After Saturday’s mechanical issue on my road ride that ended my ride after a mere 45 minutes, I was looking forward to redemption by standing atop the impressive Pfeifferhorn. It was a late night too (hooray for checking out our wedding band!), though it was easy to respond to my 5:30am alarm, knowing the adventure that waited.
The hiking trio from Olympus reunited for this one, and Casey and I were particularly excited for the views we would enjoy from the summit. We departed the trailhead at 6:50am and Casey and I excitedly caught up on life news while working through the first mile quickly. Jackson, who completed a solid 32 mile mtb ride the day before, took in his surroundings at a more leisurely pace. We regrouped at the Red Pine / White Pine trail junction and stayed together as we began gaining more elevation over less distance.
The temperature was absolutely perfect for hiking and the sun was hidden behind much-appreciated clouds. Our legs moved easily as we looked forward to a snack break at Red Pine Lake. Casey hadn’t been there before and it had been quite a while since Jackson and I have seen Red Pine without snow (don’t tell anyone, but there is some epic skiing up there). We arrived, re-upped on sunscreen and bug spray, then took our time having some trail snacks and water. The cool breeze picked up to a solid wind so we also each put on another layer. We continued on, around Red Pine Lake, and began navigating up the boulder field that followed.
As we neared the top, closing in on the upper lakes, the dark sky to our South started making its way toward us. The ominous clouds moved quickly across the sky, and suddenly, the first crack of thunder roared over our heads. We looked around and agreed on a hiding spot under a giant boulder because, otherwise, we were totally exposed. We perched ourselves onto the rock, and retreated as far as possible under the overhang. The rain started slowly, and for a moment we convinced ourselves that maybe it would pass quickly – just look how fast the clouds are going! – and we could continue on our way unscathed.
Our optimism was killed shortly after those initial thoughts, as the thunder was now accompanied by brilliant lightning and painful hail. We outwardly laughed at the absurdity of our situation as we pushed ourselves more into the rock, unsuccessfully trying to escape the ice chunks. After a few moments, we noticed the water level starting to rise in the stream under our rock. We instinctively started talking strategy if the hail didn’t stop and the water level rose to an uncomfortable level. We spotted the closest spot that we felt was protected and agreed to book it – if that became a necessity. Thankfully, it didn’t, but it was great to have the conversation and know everyone was on the same page and mentally prepared.
As the hail pelted us, we lost dexterity and feeling in most of our limbs. It felt like an hour, though I imagine it was really only about 15 minutes. After the ice pellets piled up on our rock, the clouds continued in their Northwest pattern toward the SL Valley. During the storm, we discussed our options and decided that only one was safe – to head back down once the storm passed. We carefully worked our way back down the boulder field. I slipped multiple times and it didn’t get any less painful with each tumble. Feet literally going right out in front of me.. I’m grateful there is no photo evidence of it :).
We passed other groups who opted to continue the hike – they had been lower down when the storm hit. Despite knowing that we made the best decision, it stung to think that other people might hit the summit because their timing was a little later. Not that it was safe. It took at least 2 miles for our hands to fully regain feeling, and I know my fingers would have been useless had we continued up.
Bruised egos aside, this area is still one of my favorites and I look forward to returning. You won this battle, Pfeifferhorn. I will win the war.