Malamute Peak (13,348ft)
After having seen the incredible spires that line Malamute on three or four occasions skiing in the Cathedral Lake area of the Elk Mountains and having had some discussions with my friend Adam Moszynski over the last two seasons we elected to give the summit a go on Tuesday the 7th. Adam has done a bit of recon on the peak in the past and having a very similar approach as previously skied lines on Cathedral Peak, a good freeze thaw, nice breezy conditions keeping the snow cool, we were pretty confident we would reach the summit.
Malamute is a unique peak because it’s often dwarfed by bigger surrounding peaks like Cathedral or Castle Peak. It’s east facing couloirs are also well hidden from view when approaching using the Cathedral Lake summer trail, with just one or two spires being visible, thus the peak doesn’t necessarily attract a lot of traffic in the summer or winter. However, the series of spire based couloirs that encompass the peak, which itself is a tall tower, and the backdrop provided by Castle, Cathedral, Star and other bigger peaks, makes this line extremely picturesque.
With temperatures being cold and having great breezy weather to help keep our snowpack cool, we were really happy to leave the truck in the early morning sunshine on Tuesday morning. Climbing in the dark is always an ambitious task, often a little creepy with limited sight, and it’s truly great to be able to have an entire approach in the daylight. We took full advantage of the views. Dreaming of our line as we climbed closer to the peak.
With the weather and time on our side we gradually fell into a moderate pace ascending from the valley to the base of Malamute in about 3 hours. It was nice to not feel rushed on this day, with the snow still being firm when we began prepping for the summit. Only a few transitions between skinning and climbing was necessary lower in the valley and this certainly aided in our calmness before the climb.
A soft, wintery snow allowed us to skin up to the base of the narrow couloir in the photo above. This saved us a lot of time and energy on our approach. The couloir, however was too steep to skin, well shaded with harder snow and it was time to transition.
Adam took the lead, kicking steps after I put in the skin track. The good dynamic allowed both of us to conserve our energy on the climb.
I followed behind and Adam was able to look back and snap a few incredible photographs as I reached the top of the couloir.
At the the top of the couloir we had several options to the summit. A steep ramp sat above us, an obvious path, or swing out to the climbers left to ascend the ridge. We opted on leaving the steep ramp for our descent and headed out left.
Following the ridge line we continued our ascent around the back of the peak in order to continue on snow. We looked for a suitable, skiable line from the summit as we ascended.
With some great relief after the last couple moves, we both made the summit! We were greeted with incredible 360 degree views of Elk Mountains and settled in to enjoy and rest.
There was barely enough snow to make a ski descent from the summit, but with a little rock to snow to rock to skree stepping we were able to make a successful ski from the top.
Once situated above the ridge and steep ramp of snow we opted not to climb on our ascent, we settled in. With an incredible vista beneath and in front of us, we were stoked to finally get to ski within the spires. Adam dropped first.
Oh what a day! These mountains will never disappoint. For us, today was the demonstration that the best turns don’t always exist on the highest peaks, in the most exotic, far away places. That maybe if you venture just a little bit farther you might find a line that takes you away. And you’ll all but forget where you really are.