American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Chugach Mountains, Winter Traverse of the Range; Mt. Marcus Baker, South Ridge-Knik Variation

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 2004

Winter traverse of the range; Mt. Marcus Baker, South Ridge-Knik variation. During the summer of 2003 we started talking about a winter traverse of the Chugach Range, from Prince William Sound to the road system. If we encountered favorable conditions, an ascent of Mt. Marcus Baker would be attempted. We laid plans for a winter trip and reconvened in Talkeetna on January 21, 2004.

At noon on January 25 we beached in a small rocky cove about one-half mile from the face of the Harvard Glacier, on the western side of the fjord. After moving our gear above the high-tide mark, we started bushwhacking and found ourselves on the glacier in only three hours. On day two we continued beyond our previous days cache and moved camp all the way to 1,700' on the direct south ridge. Negotiating the lower glacier in the winter proved easier than expected, since many of the slots were filled with water and frozen. High pressure remained, and the first five days saw some of the coldest temperatures of the trip, dropping to -20°F. We established camp three at 4,400' on the 28th, and the climbing began. Over the next two days we negotiated a beautiful ridge, never terribly exposed, and made camp four at 5,900'.

Spectacular ridge climbing connected this camp and the next, at 6,500', which we moved into on February 4, as it snowed. This was a decision point. The most direct line to the top of Marcus Baker continued up the south ridge over point 8,565' (which we dubbed “The Tooth”) and then over a large snow dome at 10,300', en route to the 13,176' summit. Unfortunately, with the new snow we felt that the hazards were too high to continue ridge climbing. We left the ridge and decided to explore the upper Radcliffe Glacier and see if we could negotiate the icefalls and connect with the Knik Glacier.

We salvaged a half a day on the 6th, when the sun came out around 11 a.m., and wallowed down and out onto the Radcliffe. With the weather so unstable, we made a cache only two miles from camp five in hopes of reusing our trail, and were able to move and build camp six in a storm. As we sat out the 8th we studied the maps until our eyes hurt. Only 1.8 miles of broken glacier to go to the smoothness of the Knik and a known route up and down. One more day of good weather, and we would know if our route would go. We confirmed the route on the 9th, and we returned to camp in high spirits, knowing we could get to the Knik.

Following a storm day, more trail-breaking saw us on the Knik Glacier on February 10. For the first time we were able to call our families, and we requested a resupply so that we could wait for a summit bid. (A note about communication: We had a cell phone that did not connect to the local service, and the only call we could place was to an operator at Copper Valley Wireless. These operators were superhelpful in passing along messages. We believe a marine VHF would have worked well.) On the 12th we headed up with all remaining food. At 10,200' we built a bomber snow cave in a giant moat that became home for the next 60 hours. The 15th was worth the wait, calm and clear, one of the most spectacular days in the hills either of us has had. We fully enjoyed our climb to the summit and on the way down saw the grub arrive. The route from the water to the Knik at 8,400' was probably new, though the rest has been done many times. Also, we assume that the range has been crossed in winter before, but we never researched it.

On the 16th we descended from high camp all the way to the alder trees. The evening of the 17th found us near the toe of the Knik, sharing a campfire with moose. Mission accomplished mid-afternoon of the 18th at the Hunter Creek Bridge on the Knik River road.

Johnny Söderstrom and Joe Reichert

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