Thursday, September 29, 2022

O'Malley Peak Ski - 5.6.2019

Note: updated below the original post to include another evening in our desk jockey spring skiing paradise in April 2022.

On the way home home from the Ramp the other day, we skinned under the impossibly steep north face of O'Malley. Craning our necks back we looked up at the lines snaking thru the face. Exposed and skinny, I made a pact with myself not to touch them. Within a week, I was dreaming about the Lightning Bolt couloir:

I snuck out of work at 4:00 and 30 minutes later was running down the Powerline Pass trail in my ski boots. Although it continues to dump up high, the snow is quickly disappearing on the approaches.

Within an hour and a half the approach across the Ballfield and down the obnoxious scree to Black Lake was done with. Looking up, it was hard to imagine that a continuous line was there.

The apron was surprisingly long, and I was able to skin all the way to the first rock choke. About half the vertical of the face was already done.

At this point I stashed my skins under a rock, put on my ascent plates and climbed towards the choke. I had hoped that the face would be protected from the strong winds that had wrecked me on the ballfield, but no such luck. As the winds pounded the face, constant slough channeled down the chute. Tucking into the overhung rock of the choke was like a cave behind a waterfall. I waited for a break in the deluge and zipped up the choke.

Fortunately, the winds were actually blowing up the face; at the price of a frosty butt I had a free assist up.

Its been forever since I've actually remembered my Verts. Usually preferring to leave them at home in favor of threatening to bring them, wallowing, and wishing I had them. It was nice to have them, the climb flew by.

Less than three and a half hours after leaving work I was tucked behind a rock at the top and transitioning for the ski down. The cyclone had increased to an almost intolerable level, and I was careful to hold onto my backpack and skis as I tried not to get blown into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, I briefly let go of my aluminum crampons and they instantly levitated and disappeared into the abyss. Seems I should stick to heavy steel crampons.

Concerned about concentrating slough volume in the steep and confined terrain, I worked my way slowly down the face. At this point I was beginning to regret not bringing goggles as the wind that had been so helpful on the way up was now busy packing my sunglasses with snow. Ouch.

With the exception of one section of death cookies, the snow was soft - more than one should ask for in the Front Range! Once above the bottom choke, I traversed right and skied around some benches back to my stashed skins.

Then I ripped hot pow to the lake where I sat on my backpack to eat pizza dinner. It reminded me of the last time I sat on my backpack and triggered my InReach. That one was stressful for my poor mom. Wading up the loose scree to the Ballfield went quickly and I was soon coasting back towards the car.

Less than five hours after leaving the parking lot, I was back at Glen Alps and on my way home in my driving boots.

This line was OK; it was fine to ski it once, but definitely won't become a go-to. With foreshortening it looks quite dramatic - but its pretty short - much like the Thin White Line. And, of course, it has a particularly bad beers-to-skulls ratio due to skiing over cliffs. Ptarmigan's S Couloir is probably still my favorite after work coolie.

April 2022 Update with another solo vision question on the O'Malley massif:
One of the many things I love about our dear city is there are just so many mountains and even more lines to ski around here. You feel like you've skied a lot of them, and probably have, and then remember there's one (or 10) right out of town that is still on the list. Little O'Malley was one of those for me - I look at it all the time, everyone talks about how quality it is, and time just flows without me getting around to it. In late April 2022 I finally went to check it out.

Leaving the Glen Alps parking lot was the classic Anchorage spring fever scene: dogs, cross country skiers, hikers, plastic sleds, idling trucks taking in the views - all the northern creatures crawling out of their winter hibernation to bask in the warming sun. I skated out of the parking lot and down a Powerline Pass trail checkered with a winter's worth of reemerging dog poop before surviving the isothermal descent to the bridge.

As I started to climb the gully towards False Peak I stopped to chat with some girls post-holing thru waist deep spring snow in their running shoes. They were getting worked and looked jealously at my skis and said they wanted some. But, snow-filled shoes and drenched pants weren't going to stop them from emerging from their winter hibernation from the mountains.

Once I'd gained the flat wind-swept plain that is the Ballfield I turned right and started to sidehill up old windslabs around the backside of Little O'Malley. As I worked higher I was surprised how much vertical there still was to gain - I guess that's part of what makes this such a great after-work lap! With the snow turning marigold in the rosy 8 PM light I stemmed up chossy rock blocks covered in colorful green lichens to the knife edge summit ridge. On a summer eve a few summers ago we traversed this sharp ridge as an alternate approach to O'Malley - I thought that was sublme.

Soon I was balanced on the little summit roost and peering over the edge into my ski run. Drinking a beer and taking in this impossibly beautiful world, I remembered Alex mentioning being surprised how real of a ski run this was when he descended it under an altered mental state. I could see where he was coming from - I'd have to leave the ground just to get into the line.

My empty stomach felt that one beer as I clicked into my tech bindings and shuffled up the skinny edge to tip my skis into the face. Then I accelerated over the slippery warm snow, and lifted my skis to float over the rocks and tundra guarding the line. The cooked corn snow was soft and hot when I extended my landing gear and it immediately started to stack up into a growing pile of wet slough behind me. Carving towards the choke, I raced to get there before the flowing accumulation behind me crashed into the constriction.

Once past the choke and away from my wet slide I relaxed and enjoyed surfy turns down the smooth soft snow. I was impressed - the top was steeper than Peak 3 and the run was longer - so nice to have so many options around here.

Popping off drifts from a winter of blowing snow, and dodging around stunted trees bent by a lifetime of these winds, my skis took me back to the bridge. Sticking my skins back on the boards, I retraced my tracks to the parking lot thinking about how lucky we are to live in the backcountry skiing paradise where you can work a full day and still get out for a pretty legit tour.

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