Short couloir variation.
My partner and I climbed the short couloir variation of the Pfeifferhorn’s North Ridge in full winter conditions. We found snow conditions to be quite stable in the couloir, upper ridge, and on the descent into Maybird Gulch. The approach was sped up considerably by a well-compacted skin trail from the White Pine TH all the way to Maybird. We spent 3.5 hours on the approach, burned an hour brewing up in the Gulch, 6 hours on the route and 4 descending (summit to car) - 14.5 hours round trip.
The full north ridge looked improbable, with most of lower section running under or over the largest cornices on the ridge.
The ridge was deep, sugary snow over loose, blocky rock (we knocked two TV size blocks off and sent down a couple bread-loaf size). We expected to simul-climb with a doubled-over half rope on the ridge crest for all but the crux (5.2-5.3) pitch. The insecure climbing, however, meant that we utilized the full length of the rope for five pitches. The first two, starting from the notch where couloir meets ridge, were fairly moderate for the route. Even here, an ice tool came in handy for the leader. The third pitch was the class three, west-facing slab plastered in wind-compacted snow. I belayed Robert across the slab on a tension traverse to a 45 degree, 60’ couloir leading to the crest and a belay at a fixed pin. The fourth pitch started at the pin beneath the lightning bolt crack and was the first of two crux pitches. The climbing was relatively steep (70-80 degrees) on extremely loose rock covered in snow alternating in consistency between sugar and a breakable 2” layer of snice. As for much of the route, drytooling made for the most secure climbing on this pitch. I belayed Robert from below the final buttress. He led directly up the crest on the second crux pitch:
We simul-slogged from Robert’s belay above the buttress to the summit, encountering a mix of snice and powder.
We brought one tool, two screws (16mm), two pickets, a half set of nuts, two hexes, 60m half-rope, and an assortment of biners and slings – as well as crampons (never used) and an axe each. A few more hexes would have come in handy, as would a full rope. I would recommend two tools for the leader – as opposed to a tool and a mountain axe. Although we never used our crampons, I would not have considered leaving them behind with how variable the snow proved to be.