American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Chugach Mountains, Mt. Marcus Baker, Sanctuary Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Mt. Marcus Baker, Sanctuary Ridge. After abandoning our original objective, the northwest ridge of Mt. Marcus Baker (13,176'), because of extremely fractured rock at 8,400', we cast about for an alternative objective. We selected a rib dividing the walls of the amphitheater to the west of the summit of Marcus Baker, safe from the serac fall that threatened the rest of the face. To avoid the difficulty of climbing with an overnight pack, we decided on a single push.

At 7:00 a.m. on May 9 we left camp at just over 7,000' on a south branch of the Marcus Baker Glacier, a little less than three miles west-northwest of the summit of the peak. We skied south, circumventing the lowest rock face (capped with a hanging glacier) to the left, ascending gentle slopes. We left our skis on the glacier above this lowest face and climbed 150' of névé and ice (up to 60 ) to the ridge coming off to climber’s right of a flat-topped projection extending a couple hundred out from the main face. As the ridge steepened, we traversed right onto the face, and up on to the flat-topped projection, which dead-ends in the face proper, at about 8,700 . From here we ascended the broad rib, winding around crevasses and seracs and crossing bergschrunds and crevasses. All were either bridged or narrow enough to lean across and plant tools, then pull across and up to the slope above. Being north-facing and relatively protected from wind, most of this ridge was soft snow. With the exception of two short sections, the entire ridge was less than 40° until the top 300', which became icy and steeper toward the top, cresting at about 60°. We achieved the main west ridge of Marcus Baker at about 10,800'. Following the ridge toward the summit was easy walking on gentle ice and névé slopes, until the rise to the summit of the subpeak labeled 12,207' on the USGS Anchorage B-3 15-minute quadrangle map. Our altimeters, which read accurately on the summit, gave the elevation of this subpeak as 12,000'. The slope leading to this peak was névé, becoming ice as it steepened, with about 600' steeper than 40°, maximum about 50°. It may be possible to avoid the steeper ice by climbing the knife-edge ridge, on the left side of the face, that divides the Marcus Baker and Knik Glaciers. From peak 12,207' it is a gentle 250' descent on névé to the broad saddle between the subpeak and the summit. On the main summit dome we ascended right, hoping for a gentle line to the summit, but found the gentle ice slope broken by steps of up to 70°. One could probably ascend left and climb névé or ice no steeper than 40°.

We descended the route, reaching camp after a 17-hour round-trip. Our total time from Talkeetna, including a reconnaissance day on the northwest ridge, was less than four days, making this a quick, moderate route to the summit. In addition the climbing was enjoyable and safe from objective hazards.

Gordon Smith and Alasdair Turner, Seattle Mountain Rescue

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