Updated: Aug 15, 2019
White Pine Trailhead was to be the starting point for a Friday evening adventure. The end goal, to bag a couple summits in the Lone Peak Wilderness and make my way into Hogum Gulch. Friday night would be spent in Maybird, knowing it would be nearing dark by the time I reached the lakes.
Well my friends, while they are named “lakes”, that is a generous description. They are more like large ponds, formed in the wake of fresh water springs bubbling up from the grassy knolls above. It was nearing 7 o’clock when I got my start. I was passing many people on their way down the trail, mostly from Red Pine Lakes I assumed. Red Pine is a very popular trail and there is no sign pointing the way to Maybird. A lone footbridge spanning the Red Pine Fork the only indication of a trail off the beaten path. There I was in opposition with my fully loaded backpack, equipped to climb the jagged ice and snow-smitten peaks above. With one earbud in, I was listening to a podcast by Dan Carlin – Death Throes Of The Republic. I was in the early stages of a determined Sulla and taking inspiration from his unorthodox approach to defying the powerful Senate of Rome. It was about 4 days until the full moon and as dusk was settling in, the moon shined bright. It was a brilliant white in the eastern sky! As I entered Maybird, I saw the potential to snag a photo of the moon and the massive Pfeifferhorn peak together before sunset. The views from Maybird are amongst the best you could ever hope for. Crystal clear waters and the Pfeifferhorn, an enormous pyramid shaped peak of granite towering above! I struggled to find a clearing from the snow on the banks of the upper lake. By the time I had set down my pack and retrieved my phone from my pocket, the clouds had obscured the moon. Nonetheless, I got a nice shot with the snowy basin reflecting off the lake. You can even still make out the moon if you look close enough. Finding a spot to pitch my tent would prove even more difficult among the rocks, snow and ice. It seemed as if there was not flat spots anywhere. I really don’t mind at all to pitch right on top of the snow if it’s safe. This was anything but; any spot flat enough to accommodate a tent had a high probability of water running beneath it. All of the ground free of snow was ridden with giant boulders. I saw what looked to be a patch of open ground in some trees above and made my upward. Indeed, I found a small spot of dirt perched on the mountainside just big enough and flat enough to throw down my tent. One trip down to the lake to fill up my water, and off to bed I was. I’d have my alarm set for early morning hours and did not intend to sleep much this night.
With the night also came strong winds and I was regretting the fact that I did not steak my tent down. My sleep was also inhibited by other thoughts and concerns. I neglected to hang my backpack, full of food. Although I was not worried about bears in this area, I soon contemplated other risks to my situation. There is a walnut tree behind my house that I have been harvesting. While watching a video on how to process the walnuts, I distinctly remembered words of advice from the creator of the video “Squirrels will go to great lengths to get your nuts”. (Insert laugh) This, along with horror stories I have read where backpackers wake to find their packs completely chewed through, made me quite uneasy. What other animal must be desperately hungry after a long harsh winter? Then the lone howl of a coyote rang from the hill above me. Well, there it was, he (or she) would probably love to get their snout into my bag of beef jerky inside my backpack. This lone howl also intrigued my mind in other ways. I once listened to a podcast with Dan Flores, author of the book “Coyote America”. I learned a great deal about the amazing and almost surreal nature of these animals. I could go into details to blow your mind, but trust me; coyote’s are more complex and adaptable than you ever thought. The usual howl of a coyote is to initiate or participate in a roll call. For whatever the reason, this one was all alone. I wondered if this was the same lone coyote I saw traversing the snow a couple basins over, White Pine, a year or two prior.
It seemed the second I dozed off my alarm instantly woke me. To my dismay, I distinctly heard the sound of rain pummeling my tent from above. “Not to worry” I have all day and no man controls Mother Nature. I shut off the alarm and fell back into a kind of half sleep for about an hour. When I woke once again the rain had not yet ceased. I had plenty hours of Dan Carlin left and didn’t mind relaxing inside my tent for a while. It was around 830 when I poked my head out to see the sun breaking through a tiny blue patch in the sky. It was episode V of Death Throes. This where I could start reciting the characters by name and regurgitating the more outlandish stories I’ve read. Crassus, Pompey Magnus, Julius Caesar and other famous characters were into play. It may be just the fame of Julius Caesar that sparks my interest but either way, I am deeply intrigued by this part of the story. Perhaps all men either concisely or subconsciously compare themselves to Caesar. Then came Dan Carlin quoting Pliny The Elder in regards to Caesar –
“The gift that contributed most largely to his success was an abnormally energetic ability to get things done! Caesar was accustom to write or dictate and read at the same time! Simultaneously dictating to his secretaries FOUR letters on the most important subjects or, if he had nothing else to do, as many as seven!"
With this motivation, I quickly started packing my things and set off, upwards, into the snow toward the pass on Hogum Divide.
Hogum Divide is the spine of the Pfeifferhorn. It looks just like that, a spine. A spine from an ancient dragon beast petrified into a rocky chain of cliffs. Viewing it from the other side of canyon on the ridge of Broad Fork Twin Peaks, one can see the full scale of the divide. Separating Maybird and Hogum, it runs over 2 miles from the summit of the Pfeifferhorn and nearly to the bottom of Little Cottonwood Canyon. From the summit it dips down to about 10,200 ft. before climbing back up to just over 10,500. The Summit of Hogum is often referred to as “The Obelisk” due to the large rectangular shaped rock protruding upward at its peak. As I passed over the top of a large rock outcropping, the cliffs of the pass came into view. “This was it” I thought, something I had dreamed about doing for half my life. A level of excitement hit like nothing I had felt for many years. This was the Terra Incognita! This was Ultima Thule! Climbing the rough terrain up the pass was made difficult by my heavy load. Once on top of the pass it was clear the work was far from over. The trees lie over half a mile away and over 400 feet below. The path was laden with loose rocks and no trail to speak of. As I passed through a boulder field, I paid attention to size of the size of the boulders. Some were about the size of an SUV. Not as big as the ones in the chute I’d climbed near Lake Hardy a few years back. There the boulders rivaled that of a single-family home. Traversing through the boulder field proved massively difficult with my large, heavily loaded pack. At times I would step onto a boulder only to have it shift beneath my feet. I was making moves as if I were a tightrope walker. Arms outstretched and body swaying back and forth to gain my balance. Some boulders were too unstable to stand on all together. I’d have to jump onto another stone in a split second and watch the previous stone tumble into a crevice sometimes 10 feet deep! Pressing ever onward, I finally reached my destination – the trees. With snow still all around and not much sign of level ground, I took my pack and set on the ground. I was standing on a tiny patch of dirt that would work in a pinch. I wandered off to see if I could find something better. As I explored, I stumbled upon the perfect spot. A large flat area with even a slight bit grass perched inside a circle of trees. I went back to retrieve my backpack and set off down the hill to my spot. The only thing standing in my way, a small snow bank. “I’ll just slide right down it”, I thought. After being extra cautious all day as to not hurt myself, I managed to slash my head open on a tree branch. “Well, you’ve done it now” I thought. My head was bleeding and there I was, by myself, in one of most remote areas of the entire Wasatch Range. I stopped the bleeding with some pressure from my bandana and assessed that I was okay. Or in other words, I lucked out and needed to reiterate to myself the importance of caution while traveling alone.
The patch of blue sky and the sun peaking through in the morning had been short lived. It had been mostly cloudy all day with a sprinkle of rain here and there. Not very good weather to attempt a summit bid. Especially considering I was flying solo. No worries for me. I had made a nice camp and I was enjoying the solitude.
About 3 o’clock in the afternoon the storm broke all together. All around I was surrounded by blue sky. I thought ‘well, this is the time, if any, to get up one of these peaks”. Although it was late in the day, and not typically a good idea to start up, I felt it was safe enough to make a move toward the ridge. I loaded up my day back and set off through the sea of rocks. Passing through was just like that, an ocean of boulders. Swells of rock fifty even a hundred feet high! Up and down I trekked over them, making quick time compared to my entry. As I ascended one these waves of boulders, I noticed something out of place. It was a patch of color in an otherwise barren landscape. Once I was close enough, I saw a bushel of flowers somehow the only living thing in a sea of stone. I had studied the mountain nearest my camp whilst waiting out the storm. An unnamed peak next to Pfeiffer simply called Peak 11,1137 by most accounts. My route was picked out and I was now near my starting ascent of the steep mountain ridge. Ascending straight up a snow filled chute with my crampons and ice axe, I became anxious at times. Although, I felt I was in no real danger if I slipped, (no cliffs below and an axe to arrest myself) the snow was not very solid. I was kicking quite hard to gain a foothold and this is typically not a safe practice. I was reaching a near vertical section of the snow wall and I made a slight traverse over to some rocks where I could climb safely on solid ground. I made my plan there to descend the vertical face on my way down so I could practice my self-arrest technique. Shortly after reaching the ridgeline, I stood on the summit of Peak 11,1137. One more peak bagged and off the bucket list! Unfortunately, I would not make it over to Chipman as I had hoped. The weather was once again turning for the worst. Dark thunderclouds were moving in rapidly from the west and the wind was turning bitter. Knowing better than to stick around, I snapped a few pics, including a selfie with Pheiffer for a background and turned around. I quickly made it down to the snow face I had picked for the descent. Standing on top the snow then sitting down with my feet dangling below, I prepared for slightest millisecond second of free fall. I scooted off and turned inward onto my stomach. I plunged my axe into mountain with good technique. Although, I was glad this was just practice, the truth of the real danger became apparent. The snow was so soft, a massive sluff was pouring down the mountain. The effort exerted to self-arrest made much more difficult than it would be on stable snow. Boy, was I cruising down that mountain too! Whew, I was able to get two more slides and arrests in down that face. Flying about as fast I think I could have gone every time. Good practice and I know for a fact an ice axe can save your life. I know because it’s saved mine before and this why we practice. Back in camp, the weather ended up not being half bad. I hung out around camp for a bit then went to my tent to relax.
I slept great that night. I had planned to leave camp by 9 am but I didn’t set my alarm. I was sleeping so well, it was already nearly 9 o’clock when I woke up! Normally I could care less about the time on a Sunday morning. However, my Mom was picking me up at the trailhead at 2 o’clcok. I was dropped off on Friday in order to avoid leaving my truck parked on the side of the canyon road all weekend. I new I had a long way to go and hurried it up. All packed away, I deviated from the path I had taken in. I ended up going up and over one of those rock waves. So exhausting while carrying that heavy pack! I made my way to a better route and was soon beneath the pass at Hogum Divide. While going a very steeply grated hillside, I nearly lost balance backwards. My pack so heavy, it nearly pulled me off my feet! I took a look beneath me, and said “I will defiantly take a few tumbles down this mountainside before recovery if I fall”. Eventually I was over the pass and back down to Maybird Lakes. I saw a couple groups there and passed by one. A member of this group was just sitting in a chair taking in the sun. It was great summer weather that day. This was a friendly group and I spoke to them briefly about my adventure before going on my way. Making my way over the bridge back to Red Pine trail, I started seeing the crowds. Now, I was once again on the opposition of most groups. Everyone was heading up and myself, down. I made it in just a nick of time. It was only a couple minutes past 2 and I walked right into my Ma as hit the parking lot. All in all, it was an awesome weekend adventure to remember! Hogum & Peak 11,137!