In March of 1939 Charles “Chick” Pfeiffer was found dead in his Salt Lake City shoe shop.
He was still wearing his ski clothes.
Chick Pfieffer was one of the founding members of the Wasatch Mountain Club, a group dedicated to outdoor recreation and exploration. Indeed, its club charter stated its purpose as—among other things—”to promote the physical and spiritual well being of its members and others by outdoor activities.” The group still operates today.
Shortly after his death, friends of Chick Pfeiffer climbed the Little Matterhorn. Little Matterhorn is a small, sharp peak that climbs above 11,300 feet at the Hogum and Maybird headwalls. It’s a photogenic, iconic peak, that has come to symbolize the rocky, rugged Wasatch mountains. Both the open bowled south side, and the famous northwest couloir offer significant bragging rights for backcountry skiers and mountaineers. The peak can be seen from countless perches throughout the Wasatch, acting as a navigational landmark, or contextual reference of distance and space. It was there, at the top of the peak that those members of the Wasatch Mountain Club renamed the Little Matterhorn in honor of their friend and colleague.
Any ski tour in the many Little Cottonwood Canyon drainages usually feature a gawdy, dominating view of the Pfefferhorn. White Pine Fork, and specifically Pink Pine Ridge—the division between White and Red Pine—are no exception. In fact, they offer some of the most breathtaking views of the horn. As Dug and Mark and I trudged our way up the well worn skin track on Pink Pine, in search of recycled powder and an un-skied chute, our varied conversations—religion, economics, Red Dawn, and (naturally!) the validity of naming ones child after an anime character—were brought to a sudden halt when we were assaulted with a full-frontal panorama of the Pfeifferhorn.
“I don’t really have any desire to ski the northwest couloir of the Pfeiff.”
“Neither do I.”
“Nope. Not me.”
But nonetheless, the other many slopes and open bowls that cascade off of the massive granite headwall were rather desirable. The sinuous tracks of those who had climbed into the upper reaches of Red Pine left us envious and anxious to leave our own signatures, evidentiary tracks of our hike and subsequent descent, in the remarkably creamy—despite its age—snow. The large crystals of surface hoar created noisy, fast skiing. Like sliding through micro-shards of broken glass. Beautiful now, deadly tomorrow.
It was Samuel Wooley, a logger in the 1860s, who gave both White Pine and Red Pine their current names. Splitting these two forks is a spine that is simply, and fittingly, known as Pink Pine Ridge. A little White. A little Red. Pink Pine is an excellent access point into the greater White Pine backcountry, and as evidenced by the slick, well packed skintrack and the almost resort-like number of tracks leading out of the area, is well used for that purpose. Now, why Mr. Wooley chose Red Pine and White Pine for the forks names is a mystery. However, one can easily surmise the monickers came obviously enough, at least for White Pine.
Our chosen line led us off the east face of Pink Pine Ridge. Our sluffs chased us through the sporadic pine trees and through narrow openings between rocky cliff bands. Eventually the trees and rocks gave way to a wide open apron of deep, Wasatch powder. Powder manufactured in the high realm of the Little Cottonwood peaks—the world’s most extraordinary snow factory. Pure cold smoke. Even after a week, it held its “greatest snow on Earth” quality. But even if it had become stale and rotted, it would have been hard to call the day anything other than superlative. After all, we were in the shadow of Lighting Ridge, The Coalpit Headwall, and The Pfeifferhorn. Among the granite knife’s edges and spruce laden canyons that were once occupied by miners and millers, but today see only the foot traffic of hikers and skiers.