(G & M: #353)
Malamute Peak is a short, stiff Class 2 hike on a lot of boulder rubble from the road that leads into the basin below Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak. A 4WD vehicle with good clearance can eliminate a lot of road walking to access this peak. Malemute can also be climbed from Cathedral Lake in a hike that will cover under ten miles round trip.
There seems to be a discrepancy regarding the spelling of this peak. The revised USGS map has "Malamute" while FSTopo 2016 has "Malemute." According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, malemute is the less common spelling of malamute, a reference to a type of sled dog. Thus, you may see both spellings depending on where you look. In the history of the town of Ashcroft, there use to be a dog-kennel there that raised malamutes & huskies. These dogs originally were used for the filming of the old TV show, "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon" which was largely filmed around Ashcroft and aired from 1955 to 1958 in black & white. The lead dog for his sled was named "King" and was a malamute. The kennel remained there for many years following the ending of the show. As a teenager, I recall visiting the kennel in the later 1960's and taking a tour. In that tour the owners would proudly point out dogs that were descendants of "King."
Malamute Peak South Face Route
Short Day // A Wee Little Climb
RT From Castle Ck./Castle Pk.:
From the busy traffic circle on the west side of Aspen on SH82 and just east of the airport business center, take the exit for the Castle Creek Road (CR15) and drive a long 11 miles to the townsite of Ashcroft. Measure from the Toklat Lodge and drive another 2.0 miles south to an intersection at these coordinates: N 39° 01' 45.17" W 106° 48' 28.26". (Or from the Pine Creek Cookhouse and the Ashcroft Ski Touring Center located on the west side of the highway it's another .6 mile). There is a kiosk sign here and parking for a number of vehicles on the west side of the road. If in a passenger vehicle with lower clearance, you may want to park here, but some crossover types may still proceed to make a right turn and head SW on FR 102, aka: the Pearl Pass Road. (ON GE this is labelled CR 15D). At the aforementioned intersection, there is a paved road that continues due south and goes all the way to a mine/quarry on the northern flank of Star Peak. That road does not show on the unrevised USGS quad and other maps as well like FSTopo 2016. You do not want that road anyhow for the Castle Creek TH.
Once you've turned onto FR 102, drive SW for about 1.4 mile to a low water crossing of Castle Creek. In early runoff season, fording here could be problematic. Roach points out that about a half mile in on this road, it steepens and becomes "dramatically rougher." His more recent report validates what we also found in 1993. There is also a footbridge for hikers. It's been there at least since 1980. There are some at-large campsites along the way. If you have a higher clearance vehicle and don't mind the rougher road, continue to the stream crossing. This is what we are identifying as the trailhead. See coordinates above. On the other side of the creek and a little farther along are more campsites. Beyond this point, we recommend 4WD with good clearance if you want to drive farther. With an adequate 4WD, the road may be driven all the way up into the basin north of Castle Peak at 12,775 ft. In prior years, we have made it up here in both a Jeep Cherokee and a Toyota T-100. It is rough and slow going and downed trees that have not been cleared off may stymie progress. If you make it as far as the Pearl Pass junction, the road to Pearl Pass takes off to the left and begins a steep climb through the trees. The road is very rocky and is a challenge to drive. (See photo). Stream runoff on the road has washed away most dirt leaving only rocks to drive on. Once out of the trees, the difficulty moderates some for a while. There is room at the intersection for Pearl Pass and the Castle/Conundrum Basin for about two or three vehicles to park.
If continuing to drive north into the basin north of Castle, the last time we were on this road (2003), the roughest section came shortly after the Pearl Pass turnoff. It was not too difficult, but the remaining drive will be slow because the road remains rocky and rough. We were in a Toyota T-100 at the time.
There are no National Forest campgrounds along the road to Ashcroft. As mentioned before, there are a few at-large primitive sites along FR102 both before & after crossing Castle Creek. There may also be usable sites back near Ashcroft and around the turnoff for the Taylor Pass road. Also, on the road up to the Cathdral Lake TH, there are a couple of primitive sites. There is a lot of private property all along CR15. Be careful where you try to camp. As with most areas in the summer, weekend use is heavy and unoccupied camp spots difficult to locate.
Click thumbnail to view full-size photo + caption
Year Climbed: 2003
This route description will assume the reader does not have 4WD with higher clearance and will use the initial crossing of Castle Creek as the trailhead. From that TH, walk SW up the road for 1.8 miles to the intersection where the Pearl pass Road turns off. Continue north on the road that leads into the basin below Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak. Hike an additional 1.8 miles to a curve in the road at 12,570 ft. Coordinates are: N 39° 01' 07.87 W 106° 50' 53.04". This is where you will depart the main road. From here, you can attempt to follow what's left of the old road that goes up to the Montezuma Mine (which will offer little if any advantage), or head up north toward the first saddle west of the summit. The next 400 feet of gain will be on mostly boulder talus and very loose rocks. It's a tedious ascent but thankfully short. Gain the west ridge at the saddle mentioned before, then turn right to follow the ridge to the summit. Things will remain a little interesting as you work your way on up. There will be plenty more rock-hopping and a few places to do a little scrambling (Class 2+) before arriving at the summit. Along the way, the ridge narrows considerably with drop-offs on either side to make this short ascent a little more dramatic. Once you arrive at the summit, breathe a sigh of relief that this peak is not as difficult as it appears from a distance. The summit offers a tremendous view of Cathedral Lake and Cathedral Peak. The view looking back at Castle and Conundrum are equally impressive and the amount of broken, loose rock in this terrain will amaze you. For the descent, return as you came.
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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"You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it." --Margaret Thatcher