Why Take This Hike
You don’t have to be a mountaineer to reach the summit of O’Malley Peak—the prominent spire rising from the Front Range above Anchorage—but don’t mistake it for an easy climb. Some of the 5-mile-long trail climbs quite steeply; other parts add very loose gravel to the incline. Still, these conditions don’t make this hike excessively dangerous, just satisfyingly laborious.
Beginning at Glen Alps parking area, it takes some 0.5 miles of hiking—first on Powerline Trail, then down Middle Fork Loop Trail and across Campbell Creek—to begin the climb proper. There, on the shelf above the far side of Campbell Creek, you reach the junction with O’Malley Peak Trail, where you stand below the first steep section.
Without any indecision, the trail climbs from this junction straight to the top of the mountain’s western ridge. Though snow often clogs the upper part of this section well into June, it only takes a quick zigzag around this plug of snow to climb onto the ridge.
From here you descend a very short way down the far side to begin the hike up what locals refer as the “Ballpark.” Easily visible from Anchorage, this 0.5-mile-wide shelf that spreads out below the mountain’s west face makes for some very pleasant and scenic walking, as the trail angles gently up this broad hollow. Along the way you’ll pass many gurgling springs—fine spots to relax and enjoy a cold drink.
Just over 1 mile up the Ballpark, the trail bears right toward the base of the wide, steep scree slope dropping off the mountain’s southwest ridge. If you’re not used to climbing over loose stones and dirt, the climb to the top of this slope may prove a bit unnerving. If you slip, though, you’ll just slide back a few feet. Any real danger occurs from unleashing stones upon those coming up behind you—so if you have hiking partners, climb side by side or out of each other’s fall line.
Once on the summit ridge above, you leave much of the scree behind as you hike the firmer trail that winds up the rocky ridge. You’ll pass over one false summit, which may be a small letdown. But you don’t have much more to climb after that. Less than 500 vertical feet farther up the ridge, you’ll stand on the true summit of O’Malley Peak (5,150 feet), one of twelve 5,000-foot-plus summits in the Front Range.
Most people choose to end their hikes here. Very experienced rock scramblers might want to clamber another 0.75 miles off the backside of the summit and along the very rugged ridge to another 5,000-footer, Hidden Peak. But less experienced hikers should probably think twice about such an undertaking. Without any trail to follow, and much hand-over-hand scrambling, it makes for a far-from-easy traverse. Instead, just relax and enjoy the view of Campbell Creek Valley to the south and the secluded hollow holding Black Lake to the north.
And don’t forget to take a picture of the Anchorage bowl spread out far below you to the west. Looking quite small in relation to the water and mountains beyond it, it will serve as a reminder of just how massive and beautiful Alaska’s nature can be.
(For more, see Walk-About Guide to Alaska, Volume Two by Shawn R. Lyons)