The Beatout is the name given to the route which begins with an ascent of the Pfeifferhorn, followed by a long ridge scramble to the west, then a descent down Bells Canyon. This is a challenging, day-long adventure, which includes much scrambling and routefinding along an occasionally exposed ridge. Rewards for your efforts include hours of enjoyable scrambling in a rugged and seldomly visited region of the Wasatch Mountains. The views are outstanding and, once beyond the Pfeifferhorn, solitude is virtually assured on the hike.
In addition to the Pfeifferhorn, this route typically includes ascents of Chipman Peak and South Thunder Mountain. Exceptionally energetic hikers may wish to also include ascents of Bighorn Peak and Lone Peak as part of this hike, but these are typically not considered part of the standard route.
Although I'm unaware of the origins of this route name, one explanation I've heard is that the route is so named because one must "beat their way out" of Bells Canyon. This alludes to the overgrown nature of the Bells Canyon trail, and the frustrating routefinding which is frequently required to successfully navigate oneself out of the canyon.
The Beatout typically begins from the Red Pine Canyon trailhead, and ends at the Bells Canyon trailhead. Naturally, a car shuttle will be required for the route. Directions for reaching the trailheads are as follows:
Starting Point - Red Pine Trailhead
Take the 6200 South exit (exit #6) off I-215 and follow highway 190 south-east approximately 2 miles to the intersection with Big Cottonwood Canyon road. Continue straight through the stoplight and follow the road another 4 miles to the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, where an electronic billboard on the right provides current road and/or weather conditions. Continue east up Little Cottonwood Canyon approximately 5.5 miles past the billboard to the White Pine trailhead, on the right (south) side of the road. There is a large parking area at the trailhead.
Ending Point - Bells Canyon Trailhead
The Bells Canyon trailhead is located at 10245 South Wasatch Boulevard. There is a parking area for the trailhead on the east side of Wasatch Boulevard. To reach the Bells Canyon trailhead from I-215, take the 6200 South exit and follow Wasatch Boulevard south for approximately 6 miles to 10245 South. The Bells Canyon trailhead can also be accessed via I-15 by taking the 9000 South Exit, then following 9000 South east for 6 miles to Wasatch Boulevard (by which time 9000 South has become 9800 South). Turn right (south) on Wasatch Boulevard and drive for 0.7 miles to the trailhead parking area.
The distances and elevations given here are based on an ascent of the Pfeifferhorn via Red Pine Fork, and also assume ascents of Chipman Peak and South Thunder Mountain.
Hiking Distance: 12.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,849 ft.
Elevation Loss: -7,375 ft.
Red Pine Trailhead Elevation: 7,556 ft.
Pfeifferhorn Elevation: 11,326 ft.
Chipman Peak Elevation: 10,954 ft.
South Thunder Mountain Elevation: 11,154 ft.
Bells Canyon Trailhead Elevation: 5,120 ft.
The Beatout begins with an ascent of the Pfeifferhorn by way of Red Pine Canyon. Refer to the Red Pine Fork route for a description of this ascent.
From the summit of the Pfeifferhorn there will be an excellent view to the west at the ridge to be followed; first over the unnamed summit (Peak 11,137) to the immediate west, followed by a curving traverse over to Chipman Peak, and then a scramble along Lightning Ridge to the summit of South Thunder Mountain.
The summit of the Pfeifferhorn is also a good time to evaluate your personal stamina and energy level; continuing west beyond the Pfeifferhorn is fairly committing, as there are very limited options for aborting the hike if time or energy run short.
The descent down the west ridge of the Pfeifferhorn is steep, but generally no more difficult than the east ridge ascent route. Simple boulder-hopping is all that will be required. Follow the ridge approximately 0.4 miles as it climbs to the summit of unnamed Peak 11,137, which offers an excellent view looking back at the west face of the Pfeifferhorn.
Continue via easy boulder hopping down the southwest ridge of Peak 11,137 for ±0.5 mile to a saddle. To the west will be an impressive view of Lightning Ridge leading to the summit of South Thunder Mountain, and on the right will be outstanding views to the north into Hogum Gulch.
Ascend the steep ridge to the west of the saddle. This will be some of the most difficult scrambling to be found on the Beatout. Continue along the ridge as it levels somewhat, eventually reaching the intersection with a spur ridge to the south. This spur ridge culminates in the summit of Chipman Peak 0.2 miles to the south.
Views from the summit of Chipman Peak are excellent looking back at the Pfeifferhorn, and to the west at Lone Peak and Lake Hardy. To the north is a good view of Lighting Ridge, which leads northwest towards South Thunder Mountain.
From Chipman Peak return north back to Lightning Ridge, then begin following it northwest towards South Thunder Mountain. It is generally possible to stay right on the ridge crest, although dropping onto the south slopes may occasionally be necessary, depending on your scrambling prowess. The sheer north side of the ridge drops steeply into Hogum Gulch, and the views into Hogum Gulch and the east face of North Thunder Mountain are very impressive.
Follow the ridge to a small saddle at the base of South Thunder Mountain, then ascend the peak along the southeast ridge. From the summit of South Thunder there will be a view to the northeast down into Bells Canyon, and of Upper Bells Canyon Reservoir 1,800 vertical feet below. The descent down Bells Canyon passes along the west shore of the reservoir, so carefully take note of a few navigation landmarks to reach the reservoir; the reservoir will not be visible during the descent until you are nearly upon it, so good routefinding skills will be beneficial.
South Thunder can be descended to the north, but an easier route is to head down the south face of the peak. The face is moderately steep but the descent involves nothing more than simple boulder hopping.
At the base of the south face turn right (west) and begin descending through an open boulder strewn gully. There is no trail down to Upper Bells Reservoir, but occasional cairns may be spotted to help guide the way. Slowly begin a traverse to the north, staying relatively high but continuing to descend through boulders and small cliff bands via the path of least resistance. Avoid drifting too far to the west, since this will place you in a different drainage than the main stream out of the reservoir, and will cause problems further down the canyon.
The reservoir will remain hidden from view until you are nearly upon it. When it finally comes into view through the trees stay as high as possible on the left (west) side of the reservoir - do not proceed directly down to the reservoir.
Continue to the far north side of the reservoir before working your way down to the dam. From the dam you will be able to pick up the trail, such as it is, heading down Bells Canyon (this is where the "Beatout" portion of the hike begins).
The trail proceeds from the reservoir down to the north. Frequent cairns may be spotted, but there appear to be several variations for the descent. If you navigate successfully with no backtracking, bushwhacking, or cussing, you are the exception rather than the rule.
Approximately 1 mile from the reservoir the trail makes a turn to the west, where it suddenly becomes well maintained and easy to follow. Hike the final 2.5 miles of trail down to the Bells Canyon trailhead, where your shuttle vehicle and cooler of beer is waiting.