Outdoors & Recreation

The Chugach Mountains

Written by
Kierre Childers

While not as iconic as its counterparts farther north, the Chugach Mountains offer more than a dozen peaks above the 10,000 feet mark and are home to approximately one third of Alaska’s glaciers. Measured base to summit, the range is Alaska’s second highest coastal range after the St. Elias Mountains to the east. 

The range’s heavy glaciation is due in large part to its elevation and location, wrapped around the northern Gulf of Alaska. Hugging roughly 250 miles of coastline from Turnagain Arm on the west to the Tana River on the east, the range sprawls north to the Matanuska and Chitina Rivers. Its location also plays a part in its constant evolution. Water erosion and weathering wear away at the peaks from above, while below, the Pacific plate buckles under and continues to shift the North American plate. Most notably, the plates caused the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake which resulted in the mountains subsiding over two feet.

Water erosion and weathering wear away at the peaks from above, while below, the Pacific plate buckles under and continues to shift the North American plate. Most notably, the plates caused the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake which resulted in the mountains subsiding over two feet.

The Chugach Mountains are often divided into three sub-regions: western, central and eastern. The western, and most accessible area within the range, can be accessed via Chugach State Park including trailheads at Eklutna Lake, Hillside, Turnagain Arm and Girdwood. The central region is home to the range’s highest peaks, including Mount Marcus Baker, the only peak in the range above 13,000 feet. The eastern, and least accessible region, is home to North America’s largest and longest glacier, the Bering Glacier.

Early Expeditions within the Chugach Range

The central region of the Chugach Mountains has been enticing climbers for decades. Mount Marcus Baker (13,176’) was first summited in 1938 by mountaineer and cartographer Bradford Washburn. Washburn recounts the expedition of the peak (originally called Mount St. Agnes) in the American Alpine Journal (1939). The difficulty in summiting Mount Marcus Baker is not that it is a particularly technical climb, but that it is practically inaccessible. In addition, the weather can be an absolute nightmare. After nearly a month of slogging, Washburn’s group finally made the summit only to be greeted by a dense fog.

The second highest peak in the range, Mount Thor (12,251’), is named in conjunction with the Norse theme of nearby mountains, Mount Fafnir and Mount Valhalla. Roughly 30 years passed between Mount Marcus Baker’s first expedition and the first summit of Mount Thor. Accessed via the Columbia Glacier, John Vincent Hoeman and his expedition trekked through heavy snowfall and cold wind to make the summit.

In similar fashion, an early expedition of Mount Witherspoon (12,012’) found the weather to be the biggest impediment. In 1955, the group, led by Robert West, staged themselves on the Columbia Glacier in hopes of exploring some of the range’s unsummited peaks. Anticipating that the weather might hamper their return air travel, the group planned a 75-mile ‘escape route’ in which they could walk from the glacier back to Valdez. The team managed to summit the south peak, only to be greeted by fog and poor weather. To this day, the summit proper remains elusive. 

Continue east along the range towards Valdez and you’ll end up in Prince William Sound. The area’s distinct fjords are a result of glaciers found in the Chugach Mountains and the region is home to Alaska’s largest concentration of tidewater, calving glaciers. The largest glacier in the sound, Columbia Glacier, is one of the most quickly changing glaciers in the world. 

Columbia Glacier was first surveyed in 1794 by a group of British explorers. Until 1980, the glacier remained virtually unchanged because of the stability of its moraine—an accumulation of sediment, rock, and other debris deposited by the glacier. Prior to 1980, the Columbia’s moraine acted almost like a dam, preventing ice from moving beyond the nose of the glacier and holding the sea at bay. When the glacier retreated off the moraine, sometime around 1980, it lost a critical source of stability. The shift has contributed to the increased retreat of the landmark. 

On all accounts, the Chugach Mountains are underrated and underexplored. Peaks still remain untackled and in some instances have yet to be named. The juxtaposition of its proximity to Anchorage but blatant inaccessibility, make it the epitome of Alaska mountaineering. So close, but so far away. 

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The Chugach Mountains

Outdoors & Recreation

Author

Kierre Childers

Kierre Childers is an outdoor enthusiast based outside Denali National Park. She has been calling Alaska home since 2015 and has a soft spot for Willow, where she spent her first summer volunteering as a trail crew member for Nancy Lake State Recreation Area. She loves learning about the Last Frontier from its history, to its people, to its flora and fauna.

Author

Rob Surrency

Rob Surrency is an outdoor photographer with a design and mental health advocacy background. He is currently based in San Francisco and is a frequent Alaska adventurer. The state's vast landscape, endless beauty, and rich history keep calling him back.

While not as iconic as its counterparts farther north, the Chugach Mountains offer more than a dozen peaks above the 10,000 feet mark and are home to approximately one third of Alaska’s glaciers. Measured base to summit, the range is Alaska’s second highest coastal range after the St. Elias Mountains to the east. 

The range’s heavy glaciation is due in large part to its elevation and location, wrapped around the northern Gulf of Alaska. Hugging roughly 250 miles of coastline from Turnagain Arm on the west to the Tana River on the east, the range sprawls north to the Matanuska and Chitina Rivers. Its location also plays a part in its constant evolution. Water erosion and weathering wear away at the peaks from above, while below, the Pacific plate buckles under and continues to shift the North American plate. Most notably, the plates caused the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake which resulted in the mountains subsiding over two feet.

Water erosion and weathering wear away at the peaks from above, while below, the Pacific plate buckles under and continues to shift the North American plate. Most notably, the plates caused the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake which resulted in the mountains subsiding over two feet.

The Chugach Mountains are often divided into three sub-regions: western, central and eastern. The western, and most accessible area within the range, can be accessed via Chugach State Park including trailheads at Eklutna Lake, Hillside, Turnagain Arm and Girdwood. The central region is home to the range’s highest peaks, including Mount Marcus Baker, the only peak in the range above 13,000 feet. The eastern, and least accessible region, is home to North America’s largest and longest glacier, the Bering Glacier.

Early Expeditions within the Chugach Range

The central region of the Chugach Mountains has been enticing climbers for decades. Mount Marcus Baker (13,176’) was first summited in 1938 by mountaineer and cartographer Bradford Washburn. Washburn recounts the expedition of the peak (originally called Mount St. Agnes) in the American Alpine Journal (1939). The difficulty in summiting Mount Marcus Baker is not that it is a particularly technical climb, but that it is practically inaccessible. In addition, the weather can be an absolute nightmare. After nearly a month of slogging, Washburn’s group finally made the summit only to be greeted by a dense fog.

The second highest peak in the range, Mount Thor (12,251’), is named in conjunction with the Norse theme of nearby mountains, Mount Fafnir and Mount Valhalla. Roughly 30 years passed between Mount Marcus Baker’s first expedition and the first summit of Mount Thor. Accessed via the Columbia Glacier, John Vincent Hoeman and his expedition trekked through heavy snowfall and cold wind to make the summit.

In similar fashion, an early expedition of Mount Witherspoon (12,012’) found the weather to be the biggest impediment. In 1955, the group, led by Robert West, staged themselves on the Columbia Glacier in hopes of exploring some of the range’s unsummited peaks. Anticipating that the weather might hamper their return air travel, the group planned a 75-mile ‘escape route’ in which they could walk from the glacier back to Valdez. The team managed to summit the south peak, only to be greeted by fog and poor weather. To this day, the summit proper remains elusive. 

Continue east along the range towards Valdez and you’ll end up in Prince William Sound. The area’s distinct fjords are a result of glaciers found in the Chugach Mountains and the region is home to Alaska’s largest concentration of tidewater, calving glaciers. The largest glacier in the sound, Columbia Glacier, is one of the most quickly changing glaciers in the world. 

Columbia Glacier was first surveyed in 1794 by a group of British explorers. Until 1980, the glacier remained virtually unchanged because of the stability of its moraine—an accumulation of sediment, rock, and other debris deposited by the glacier. Prior to 1980, the Columbia’s moraine acted almost like a dam, preventing ice from moving beyond the nose of the glacier and holding the sea at bay. When the glacier retreated off the moraine, sometime around 1980, it lost a critical source of stability. The shift has contributed to the increased retreat of the landmark. 

On all accounts, the Chugach Mountains are underrated and underexplored. Peaks still remain untackled and in some instances have yet to be named. The juxtaposition of its proximity to Anchorage but blatant inaccessibility, make it the epitome of Alaska mountaineering. So close, but so far away. 

No items found.

Author

Kierre Childers

Author

Rob Surrency

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