Friday, March 11, 2011

Pfeifferhorn: NE Couloir Via North Ridge Climb w/Bonus North Couloir

A full day off work meant we had a full day at work on the Pfeifferhorn again. The plan was to climb the 5.easy but aesthetic North Ridge and then try to ski from the summit down the ridge and out onto the NE face, easing into the NE couloir, and then rapping to freedom and the apron below.

Getting started. JD with sights on North Couloir (faster variation to full N. Ridge climb):

Wind and light playing games:

JD getting his Chamonix on:

Negotiating a couple easy rock steps:

JD, impatiently waiting his turn:

HIs turn:

Even though it was easy, it's so fun to scrap snow out of cracks and plug gear.

We tagged the summit and continued our ongoing debate about whether or not to try and ski the NE face/couloir. The main concern was some lingering instability, particularly given recent activity on a similar aspect on the nearby Lake Peak. While climbing, I kept straining to see the rocky snowfields on the upper reaches of the NE face. They looked wind scoured and safe enough but there were pockets of slabby appearing drifts that were concerning enough to make us want to ski belayed in the event enough snow got moving to knock us off our feet and over the big cliff.

Committing, we skied the ridge down to where we could traverse out onto the face. From there, JD made cautious turns down to the edge but couldn't find the supposed piton anchor. He poked around a bit and thought it might be on the other side of a rock rib. Here he is climbing back out.

Then it was my turn to look around. I climbed up and to the East trying to gain access to the couloir. After much shin bashing and wallowing, I realized we were likely in the correct couloir the whole time.

JD rigging up a belay:

Standing on the edge of the world. The skiing was relatively mild, but the rope provided insurance against any wind pockets catching us off guard.

The rule when rappelling is that the biggest guy goes first. That way, the second can back up the anchor, and if it worked for the big guy, then the little ones should be fine. At 6'1" 175, I'm always the biggest. Where are all the normal sized people?

About to rappel over the shark teeth to the tasty looking lower chute/apron:

Super psyched to have made it off the face and to find sweet conditions in the lower chute:

We skied out the apron to the bottom, ate some candy bars, and then made the short traverse back to the North Couloir where our booter was still mostly in place.

10 minutes later...

I pulled out my iphone inclinometer and measured the slope at 53 degrees. With great chalky snow, it was a blast.

Heading home:

The other day, disappointed by my broken binding and leaving plans unfinished, a new seed was planted by CA, who mentioned that we should climb the N. Ridge some time. From that, hatched the plan to do exactly what we did and I've gotten my fix for a few days. But, part of me can't help but feel some regret at not going back up to ski the NW Couloir as well for some sort of mini "trifecta". We thought about that, but it was getting warm, and JD somehow misplaced his water and had NONE for the day. Luckily for him, I'm a generous brother/dad (I joke that I raised him - no offense to our real dad) and shared the mini coke and Gatorade that I had.

Or better yet, as I lay restless in bed the night before, the thought crossed my mind to also add the East Face, South Face, and the above lines for a type of quintuple Pfeifferhorn day.

I've mentioned it before, but I'm completely sold on moving all day (or longer) through beautiful terrain, enchaining peak after peak, to test both my endurance and imagination. Reading the new book, 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America, I came across a quote by Lowell Skoog, prolific Cascade skier. He echoes this idea...

"In the mountains of North America, or at least in the lower 48, it won't be long before most of the classic lines that can be skied will be skied. For skiers seeking new challenges, the future of the sport will be in link-ups - skiing both steep and far. Ski mountaineers will merge the techniques developed for rando-racing with those developed for steep skiing. The emphasis probably won't be on the steepest descents, but instead on the most elegant routes that link multiple descents on multiple peaks."


  1. These photos are incredible. Seriously, so nice!

    You guys are so adventurous. I think I'd be into it minus the cold weather/thin air and the goggle tan lines.

  2. Do you think there are NW face mixed climbing routes? I was up there this summer and there looked like some potential.