August 26, 2019.
10 mi. |3700′ ele. gain | 7 hrs.
With a full day to explore the mountains outside Salt Lake City as my friend was at work, Aaron and I headed for an off-trail highpoint.
Before the trip I started following people on Instagram who were sharing photos of hikes in Utah. I reached out to one person in particular, whose feed was fun and inspiring. I asked if she had any recommendations for adventurous peaks that could be done in a day from SLC and this is what she recommended. Hooray for using social media in a positive way!
I began researching trip reports and ogling the maps I could find online. There were loads of them, so I quickly surmised that this was a popular scramble. We’d be going early on a Monday, so I hoped that would diminish the crowds.
The hike began on a well-used trail, traversing the hillside from the White Pine Lake drainage to the Red Pine Lake drainage. We walked uphill amidst a sea of unfamiliar wildflowers and shrubs. Upon reaching Red Pine Lake, we stepped aside to take a snack break and to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Above the lake, long rock ridges stretched out in all directions. It was quiet, for a moment. A group of chattering women appeared, breaking the silence. We watched them walk past the lake and continue out of sight. We savored a few more moments of peace before another couple arrived—photographers. Okay, we decided, it’s time to go.
From the trail’s end at the lake, we’d have to find the scramble route uphill through the forest. We passed the group of women and began walking up a social trail that was occasionally marked with cairns. Soon, the women were hot on our heels and we stepped aside to let them pass. Five minutes later they stopped, looking confused, and we passed them again. To be fair, the route splintered in various directions since there was no official trail through the woods. But I was getting annoyed with the leap-frogging. It would happen again: a couple of trail runners appeared right behind us. We stepped aside to let them pass but they stopped short, unable to figure out where to go next. We passed them again. And again, they were right on our heels. While I am thrilled that more and more people are getting into exploring the outdoors, I am discouraged by the apparent lack of etiquette and preparation that many people are taking with them. I’m not sure what the solution is, if there even is one. And I’m sure that I’m in the minority of people who want to feel solitude in the wilderness versus traveling in a pack. I can only think that more education is the answer.
At the lake we paused only briefly; I wanted to create some distance between us and the other groups so we could enjoy the route on our own. After looking around a bit at the piles of fractured rocks, an obvious rock rib became apparent; that would be the easiest way up.
From there on we had the scramble to ourselves. Only occasionally we would hear the loud banter of the hikers behind us. It very much felt like a wilderness experience yet again. We continued up the rock rib to a broad ridge, where the wind picked up and the views carried on forever. The occasional critter darted between rocks as we methodically walked towards the impressive summit of the Pfeifferhorn.
The Pfeifferhorn doesn’t show up on any of the maps; instead it is called “Little Matterhorn.” In 1939, the name was renamed to honor Chuck Pfeiffer, a beloved local climb leader and leader of the Wasatch Mountain Club (the maps still haven’t caught up).
I thought about how sweet it would be to have a mountain named after you. Mr. Pfeiffer must have had a significant impact on the community to have earned such an honor. I also thought about how badass climbers in the 1930’s were, compared to modern day hikers with modern gear and access to up-to-the-minute beta and weather forecasting. What we do today pales in comparison. It’s still a lot of fun, though.
When we reached the “knife edge ridge,” that was not really a knife edge, the real fun began. We scrambled up, down and around massive boulders that were delightfully secure. There was some exposure, but the going felt very safe. Aaron felt more of the exposure than I did, since I find myself in these situations much more frequently than he does.
The final stretch climbed up what looked like an impossibly steep and loose gully, but its bark was worse than its bite. We separated ourselves slightly so as not to kick down rocks on each other and quickly made our way to the summit. All along the way, wildflowers sprung forth from every crack and nook in the rocks. Life will find a way. At the top we marveled at the panoramic views and the perfect weather we’d been lucky to have that day.
The crux of the day was trying to eat our lunch without being harassed by ground squirrels. It was plainly obvious that people had been feeding them up here. I was frustrated again by the behavior of my fellow humans, so I threw rocks at the squirrels to try and un-train them; they were hardly moved.
As soon as the other group of hikers arrived on top, we departed, having had sufficient summit solitude of our own. It seemed only right to offer them the same experience. We scampered down the entire route without another soul in sight. Once we were back on the trail, we began encountering the masses. A trail crew was hard at work re-routing and hardening the trail for generations of hikers to come. The least I could do was offer up generous handfuls of peanut butter M&Ms to the workers, which I did.
Near the end of the trail, we discovered some of nature’s treats: wild raspberries. We found a few berries that were of sufficient size and ripeness to eat and then continued on to the trailhead. It was a glorious hike, but I had no idea that the most difficult part of the day still lay ahead…