Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Malemute Pk  -  13,348 feet
Date Posted:  05/19/2015
Modified:  05/24/2015
Date Climbed:   05/16/2015
Author:  Grimpeur
 April sun brings May Blizzards   

Malamute Peak
~3,000 ft, < 6 miles RT
May 16, 2015

Well some days you get what you came for, and other days you get what you can take, Malamute happened to be the latter. Still, it turned out to be a worthy alternative. I'd been on a mission this week to finish the Elks and was getting pretty close having finished Snowmass only a day prior leaving just Castle and Conundrum left. Ironically it was the two "easiest" in the range by route difficulty that would evade me today.



I left the car from the makeshift parking lot at the foot bridge crossing Castle creek around 10,300 at about 4:45 and was able to start skinning almost immediately. It feels like the the snow pack is melting pretty evenly up there, with only a few minor dry spots on the switchbacks that lead into Montezuma basin. They have been getting a lot of snow throughout the week though so this may even be a little more continuous now. However it may be, don't rely fully on my snow assessments, or anyone else's, as they can change hour by hour this time of year.

Near 6:00-6:30 I was standing at the road's end at 12,800 staring at the route ahead. Up until this point I had felt pretty confident in the avalanche conditions but looking ahead had me concerned. Maybe thirty minutes prior I had crossed a minor wind slab (maybe 10x10 ft and 3-5 in. thick), and got some pretty nice propagation, probably Q1 shear, on a south aspect. Look across the valley to the north aspects I could see some pretty recent slides and even a few big crowns-it was looking more like mid-winter snow pack and avalanche activity on the north facing stuff still. Simply put, my avalanche sense was tingling and had me pretty nervous to continue on as the route after the road turns south and starts to cross some pretty big, north facing terrain, plus the weather wasn't all that inspiring either. All things considered, I probably could have continued on and been fine, but it just didn't seem worth it to me today, and I had no partner to back me up. So, seeing that Castle/Conundrum were off the menu, I began looking around; I was already up here, what's still good to go?

The face leading up to the Malamute ridge

Looking up valley towards Conundrum

Looking up the ridge at Malamute Peak

After looking around and consulting the map, it looked like Malamute Peak was the plan, not a bad alternative. From the road's end at 12,800 it was only 500ish ft to the summit and less than a mile, with some pretty cool climbing and ridge line in between. It was maybe a few mellow class 3 spots and maybe firm snow up to 50 degrees to reach the ridge, then nothing over class 2 on the ridge top if you wanted. Within the hour I was up top and hurrying down as some not so friendly looking clouds had already engulfed Castle's summit. I had dropped my skis where I gained the ridge at maybe 13,100, but in hindsight I probably could have taken a steep chute off the summit (I leave that for a better skier).

Looking back down the ridge

Malamute Peak summit

The ski down was involved for a brief part right off the ridge, but cruiser once back at the road near 12,800 and after no more than 30 minutes I was back at the car, by 10:00 am no less. Still turned out to be a successful morning, and maybe sometimes it's good to not always get what you wanted the first time; makes it better the next time.

Beginning the ski descent from the ridge

Mt. Columbia
~4200 ft, 12 miles
May 17, 2015

3:30 am, too early, I think I'll hit snooze... 4:00 am, maybe if I stare at the roof of my car long enough I'll remember why I wanted to climb today. Yes, now I remember, if I don't climb today I'm just gonna sit in my car and watch it rain while I complain of how bored I am... fantastic. I'm definitely summitting with this attitude.

I just really wasn't feeling it this morning, I was tired still from Malamute the day before, and Snowmass Mtn. the day before that, it had stormed all night, and man was that wind howling through the valley. Still, something pushed me to get out of the sleeping bag and gear up, sometimes you've just got to try. Then, something quite fortuitous happened. Just as I was putting my pack on, a head lamp came bobbing up the road in the dark, just one, curious.
Me: "Morning, what are you going for today?"
Man: "I was hoping for skiing the west face of Columbia."
Me: "Oh, cool. Want a partner?"
Man: "Um... Ya, what the hell, let's go."
Me: "Cool, I'm Austen."
Man: "Lance, nice to meet you."

Apparently that's what I was missing when I woke up, a partner. Today might happen.

Lance leading the way near treeline

Motivation was back. The skin to treeline became almost pleasant following the broken/hidden trail through the snow patches and tree-well mogle field. The weather also no longer seemed such a menace and I even found myself whooping each time a big gust would hit. It was just nice to have some back-up again.

So, the climb. It was almost full on winter up there, and I'm sure it's still storming up there as I write this. Above tree line the snow was deep, but very hard packed in most spots, showing that deep-blue icy appearance in the bare spots, and soft, wind blown snow drifts in other places. We skinned right up to the base of the west face, almost directly below the summit, at about 12,100 and donned crampons and axes. Even with the poor weather/visibility that we had (less than 1/8 mile at times) route finding wasn't critical. Really if we had a close call it was down in the trees; don't follow North Cottonwood creek to long or you'll miss the right drainage. If you cross a major creek running north-south (the horn fork) after about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, you've gone too far. After treeline, continue up the basin to about 12,000 where there should be a large ridge/plateau feature to the east, skin up onto this. From there, the west face's broad couloirs and upper ridges should be visible. I believe all of this route is described in Lou Dawson's guide book.


looking back down the west face

It took us maybe 3 hours to climb one of the center couloirs from the base to the summit, having summitted about 12:00 even. For us the snow was pretty firm and with only crampons we usually only punched in to about shin height at the deepest and at best stayed right on the surface where it was icier. After the couloir, the summit ridge was cake, maybe 100 yds of firm wind drift and only 100 ft of vertical to gain. If I had any tips, it would be to not begin climbing the west face too soon, as it can be deceiving as to where the summit is (at least in the weather we had), that and the wind on the ridge can be pretty intense.


Lance topping out the summit ridge


After maybe 15 minutes hanging out on the summit getting blasted with wind and enjoying about a full 100 ft of visibility, we began the descent. For the first time this week, we were able to ski directly from the summit. Off the summit the flat light was pretty intense, but between gusts I was able to discern a line between the rocks to gain the couloir from the ridge. Once in the couloir, the angle held about 35-38 degrees for the bulk of the ski, about 1,500 ft, being a little steeper right off the ridge top, and easing out the last 200-300 ft in the apron. Probably not a great winter face to try unless conditions are really stable. I wish I could have skied it a little better, but I'm only 2 years into skiing and it was pretty icy the whole way down with only brief patches of wind drift throughout. Still, it was a blast and way better than walking down. With a little bit of grass here and there, we were able to ski to within a quarter mile of the trailhead, though I'm sure the trees are melting fast. Even with full cloud coverage and lots of new snow, the snow from about 11,000 was all thick mashed potato consistency.


Harvard shows herself for a moment

If my writing hasn't bored you enough, here's a short, hastily made edit from the ski. Not the best skiing, but might be good inspiration - can't be too crazy if I can do it, enjoy.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

 Comments or Questions

Great trip reports are flooding in
05/19/2015 16:49
Image 4 and 5 are making me drool. Thanks for posting


05/19/2015 17:18
Mike, is right. Keep this shit coming.


A+ line
05/20/2015 08:32
I saw that line when I climbed it in the summer but didnt know if there would be good snow in the winter, guess I should head to that neck of the woods soon!


05/24/2015 12:39
Evaluating conditions, then adapting, is what mountaineering is all about.


05/26/2015 11:11
Thanks for posting.

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