NW Couloir of Pfiefferhorn
If you backcountry ski in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, you have probably drooled over this iconic line off the summit of the mighty Pfiefferhorn; The Northwest Couloir. The wasatch had been in a cycle of high pressure and it had been at least a week since our last snowfall. Not great riding conditions, but extremely stable.
(View of the full line)
It was the evening of March 10th that my good friend/mentor Jimmy Buehler texted me with an invite to ski down the Pfieff and go for as many lines in Hogum Fork that our legs could handle, weather depending of course. When I first read the text, I was immediately filled with a slew of emotions. First off, It had only been 10 weeks since I dislocated my hip at Alta Ski Area and I had just started getting back into mellow touring about a week prior, so I was a little worried about that. Second, this is an EXTREMELY exposed line with a lot of consequences. An out of control fall in the top section would lead to serious injury or possibly death… We were most likely going to have to sling a rock and a rappel into the line, depending on how filled in the top section is. Once that is over, you are looking at about 15-20 mind-numbing turns before you reach a 50+ foot cliff which is the main rappel.
I thought about it for about 5 minutes and thought to myself, “Jimmy is the perfect person to tackle this line with. He has done it before, been a backcountry splitboarder for about 15 years and I have complete trust in his judgement while in the mountains.” I replied, “Hell yes! See you at the trailhead at 4:30 am.” At this point, it was very real. This has been a dream of mine ever since I summited this beautiful mountain in the summer of 2015. I gathered all my gear, made a quick lunch and was off to bed.
4:00 am came very quickly, as it always does! All of you dawn patrollers know exactly what I’m talking about... I jumped out of bed like an 8 year old on Christmas morning, grabbed my ski bag, a hot cup of joe and blazed up Highway 210 with Led Zeppelin blasting in my ears. We met at the White Pine trailhead and started walking at 4:45 am. We were looking at about 3,700 vertical feet and 4-5 miles of skinning before we reached the summit. We kept a slower and steady pace to conserve energy for the day.
(Climbing to the ridge)
By 8:00 am, we reached the base of our final push to catch the ridgeline. We found a perfect spot for a little mixed rock/snow climbing and before we knew it, we crested the ridge and had a gorgeous view of Box Elder Peak (which led me to ski it just a few days later) and Utah Lake.
I clicked back into my Daymakers and started breaking trail towards the base of the East ridge of Pfiefferhorn. The weather changed rapidly at this point. Our clear morning was quickly turning into clouds and socked in conditions up on the ridge. We had a quick meeting and both decided that we felt okay to ski it in low visibility and it was worth going up there. So away we went…
(Time to put the daymakers in the pack and boot up the east ridge directly in front of us.)
Completely socked in with clouds and gusts of wind at 50 mph coming from the South, I led the bootpack up the East ridge. I was digging deep and trying to move quickly due to the horrendous conditions on that side of the mountain. At 9:40 am, we reached the summit, standing at 11,326 feet tall. We were absolutely psyched.
(You can see the NW Couloir right behind me to the lookers left, we set up the rappel from the summit directly behind my left shoulder.)
Due to the snowpack being very thin from the summit into the line, Jimmy quickly found a perfect rock to sling as an anchor for our first rappel into the couloir. We tried to wait out the clag for about 25 min and decided it wasn’t going anywhere and that we should just drop. I was pretty nervous hooking up for rappel, but once the rope was through my belay device, I took a deep breath and suddenly it felt just like sport climbing in the summer. No biggie. I met Jimmy about 40 feet down and found the snow to be SO much better than we had expected. The winds were blowing all of the snow off the south face and funneling it right into the NW Couloir. We dug a small pit to assess the safety and we both felt really good about it. GREEN LIGHT! Let’s ski!!!
(Our friend James on his first ski rappel)
(Looking down the top section, totally socked in.)
We made conservative turns in horrible visibility, but that didn’t take away from the experience one bit with how soft the snow was. We couldn’t believe it! So good!!! Jimmy yelled up to me that he was locked into the anchor (Two beefy bolts on the skier’s right side of the couloir) and that I was good to come down to him. I skied down, dug an edge and felt comfortable to just stay on my skis while he rappelled. He yelled that he was on his feet and off rappel. My turn!!!
(Jimmy lowering into the abyss)
Completely gripped, I inched over to the anchor and locked myself in as quickly as possible. I was debating putting my skis on my backpack but I decided to just descend with my skis on for some experience. It was a little funky, but I managed well and it was nice to be ready to ski right as my feet hit the snow.
Right as I pulled the rope, Jimmy yells, “All you brotha! Send it.” I couldn’t believe he was going to let me drop first. Psyched out of my mind, I tightened my boots, put my gloves on and counted down… 3, 2, 1, see ya! The turns were absolutely glorious and the faceshots felt that much better knowing that we were in the clear. I let out a big “yeeeeheewww!” once I reached the bottom of the apron to let Jimmy know he could drop. I watched him make some of the surfiest turns I have ever seen from a splitboarder. Dude has style…
With all smiles, we gave each other a high five at the bottom and looked back up to admire our line. The stoke was real! Due to the conditions, we decided to go for a big day in Hogum some other time and made some Wasatch wiggles all the way down to the road, coming up directly across the trailhead to Lisa Falls. A quick hitchhike back to White Pine and we were back to our cars! What a day! We were more than happy with ticking off just the NW and it made us want to come back that much more. Enjoy this quick recap of the descent and stay tuned for when we go back to tick some other Utah classics!
Enjoy this 1 min recap!
Big thanks to Flylow Gear for keeping me nice and toasty in the wild weather, Giro for protecting my noggin and eyes (also allowing me to see with no visibility) and Tyrolia for keeping me brave on the descent! Also, shout out to Fatypus for making such strong, durable skis.
Vertical Feet: ~3,700’
Estimated time car to car: 7-9 hrs.
Pfiefferhorn Elevation: 11,326’
- Daymakers Alpine Adapters (or touring setup)
- Ice Axe (Recommended)
- Helmet (Highly Recommended)
- At least 50m of rope
- Belay/Rappel Device
- Personal Anchor System
- 4-5 locking carabiners
- 2-3 slings in case you need to setup your own anchor