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History & Karl Pfiffner

The route is named after Karl Pfiffner, a young climber who died in an avalanche on La Plata Peak in 1960. According to a friend, Gerry Roach, “[Pfiffner] spoke passionately about his idea of traversing the Continental Divide from Longs Peak to North Arapaho. We discussed the various technical difficulties of staying exactly on the Divide. I believe his original idea was to stay smack on the Divide.” This route, which Buzz Burrell calls the L.A. Freeway, entails extensive technical climbing and interests just a few hardcore endurance climbers.

In 1987 Roach undertook a Pfiffner-inspired non-technical route from Berthoud to Milner Passes. He completed it in 16 days, with several dedicated to climbing peaks, Roach’s primary passion. At the very end of the very last chapter in his definitive guidebook, Colorado’s Indian Peaks: Classic Hikes and Climbs, Roach includes general information about his route, which he named the Pfiffner Traverse in honor of his late friend.

In subsequent years, the popularity and recognition of the Pfiffner Traverse has never matched its potential. Currently, I can find only two online trip reports about the Pfiffner Traverse, by Mark Oveson and Cordis Hall, who are both ultra runners and saw the Pfiffner Traverse more as a Fastest Known Time (FKT) project than as a pinnacle backpacking trip. (I expect these search results to change.)

On a personal level, I had been eyeing a “Colorado Front Range High Route” for years, but had opted to focus on similar projects elsewhere. Finally in 2016 I finished the reconnaissance of segments that I had not completed before. I didn’t learn of the “Pfiffner Traverse” until I purchased Roach’s book, hoping that it would have supplemental route information.

The route that I had been assembling was similar to what Roach did in 1987, with a few differences where he wanted to climb peaks and where weather forced him off the most desirable line. I believe that my value-added to this project has mostly been the development of a comprehensive guide that perfects the route and that includes bypass routes for inclement weather, “extra credit” routes to increase the technical difficulty, and section-hikes for those who wish to undertake it in smaller pieces.

From the summit of Mt Audobon, looking north towards Longs Peak, May 2003. The Ooh La La Extra Credit Route follows the windswept ridgeline in the lower-left corner of the photo.

From the summit of Mt Audobon, looking north towards Longs Peak, May 2003. The Ooh La La Extra Credit Route follows the windswept ridgeline in the lower-left corner of the photo.

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