Once on the other side of the ridge, we were basking in the relative calm of this the lee side. I just so happened that this was the south side and with the bluebird skies we dug in for a bit of some needed lunch and sunshine. Now that we were on the ridgeline, I wondered what our target would be as an entirely new world had opened up to the East, South, and the West. “Go West young man,” took on new meaning with the SE face of the Pfeifferhorn looking ripe for the taking.
We skinned as far as we could go, and then put our skis on our packs and negotiated the knife ridge of that defines the ground between the top of Maybird cirque and the Pfeifferhorn, all the while the SE face looming above us. I’m not sure if it was the face itself, looking icy and firm, or if it was the enormous cliffs that guarded the bottom of the face making it a “no-falls or you’re going to suffer a certain death” zone. The only hope lay in a slim and narrow passage on the skier’s left of the face which allowed the only entrance and exit, one not to be missed. Either way, after some discussion we tentatively started up the face, keeping close to the East ridge.
Kicking steps up the skiers right of the face, just off of the East ridge, we made our way towards the summit, being greeted along the way by a firm crust with patches of wind deposited snow. We traded leads about half way up, pausing only to catch our breath and to snap a quick photo. Although we didn’t take a reading on the slope angle, we estimated the top to be near 55-60 degrees.
Alas, the journey was half way complete. Unbeatable views from the summit of the Wasatch was our reward, looking as far as Mt. Nebo to the South, Deseret Peak to the East and the Salt Lake Twins just beyond our reach to the North and beyond. We pondered a decent of the NW Coulior, looking quite intimidating and daunting just a few feet away. It would have to wait until another day as we had a date with the SE face.
Those first few turns were actually quite fluid, particularly surprising given the fact that it was the first turns for my new Kahru Jaks. Not a bad way to break in a new pair of skis. Exhilaration! I skied down the first 150 feet to arrive at our first designated safe zone where I signaled to Rich and watches him link some hesitant yet fluid turns.
We swapped leads when Rich skied on by heading down towards our escape hatch. I yelled out to him to get some beta on the snow conditions but my request drifted away in the wind. When Rich had dipped out of sight I commenced my decent searching out the most solid surface as to avoid the wind deposits which I feared would sluff off quite easily, likey attempting to take me along for the ride. As I arrived back to the col where Rich awaited, we shared the traditional “click, click” of the poles, as skiers, our version of the “high-five”.
Once back at the col we sized up the options for further decent and decided to dive into the 1000 feet of terrain that makes up the apron of the NE face of the Pfeifferhorn which runs down into the heart of Maybird Gulch.
I wish I could say the turns down the apron were knee deep pow, but they weren’t. Even by the most imaginable stretch it really couldn’t be classified as powder. The only real powder we’d find would be farther down Red Pine in the protection of the trees. Was it variable? Something like that.
Heading down Maybird Gulch, we veered skiers right all the way in order to make our rendezvous with the Red Pine trailhead. Just before we turned for home I stopped for one last glimpse of what we’d stolen, knowing full well that the Pfeifferhorn rarely gives up turns on her flanks. The late afternoon sun was beaming above her and although the SE face was hidden Indeed this was the pre-Christmas present I was lucky enough to open before Santa delivered the rest of the gifts.