Anchorage Bowl Climbs
Climbs in the Anchorage Bowl are located in the Chugach Mountains just east of Anchorage. Access is from the Glen Alps parking area and an annual parking permit or daily fee is required. From the Seward Highway, take O'Malley Road east up the hill, towards the mountains for those without a sense of direction or compass for about 4-miles. Turn right at Hillside Drive and go about a mile to Upper Huffman. There is a Chugach State Park sign here too. Turn left on Upper Huffman and go up the hill for about three-quarters of a mile till reaching Toilsome Hill Drive on the right. State road maintenance ends here so the road can be very slick and icy on this steep narrow twisty road. Coming back down can produce white knuckle on the steering wheel syndrome. Drive till the Glenn Alps Parking Area is found on the left. This is a high vandalism and theft area so do not leave anything of value in plain sight in your vehicle.
During the early season or low snow years and even when there is a good frozen crust, bikes can be used to access Ptarmigan Peak. Skis are almost mandatory to access the other areas and once you posthole coming back in the afternoon sunshine you will agree. All climbs in this area are for experts only with skills on mixed alpine terrain and good avalanche assessment a must.
Ptarmigan Peak: A true mixed climbers paradise with many turned tails and run, to include accidents. Hike, bike or ski roughly 5-miles along Powerline Pass Trail to the base of Ptarmigan Peak Couloir. All of these routes start from the North Couloir and use natural gear. There is a fixed anchor on Hookers and a few pins are found here and there, and one completely bolted route. These climbs are one area that the "M" grade is being used. Beware of extreme high avalanche danger.
The list of climbs are listed in relationship to Hookers because Hookers is the most obvious climb in the area and can actually been seen from certain parts of Anchorage when it is frozen thick.
- Ski Tracks, grade 5, 500': The first climb reached in Ptarmigan Couloir at a little cleft in the rock about half way up the col to Hookers that can be seen as two thin lines up the face with the left track the most obvious and climbed. This climb can be moderate ice or a stiff bag-o-mixed which seems to be the norm the last few years. Both Tracks have the same start on a classic mixed pitch which can be total rock, then decide to scratch your way up the left or right track on seams of ice and snow up the face. You can climb it all the way to the summit if you dare.
- ??, grade 6, 1500': A route has been attempted from the base of the col to connect to the right Ski Track via Half Track and climb directly to the summit February 2003. Look for a weakness climbers left in the rock buttress at the start of the col. Primarly scratching on all rock. Bring plenty of pins with Aliens and several large cams or hexes and, thick 70m half ropes. There is a very tiny ledge to bivy, rest or retreat from after 3 pitches, about 1 pitch short of reaching easier ground directly to Half Tracks. Above the ledge is a guess but looks like it will go to the large and hard to meet Half Tracks about a pitch right of Right Ski Tracks. If completed, this route would be around 1500' of stiff mixed and could be the stiffest route on Ptarmigan mostly due to its length and objective hazards.
- Only Hookers Gets the Blues, grade 5+/6- 350': Located about half-way up the couloir at the dogleg. The first pitch is a mixed affair to a fixed anchor on the right of the upper ice pitch either by traversing left from the gear ledge or by going left in the Col to a direct start, which will lessen the overall length and grade. The upper pitch can be very stiff but protectable or easier with no protection, depending on the amount of ice. This climb has been dry tool ascended in summer on wet rock.
- Caught With A Youngin, Grade M8, 350': From the fixed anchor on Hookers to the right of the upper ice pitch, climb the over-hung iced-up crack off to the right on 5.12 rock. All natural gear and a #3.5 Camamlot a must. I know of only one complete free ascent of this route and once on it you will know why this is a world class mixed route.
- ???, grade M7, 200': Located about 100' right of Hookers, this new line was established Janurary 2003 during a flash freeze after a warm rain. The name escapes me but is Biblical. It is completely bolted on thin ice with yet another roof to mount, currently rated at M7. From the gear stash ledge on the right side of the Col, climb straight up the face trending right. Between the first ascent and the prospect of its second ascent a week later, the ice on this route fell and it might be a rare year to see ice there again. Winter 2004 found the runnel of ice had moved several feet off to the side of the bolts. There doesn't look like much in the way of protection unless the ice freezes next to the bolts.
- Mixed Inhibition, grade M7, 350': Three hundred feet below Hookers, climb an iced up crack to a roof. The ledge under the roof has room for only one foot at a time. Climb the roof and then a dihedral. All natural gear.
- Desperate and Dateless, grade M8+, 375': Also down couloir from Hookers, classic mixed climbing to a mossy ledge then totaly horrendous mixed climbing on very bad rock over a roof then an offwidth. At this time and to my knowledge, has not be climbed free.
- There are at least 5 more named mixed nasties in this area but none of them I have attempted along with the prospect of several more new lines.
- Instead of turning right into Ptarmigan Couloir from Powerline Pass trail, pass by the couloir to where the trail and the rock buttress of Ptarmigan Peak are at their closest point to each other. Look high up on the buttress for a gully of snow or ice. Scratch your way up thin-iced mixed terrain to this gully which will take you to the main ridge; climbers left of the main north face couloir you just passed by.
- Heros for a Day, grade 2, 300': A rock, ice and snow climb in a gully between Ptarmigan Peak and Flaketop just to the left of the Ptarmigan Pass trail. OK, its not real hard and most climbers who see it would pass by not giving it a second look, not to mention a thought to climb but after getting completely shut down on Ptarmigan mixed action, we felt we had to be heros, at least for a day.
The Wedge: Better known for summer rock climbing, this area possess superb mixed terrain climbing. The routes resemble Scottish mixed affairs but under certain spring conditions a good amount of ice can be found. It is long for a day trip and the area is known for high winds with the arrival of low pressure systems into the Anchorage Bowl. Take Powerline Pass Trail for roughly 2-miles and access the trail to Ship Lake and Pass. After another 2-miles a scree slope with a small lake is reached under two leering rock outcroppings. Ascend the scree trending left to a small gully behind the rock tower. Several pitches of thin scratching in a pseudo chimney to a chockstone, above this head left up a 5.9 crack. The route takes good rock gear and it is probable you will find a few fixed pieces to include bolts in this area. There are several more hard mixed-terrain climbs in this area but this is the standard. Rap the route or walk and descend above to Ship Lake Pass.
On the far left of the Wedge, there is an excellent snow gully that will morph into outstanding neve’ in the spring.
O'Malley Peak Area: Always known for the big cicle above Willawaw Lakes, the north face of O'Malley is now seeing lots-o-action both winter and summer. The standard approach is from Powerline Pass, go up and over the football field and down the scree gully to the headwaters of Campbell Creek at Willawaw Lakes. There is an easier approach but it is too difficult to discribe. Camping back here can be an adventure with a name like Willawaw.
- Football Follies, grade 2, 400': A gully climb located at the junction of the football field and O'Malley peak. Best done in the spring once the snow has morphed into perfect neve'. Once reaching the football field, stay right heading straight for the obvious snow filled gully. Climb the gully till reaching the ridge below the summit. Descend the ridge or the gully, not wise to descend the snow slope on the south face of O'Malley.
- North Face of O'Malley Peak, grade 5, 800': A true big league mixed terrain alpine climb. Locate the super gash filled with snow that splits the north face. Traverse Black Lake from the right side till locating a thin ice first pitch that takes lots-o-gear but gets scarce from there. From the thin ice crack first pitch, make your way for the super gash. Climb the gash till exiting which is the last crux. Not extremely hard and has been soloed but the length and commitent it takes warrants the grade 5.
- There are several other established climbs on the North Face of O'Malley all hard, some winter mixed affairs and others done in summer waiting for a winter ascent. And I am sure there is at least one line in waiting up this mammoth wall far climbers right that connects seems of ice with hard bag-o-mixed rock.
- O'Malley Waterfall, grade 3, 450': A massive cicle in an alpine setting located at the far end of Willawaw Valley. Several starts which can make this cicle longer and harder or shorter and easier. Starting far right on thin ice is the hardest but requires a 70m rope to reach a beautiful splitter crack for an anchor. And of course starting on the far left on 60 degree ice passes the intitial ice curtain in which a 60m rope reaches the fixed piton anchor and down grades this cicle to a grade 2. There is also a fixed pin anchor at the top now. This cicle can be climbed through May and even the first week of June for those hardcore ice slayers. Ropes of 70m are a good idea for this cicle.
- Mac'Malley, grade 5+, 300': The original climb starts with the short shoulder width pillar of ice at the base of O'Malley Waterfall but its a short shift pitch. From the top of the pillar, head left across the low angle ice slope to a thin runnel of ice. Climb this runnel to an overhung fist size crack until able to traverse right along a snow ledge until meeting with the main O'Malley Waterfall at its mid-height fixed anchor. The use 70m or even longer half-ropes is recommended, even mandatory. You can by-pass the initial small pillar by climbing the easy snow ramp to the thin smear of ice but what fun would that be! You've been warned!! Bring #1 Knifeblades, #6 Bugaboos, small sized nuts and a couple mid-sized Aliens with plenty of slings.
South Suicide: Seen in the southern sky from Anchorage, these two identical giants look very inspiring and when looking head on, very intimidating to the eye.
- Grade 3: Start to the right or south of the Rabbit Lake and look for a 2 pitch snow slope that points to a gully of ice above a semi cirque on the left side of the face. While this gully is not technically hard, the exposure and minimul gear on 1" thick ice has high pucker value. Above this it is a mixed affair up 4th class snow and ice covered rock until reaching the ridge, just climbers right of the summit cone. This is the only route I have done on either peak but there are more which would also be stiffer. I hear of a moderate line up the face of South Suicide.
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