Hyrum's Hiking

Quick Facts
11,326 ft.
Elevation Gain
3,700 ft.
12 miles
7 hours

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Pfeifferhorn Trip Report

East Ridge, 07/09/07

The Little Matterhorn or "Pfeifferhorn" is one of several peaks along the Cottonwood Ridge in Utah's Wasatch mountains. The peak appears imposing, but is actually one of the more popular mountains, given the short approach, and proximity to Salt Lake City. In addition to being a good summer hike, the Pfeifferhorn is also a technical challenge in winter. I've wanted to do it for years, and my schedule just happened to work out such that Ian and I could tackle the hill in July of 2007.

Because Heather and I were staying with family in Springville while in Utah, I elected to stay the night in Ian's Provo apartment before going out with him early Monday morning. After a late night, we woke up early Monday morning, gathered supplies from a local grocery story, and started the drive to the trailhead. By the time we made the trek from Provo to the trailhead in Little Cottonwood Canyon, the sun was already out, although the air was very hazy, due in large part to a forest fire elsewhere in the state. The White Pine Trailhead is signed very well, and we found it with little difficulty.

Upper Red Pine Lake.
Upper Red Pine Lake.

Ian and I began the hike down the well marked, and equally well used trail up White Pine Canyon. The trail is a wide double track affair, that wends its way through the tree to a junction with another trail to Red Pine Canyon. We met this junction a mile into the hike, at the first big switchback and second stream crossing (the first being shortly after the trailhead). Here, we crossed the stream to join the Red Pine trail, which is only single track, but still very well used.

From this crossing, the trail continued to gain altitude for about another mile and a half until another stream crossing and fork. This crossing leads to the slightly more technical Maybird Gulch approach to the Pfeifferhorn. Because we weren't prepared for, nor inclined toward that option, we chose to continue up Red Pine Canyon. By this point, the trail was getting steeper, and I was beginning to feel seriously the effects of living at low elevation for the previous year.

Eventually, the we arrived at the lower Red Pine Lake, a picturesque alpine lake nestled toward the top of Red Pine Canyon. If doing the climb in two days, it would be an excellent place to camp, and we even saw a tent on the far side of the lake as we made our way around the east side of it. This is also where our difficulties in following the route began. At the end of the lake, there are numerous trails going up to the upper Red Pine Lake, and we picked the wrong one.

Instead of crossing the stream and proceeding in a southwesterly direction, we remained on the east side of the stream and hiked/scrambled our way up a rather steep slope to the upper Red Pine Lake. Here, we faced the challenge of gaining the main ridge, and spent the better part of an hour bolder hopping around the backside of the cirque. It took a while longer than we anticipated, but we finally reached Cottonwood Ridge.

From our location on the ridge, it was simply a traversal to reach the Pfeifferhorn. During most of the traverse, there is descent exposure, and a fair amount of scrambling, but nothing too serious. About half-way to the summit, we picked up the trail that we had lost at the lower lake, and followed it to the final summit climb. The final climb is a steep bit of ridge that has a faint trail up it. Ian went up it rather well, but I was stopping for breath quite frequently. The good part is that it isn't very long—maybe only three or four hundred vertical feet. Once at the top of the climb, I was at the summit, along with Ian, and a couple of other fellows, Matt and Scott, out hiking for the day.

Pfeifferhorn  on the left of an unnamed point.
Pfeifferhorn on the left of an unnamed point.

We stopped to eat, take pictures, and play with the ground squirrels at the summit. We could see several of the surrounding peaks, such as Box Elder Peak, Lone Peak, and Mount Superior, but the views weren't as good as I had hoped for due to the smoky haze in the valleys. After about thirty minutes on the summit, we began our descent. On the way down, we met the people who had been camping by the lake, and they were hauling full packs up the hill on their way toward traversing the ridge to Lone Peak.

Our descent was made much shorter by following the correct trail down off the ridge. We left the ridge shortly after reaching the top of Red Pine Canyon, and made our way to the west of the upper Red Pine Lake, and down to Lower Red Pine Lake. By this time, the day had grown quite warm, and we were glad for the extra fluids we had brought, though we could have filled our bottles from the lakes quite easily. We made good time on the descent, managing to get back to our car in just a couple of hours after obtaining the summit.

On the way home, I did not feel well, but I managed not to loose my lunch in Ian's car. A few hours, and couple of Ibuprofen later, and I was ready to pack our bags for the next leg our our road trip, and a visit to the somewhat-less-imposing Panorama Point of Nebraska. Though a bit strenuous at times for me, our hike up the Pfeifferhorn helped remind me why I like the challenges of the mountains—and why I continue to come back for more.