Absolutely perfect weather for this spring hike up the Pfeifferhorn, via the Red Pine Lake trail. Our hike began around 5:00am in order to get off the mountain before afternoon heating increased the danger of wet avalanche activity. The first hour of the hike took place in the dark by the light of our headlamps, and the trail was snow covered right from the start. Below freezing temperatures made for relatively easy walking on the solidly frozen snow surface.
A faint trail of footprints appeared to have preceded us up the trail despite our early start, which explained the one other vehicle parked at the trailhead. The sun was just beginning to hit the upper ridges as we arrived at Lower Red Pine Lake, still just a flat outline buried under snow covered ice. We contoured around the east side of the lake, somewhat higher than the standard summer hiking trail.
As we headed up a steep slope towards the rim to the south of the lake we heard two large "Whoomph" sounds, apparently weaker layers of snow collapsing beneath the surface. These noises really got our hearts pounding with avalanche fear, and we quickly picked up our pace until we reached flatter terrain near Upper Red Pine Lake. At this point we finally encountered the owners of the footprints we'd seen, two backcountry skiers who were on their way to Thunder Mountain Pass and then a descent down Bells Canyon.
We followed them up the increasingly steep slope which leads west to the upper rim which composes the west side of Red Pine Canyon, and we were very thankful to have someone else perform the exhausting chore of kicking steps up the rock-hard frozen snow. At the top of the rim the summit finally popped into view, and we stopped for a few minutes to chat with the two skiers before continuing on towards the summit. We negotiated our way across the partially snow covered knife-ridge leading to the base of the summit, then headed up the steep snowfield on the south-east face of the peak.
Since the skiers were not headed for the summit, it was now my turn to perform the grueling work of step-kicking up the snow, which was beginning to soften slightly in the direct sun. We finally puttered onto the summit where we enjoyed a full hour of views on this perfectly clear and windless morning.
After the customary food and photography we began our descent, making good time with the numerous glissade opportunities, although the snow was now beginning to soften considerably. Near the lake we passed several other hikers who were heading for the summit, but saw no one else until the final few hundred feet near the trailhead. Summit hikes just don't get much better than this one.
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