For my first peak summit in the Wasatch Mountains, I had to go big. The Pfeifferhorn with its jagged knife-edge traverse, rocky scramble and hidden summit was just the hike to fit a warm weekend this last summer.
The aspen and pine forest smelled of sweet dew and dry leaves as the early morning sun started to heat of the canyon floor. By 8am we started up the trail and it was already warm. Our bottles of water sloshed in the side pockets of our backpacks as the straps rubbed our tank-top shoulders and our Solomon trail shoes gripped the steep rooted trail.
The trail to the Red Pine Lakes was pretty straight forward; a steady climb through the forest with the occasional peek down Cottonwood Canyon. After 3-miles, the lower lake was a welcomed view. The sun sparkled on the quiet water and the next ridge, still-to-be-climbed, reflected in the aqua-blue hue. Wildflowers of mustard yellow, rust orange and deep pink grew in hip-high bushes lining the trail around the lake and bees buzzed busily from flower to flower near our legs – making my boyfriend pick-up the pace as we circled the east side of the alpine pond.
Partially dried up with a rocky shore, the upper Red Pine Lake was a quick jaunt up from its sister pond. But after that the trail picked-up, quickly and steeply. Boulders rocked on jagged edges under our hiking shoes. Loose dirt skirted away, bouncing silently down five to ten feet before settling as we picked our way up the talus field to the false summit. Leading with our hiking poles, we reached the first ridge where a light trail could be seen switch-backing the last few hundred feet.
From the shoulder you could see for miles in all directions. The valley floor: a flat dust-pan of brown with dark stripes of the city’s streets. Up Cottonwood Canyon you could see the rolling peaks of the Wasatch Mountains and along the horizon small clouds concealed the Uinta Range to the far northeast. But the main thing in our line of view was the striking rock plug rising in the foreground, the summit of Pfeifferhorn.
The trail cut across the top of the shoulder as it made its way closer to the final summit push. Curving side to side, the trail banked as the ridge narrowed until only a knife-edge was left. With a two foot wide platform, we navigated the 30-foot span of class three climbing that connected the shoulder of the ridge to the summit peak. White patches of old, boot packed snow hid in the shadows of the giant slabs of granite.
In comparison to the white-knuckled scramble before, the steep push to the top felt like a cake-walk. After twenty minutes of trail finding and grueling baby-steps on the steep rocks, we reached the summit of Pfeifferhorn. The views were even more grand from the 11,326 foot peak.
Dangling my feet off the ledge, I leaned back against the cool off-white and salmon pink rocks that slanted away from the north face. The sun baked my skin turning it hot and pink, but for a few moments I didn’t care. The blood rushed back into my sore feet from the long trek to the top and the summit euphoria kicked in as I scanned the horizon towards Salt Lake.
Getting there: Park at the White Pine Trailhead, which is located on the south side of the road about 5.5 miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon. The turnoff for the parking area is just after a turn and is easy to miss. Get there early to get a spot in the lot; otherwise additional parking can be found along the highway east of the parking area. Just make sure to pull completely off the highway.