Susannah Pratt, NW Couloir of the Pfeifferhorn, UT

[All photos courtesy of Andrew Burr, except where noted.]

Pfiefferhorn, Wasatch Mountains, UT

{Photo: Andy Anderson]

For the weekend warriors amongst us, it can be difficult to squeeze in all the ascents, seasonal goals and adventures one might like, particularly in a place like the Wasatch where a lifetime doesn't offer enough time to complete them all. While that's a tough life to lead on the weekdays in March where 16 inches seem to fall every night, we are fortunate enough to have jobs, and as they say, "If you're lucky enough to live in the mountains, you're lucky enough."

Having said that, when the winter is almost over, and there is still a long list of lines to ski, sometimes you've just got to stretch the daylight hours-or wear headlamps for a little longer. Such was the case for Jay (BD Sales Rep), Bob (BD procurement engineer) and I on a dawn patrol of the Pfeifferhorn, one of the most iconic and remote peaks in the Wasatch, in late April of last year. Given that we all needed to be into work by 9am, the sun wasn't going to truly be up until about 6:30am, and that the approach to the couloir would take us about 5 hours, we decided that a 1:30am meeting time would just have to do. While I'm sure Jay was able to close his blinds and fall asleep promptly at 5.30pm, the minute after returning home from work, I distinctly remember crawling into bed at 9:30pm and thinking to myself, "this is going to be a long night."

North face of the Pfiefferhorn

And so at 1:30am sharp, we headed up Little Cottonwood, coffees and Mate gourd in hand. After leaving a car at the base of Hogum Fork, we headed up to the White Pine trailhead to begin the tour. The night was cold and clear, the stars were out and although tired, the stoke of being out in the quiet night air got us all fired up to go. From White Pine we toured through the Red Pine drainage and finally into Maybird Gulch, stopping every so often to catch our breaths or allow Jay to take a sticky swig from his self-created Hammer Gel concoction. While Bob, a tried and true Montanan, opts for the simpler choice of water and pocket nuts, these two are speed demons on skis, and about the greatest ski partners a girl could ask for. Just the three of us out in the still darkness, having the entire mountain all to ourselves felt like the ultimate privilege in the company of great friends.

Skiing the NW Couloir of the Pfiefferhorn

At about 4am, we climbed out of Maybird and headed toward the knife-edge ridge that leads to the summit of the Pfeifferhorn. With a little bit of a crosswind, mixed snow and rock exposure, and still relying on only the lumens of our headlamps for light and balance, it was at this point that my adrenaline really started pumping. Jay paved the way across, setting a nice boot pack where possible and Bob followed behind me making idle conversation to keep the mood light and distract me from my nerves. To my relief, we quickly moved across the ridge, and started our way up to the summit.

At about 5.30am when we crested the final rise, pink hues were beginning to warm the sky above Baldy to the east and we watched a magnificent sunrise flood towards us.

Rappelling to the lower section of the NW Couloir

Without too much time to spare, we ripped off our skins, threw on some warmer layers and prepared for the reason we'd been hiking up for nearly 4 hours—the ski down. The Northwest Couloir drops from the summit in an hour-glass shape, and features two steep sections separated by a tight choke which in a typical snow year requires a rappel. Bob headed down the exposed top section first, taking extreme care to check the snow stability and avoid icy patches that could easily send you sliding down the high-consequence terrain below. Fortunately there was enough snow that we didn't need to take off our skis for the rappel, and one by one, we lowered off the bolted anchors above the cliff. When the three of us were down, there were some quick high-fives and hollers before we opened it up on the creamy apron below. Down the apron, through the flats, and into the trees we went, navigating our way through Hogum Fork. The snow was good, the sun was warm and the three of us were nothing but smiles.

The Pfiefferhorn's NW Couloir

The only glitch we ran into on the whole excursion was the final river crossing to get us back to the car. While a summer jump from rock to rock might be quite fun, it becomes a little more challenging when ice build-up on the bottom of your boot slips on the ice-covered rocks serving as your bridge to safety.  Bob finally decided enough was enough, and instead plunged calf-deep and trudged through the river.

Crossing Little Cottonwood Creek

[Photo: Susannah Pratt]

By 8:20am, a little bit tired, a little bit wet and a lot of hungry, we were back at the car. We made one quick mandatory stop for a greasy breakfast burrito, and by 9am the three of us were at our desks, ready to commence the work day. While I can guarantee you it was not my most productive of days, as I sat in front of my computer screen recalling the epic morning my friends and I had just had while the rest of Salt Lake City slept, I was reminded once again of the truth of the French idiom "Le monde appartient à ceux qui se lèvent tôt"-the world belongs to those who get up early.

-Susannah