Wasatch Mountains, UT - Little Cottonwood Canyon area
Pfeifferhorn - 11,326 ft - North Ridge (Winter) - Solo
White Pine Trailhead - m
1993 - I had been planning to do this climb for a while, and had a date in mind to go for it. However, a significant snowfall event made me postpone the climb by two or three days. It also resulted in the decision to climb the full ridge.
The North Ridge is usually climbed by following a couloir on the East side until it joins the ridge about one third of the way up. The only guidebook which described this route at the time mentioned that the full ridge is "significantly harder", but offered no additional information.
When I arrived at the head of Maybird Gulch and was able to view the ridge I stopped to ponder my choices for quite a while. Even though I had waited a few days since the recent snowfall I was not convinced that the standard couloir would be stable. On the other hand I knew that the lower ridge was "significantly harder", and I was alone. Such decisions always take some time and consideration when I am climbing alone.
Up on the ridge, above the lower difficulties, was a party of two. They had climbed the lower ridge. The leader would climb a pitch very quickly, then the second would follow at a much slower pace. Were they also concerned about the stability in the couloir, or had they set out to do the full ridge? Were they much better climbers, or were my skills comparable?
I decided to climb the full ridge.
For a while the lower ridge was interesting, and great fun. It was knife-edged but not lacking in secure holds and footing. Then I reached the spire.
After some investigation I determined that going over the top was not the way and that I would have to traverse the East face of this spire. It was not very long, but involved a small, sloping, snow covered ledge with significant exposure over Maybird gulch.
I decided that I would use the rappel cord I was carrying for protection, and anchored it at the start of the traverse. After a few precarious steps I anchored myself to a fixed pin, traversed back, and untied the initial anchoring.
I set up the rope on the pin so that I would have some protection for the rest of the traverse and the short but steep corner of unconsolidated snow which led back to the ridgeline. Then I retrieved the rope as one would from a rappel.
This was the crux of the route. The ridge steepened shortly after this, especially after the point at which the standard couloir joins it. There were a few more interesting sections, but nothing else I felt the need for a rope on. As I climbed the ridge I was looking up and there were numerous hawks circling the summit. This contributed greatly to the alpine flavor of this route, and somehow to the sense of solitude as well.
After enjoying a few moments on the summit I descended the East ridge (which I have climbed on a few occasions). Soon I was at the top of the headwall into Maybird Gulch. The last concern - was this steep open slope stable? The other party of two had descended, although their methodology indicated that they were being as cautious as possible also. Down I went, after they were out of the way, and all was fine.
In the head of Maybird Gulch I caught up to the other two. It turned out to be Alex Lowe and somebody else (who I assume he was guiding). I learned that he had also done the complete ridge out of concern for the snow stability in the couloir. (He was also very familiar with the snowpack since he was forecasting for the avalanche center that winter).
A great climb on one of my favorite mountains. One which I feel very pleased to have soloed in winter. I'm sure this would be enjoyable in summer as well, although it may be less interesting from a technical perspective.