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[TR] Mt. Marcus Baker, Sanctuary Ridge FA.


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Sorry this is a little long winded, but what else am I going to do at work?


On Tuesday May 10th after our second attempt in as many days Gordy Smith and I summated Mt. Marcus Baker via a new route (Sanctuary Ridge). Gordy had come to me a couple of months earlier to see if I was interested in a new route up Mt. Marcus Baker. I was, and after seeing his recon pictures of the route, became convinced that even though this was a rock ridge in a range notable for its horrible quality of rock, this route could be done safely by bypassing areas of poor rock on faces below the ridge. Our trip started just 4 days earlier when we left Seattle on Saturday Morning. The flight to Anchorage was amazing with clear skies the entire way allowing rare glimpses of Mt. Logan, Mt. Fairweather and the perennially socked in Mt. St. Elias. Our approach into Anchorage also had the benefit of giving us a clear view of our objective summit, although we were viewing from the south so we were not able to see our planned route. We had no problems with transportation, bags or picking up of last minute provisions, and arrived in Talkeetna by 5 pm under clear skies. When we walked into our flight service office we were asked to get our stuff together so they could fly us in as soon as possible. We quickly packed and were in the plane 45 minutes later. Approximately 12 hours after leaving Seattle we were sitting on an isolated glacier approximately 80 miles East North East of Anchorage at 7000 ft elevation.

After setting up camp, cooking, and sorting all our gear we took an inventory of all the things we had left in the rental car in our rush to pack. Luck had it that only one of these items (the handle for the shovel) was a potentially critical error, but due to good weather, turned out to be more of an inconvenience rather than a real issue. Other items left behind included nuts, and oatmeal.

The following morning we packed our gear and started skiing east up the glacier to a small col that overlooked the Matanuska Glacier to the East. This col is the base of a rocky ridge that climbs 2000 ft to a glacier that makes up the summit plateau of Mt. Marcus Baker. Realizing that the climbing looked technically difficult and our pack were quite heavy, we decided to stash our gear and recon a route through the crux of the ridge which appeared to be quite close to the bottom. We headed up 50 degree ice on the east side of the ridge for approximately 400 ft and gained the crest of the ridge. From here we made an anchor (consisting of a single nut in a crack) and began scouting the rock above. I climbed just to the left of the ridge crest for about 50 ft only to come to a vertical section of shattered and horribly loose rock. After climbing back down to the anchor I headed up to the right of the anchor in a slight gully on mostly rock with patchy snow. Again after 75 ft I was stopped by very poor rock conditions. My decision to turn around at this point did not stem from the fear of pulling rock down on myself, but more in the total inability to build any sort of a safe anchor in which to retreat from if we were stopped higher up. I had decided that Gordy’s Route was not going to go in its current conditions, at least not by me. We down climbed back to the ridge and sat in the sun mulling our limited options on the steep north side of the peak.

The previous evening upon landing on the glacier we had noticed another potential line in what at first glance appeared to be a giant serac threatened face. We walked up the mellow angled ridge on the north of the col to get a better view of the line and see if it would go. From this angle it now appeared to be a fairly low angled ridge that continued all the way from the basin which our camp was in, to the broad low angled west ridge of Mt. Marcus baker at 10,800 ft. With our spirits a little brighter we skied (skied for me is a relative term, which roughly translates to uncontrolled sliding on slippery sticks followed by face plants powered by the weight of a 35 lb pack) back to camp. We cooked dinner, melted snow for water, and tried to get to sleep early.

The following morning we were up around 6. We left camp by 7 after an hour of melting more snow, getting dressed, applying sunscreen, filling pockets with food, etc. The previous night we had made the decision to try for the summit in a single push from camp. This would limit the loads we had to carry on the lower part of the ridge, but make for a long day. We carried enough to keep us alive over night just in case we did not make it back to camp. This included down jackets, plenty of food, and most importantly a stove for melting more water when we ran out.

We skied directly south from our camp zigzagging up the slope and around crevasses to a point approximately 1000 ft above our camp, and directly below a large ice wall that gained an almost horizontal ridge several hundred feet above us. At this point we took off our skis and donned crampons. I led out and crossed a poorly bridged crevasse and gained the lower section of the ice wall below the horizontal ridge. I crossed over a sub ridge and did a climbing traverse to the right side of the main ridge. From here we continued very close to the crest of the ridge through calf deep snow crossing bridged crevasses on the ridge with little difficulty. After 1200 ft of 30-40 degree snow slogging we reached an open crevasse which we had spotted from camp as being a potential problem. It was still bridged, albeit poorly, and after punching my feet through, gave up walking across and swung my tools over to the higher side, and pulled the rest of my body over. Gordy made a similar move to get across this the only real technical difficulty of the lower ridge. This is also the only place where we placed any protection to protect us from falls. Above this the climbing steepened for 400 feet and became hard ice and neve snow. At 10,800 ft we gained the west ridge of Mt. Marcus Baker.

From this point we walked along the mellow wind blown ridge with amazing views to either side. The ridge was good cramponing over hard snow and ice. Between us and the summit pinnacle lay a sub peak labled on the USGS maps as 12,200 ft. We climbed up this peak on hard ice up to 50 degrees, and reached the top with our altimeters reading 12,000 ft. (Our altimeter read accurately on the summit, which made us believe that the altitude of this peak is inaccurate on the map). From the top of this peak we dropped down about 450 ft to the base of the summit pinnacle. Gordy and I dropped our packs and had a short conversation about how tired we were and the possibility of spending the night out (which would have sucked). After agreeing that we had plenty of food, water, and clothing we continued to the summit. We climbed up and right on hard ice. The ice gradually steepened to about 70 degrees and then suddenly fell back for the final few feet of walking to the summit. At 4 pm we were standing on the summit under clear, but brown hazy skies which limited visibility (we believe a fire near Homer was the reason for most of the haziness).

After taking a few photos we quickly began our descent. We descended by setting tools as anchors and lowering the first and then having the second down climb the ice. After six rope lengths the angle was easy enough to walk facing out and down. Due to the soft snow on the lower ridge we were able to walk face out for much of the ridge which speeded our descent considerably. Still we did not reach our skis until close to dark. After crashing repeatedly down the final 1000ft we reached camp at midnight.

My overall impression of the route is very good. Both Gordy and I believe this is a very viable alternative to the standard Matanuska or Knik Glacier routes. Not only is it shorter, but it is a very enjoyable route. Part of the lower ridge allows close up views of huge hanging glaciers and high rise building size seracs, without the fear that they will fall on you. All of the ridge is protected from serac fall making it a very safe route. The upper ridge allows views of the Chugach range and its Glaciers to the North and College Fjord to the south. All in all a very enjoyable route.


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I have attached a photo with the original intended route. Go get it folks its unclimbed, but you might want to get on it in april. We were in AK for less than a week. We did some hiking outside Anchorage after the climb, but there was not enough time to get anything else done given that the weather bailed the day we flew back to seattle. I now beleive it is very possible to climb biggish stuff in AK in one week from seattle. The key is to watch the weather in Seattle and head up when you see one of the May high pressures building. Fly in get it done and get the hell out before the weather bails. This route could be done in 3 days from seattle if you get the weather right. Fly up Friday all the way to the glacier, Climb Saturday camp to camp, fly out sunday morning and back to seattle. An expensive three days but doable.


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Excellent route... but saying that this route can be done is 3 days from Seattle is pushing it. This mountain is home to some of the worst weather in Alaska. I recently spent a week in an area nouth of Marcus Baker. We had beautiful blue skies but gigantic clouds sat on top of Marcus Baker the entire time. It's like a vortex! Likewise multiple stories about lost tents, lost caches and snowcave tunnels abound. Most parties fly into Marcus Baker and sit around practicing their shoveling for a week and then fly out. Consider yourself lucky!


Abe - the standard routes are the W ridge (accessed from the basin at 8000' on the Knik) and the N ridge (accessed from the Matanuska). The W ridge is supposedly easier and shorter but weather is worse.

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