Mount Shasta

July 23, 2007

Sometime around August 2006 I became obsessed with Mount Rainier.  I'm not exactly sure at what point or just why this happened.  Ever since growing up in the Midwest and going to school in Boston I've hated snow and cold.  I didn't really get interested in mountains until I moved to California, but even then I didn't consider climbing any mountain that had snow on it.  I had even less interest in skiing.  Climbing California's mountains in the summer was just perfect for me, and although I started climbing in Colorado as well I tried to avoid anything with snow on it (not always possible as witnessed by my August, 2004 trip which happened a week or so after a snowstorm).

Certainly I was very interested in Everest from a while back and had read a lot about it and thought the pictures of it looked exceptionally beautiful.  And I knew about Rainier from a while back as well.  But I never considered climbing these mountains.   But then at some point, probably around when I was researching the hike up Fujisan, I must have looked closely at Rainier, another volcano, and been entranced.  Somehow the idea of starting in a lush green forest in the summer and then climbing into a barren world of rock and ice seemed extremely appealing to me.  I decided I was going to have to learn to climb snow and ice to enjoy a mountain like this.  In the war between my love of mountains and my hatred of snow and cold, the mountains had finally won.  It was a remarkable, sudden, completely unexpected transformation for me.  I had always been controlled by the weather, more than anyone I know, and that was one reason I moved to the Bay Area and then to LA.  Suddenly I became much stronger--rain and cold no longer really bothered me (of course this is LA, and there wasn't much of either in the Winter of 2006--2007!).   I decided if I really wanted to explore mountains to the fullest extent, and I did, then I would have to learn to ski as well.  I told my friend Haiying Huang, who had been trying to get me to try skiing for years, and she was as surprised as I was at my sudden interest.  I wanted to her teach me how to ski, but she was pregnant over last winter and couldn't.  Just as well, as it was a terrible year for snow in California.  I'll wait until this coming Winter.

Mostly I was interested in learning snow climbing, which I knew nothing about.  I figured I'd better learn from someone rather than just reading a book, going out, and getting myself killed (some winters several people die from falls on nearby Mount Baldy, for example).  The easiest thing to do seemed to be to join a guided climb of Rainier by RMI up the shortest route, the Disappointment Cleaver (it would turn out that starting 2007 two other guide services were allowed to guide the DC route as well).  I would learn the skills as part of that.  I still had almost a year to wait, but that seemed fine as a I had a lot of new equipment to buy, and I needed to make sure I was in great shape.  A new REI had opened in Santa Monica, very luckily, a nice 8 mile roundtrip walk from my apartment.  I didn't have classes on Friday and every Friday morning I'd walk there, but a few more items, and walk home.  Over the winter even the Santa Monica store carried winter gear for those going to the San Gabriels or Sierras, and I was able to get most of what I needed.

I kept bicycling over the winter as well, a first for me, and the softshell jacket I bought worked perfectly for cycling as well, as did the balaclava and also cycling tights.  Only my toes would get cold on descents.  It hardly rained over the winter, so I could cycle often, but it would get cold even in the nearby mountains I cycle in, down to 30 degrees or so at times in the morning (remember this is LA!).  I still prefer cycling when it is warm or even hot, but I didn't mind the cold so much.  And for the first time ever, I started to miss snow a little.  I'd gotten to enjoy snow a bit on my last trip to Colorado.

I started to think I could maybe live somewhere other than California for a while, and Boulder, Colorado was the place that came to mind first, although someplace like Portland or Seattle, neither of which I'd been to before, were other possibilities.  I planned family road trips to Colorado over Spring Break and to Seattle via Portland during the summer.  I figured I'd climb Rainier during the latter trip, or if it was too long to leave my wife and son I'd fly up again separately.  The logistics seemed a bit complicated, and when I finally got around, sometime in the early Spring I think, to looking into just when to climb Rainier, I found out that the spots for all three guide services were already full!

Now what to do?  Rainier was out since I couldn't climb it alone and didn't know anyone to climb with.  Still I really wanted to do some snow climb.  I'd known by this point that Mount Shasta was another year-round snow climb on a great volcano, and with no crevasses on the easiest Avalanche Gulch route I could do it alone.  Indeed my plan was to do it sometime after Rainier using the skills I'd learn there.  Now it made sense to do Mount Shasta first, and indeed since it was an easier climb that was the more natural order, but I still had to worry about learning the necessary skills.

Searching around I'd seen Sierra Mountaineering International offered one-day snow travel classes, and that made the most sense.  I ended up taking what turned out to be a private lesson from the founder Kurt Wedberg on Wednesday, May 9.  Due to the exceptionally low snow this year I had to drive up to Mammoth Mountain, the first time I'd been there, to take the class, but Kurt found a good slope to practice on there.  He was an excellent teacher and I learned a lot.  It was a long day with 10 hours of driving and a 6 hour class, but well worth it.  We covered the basics of kicking steps in snow, ice ax and crampon use, self-arrest, glissading, rope travel and so forth, and I got to ask a lot of questions I had about Shasta and Rainier.  Although I had a lot more to learn, I felt I had a good foundation in the basics, and was hopefully ready for Shasta.  I wasn't able to practice most of the techniques again for lack of snow, although I did try the rest step and pressure breathing when I had trouble with altitude on the Whitney North Fork hike, and was able to practice plunge stepping while descending scree on a backpacking trip in the Sierras.

Altitude was a big worry for Shasta, which is 14,162 feet high.  Initially I planned to drive to Yosemite at the start of the trip to spend a couple days in Tuolumne Meadows, which Kyoko and Kyle had never visited, and to climb 13,061 foot Mt. Dana (perhaps with them since it is short, although steep) to acclimatize.  However after the Sierra Backpacking trip which involved a climb up 14,027 foot Mount Langley, I was hoping I might be okay with altitude even though there was a gap of two weeks between Langley and Shasta.  It seemed from my trips the previous year that acclimatization lasted for at least a week with me, and I was curious how far I could stretch it.  So since the trip was already long I dropped the visit to Yosemite.  It was still overambitious with plans to climb Lassen (a short hike I could do with Kyoko and Kyle), Shasta, Hood (the highest point in Oregon and also apparently a straightforward snow climb I could do alone like Shasta), Adams (supposedly a very easy and straightforward snow climb) and finally Rainier up to Camp Muir.  I couldn't escape the attraction of Rainier, and wanted to at least climb up as far as I could safely alone.

This was indeed too ambitious when I had to make sure everyone was happy with the trip, and I ended up doing only Shasta and Rainier, the latter of which is covered in a separate report.  We drove to the Bay Area on Friday, July 20, and visited friends that day and Saturday.  Sunday we drove up to Mount Shasta City and found a hotel for two days there.  I'd heard Shasta dominates the area for over 100 miles, and indeed we first saw it from the 5 freeway about 115 miles away.  It was spectacular.  Here are some pictures taken July 22.  First Mount Shasta from the city.

More detail.

And more detail still of Avalanche Gulch.  The standard route climbs to the right of the Heart, the upper central area outlined by snow, toward Thumb Rock.  You climb between Thumb Rock and the Red Banks (the clear line of reddish cliffs near below the ridge running left into the clouds), then along the ridge to the left, up the final Misery Hill and to the summit.

What is wrong with this picture?  Well, this is supposed to be a snow climb but for the standard route there is no snow left!  And that's bad, as these Cascade volcanoes are composed of loose, rotten rock, and it's much more dangerous to climb the rock than to climb snow.  There's an excellent web site with Shasta climbing conditions (pointed to by another site which is also good) which described the route as follows:

Current Conditions:  It is safe to say that most routes on the mountain can be described as in poor shape. This doesn’t mean you can’t climb, but we recommend that if you choose to climb, please take extreme caution! Helmets are a must and rock fall is plentiful right now. 

Avalanche Gulch – John Muir Route (Regular Route) via Bunny Flat Trailhead:  This route is in very poor shape.  Rock fall is a major concern and the route travels at the apex of a large funnel, focusing rock fall on you!  A large group miraculously survived a large boulder/rock slide recently (link to newspaper article).  The route now includes rock scrambling on loose material or an alternate route variation which includes a snow section much steeper than the normal route.  Consider other routes or waiting until next season.

I still wanted to try the climb.  I was worried about rockfall, but I knew from reading other trip reports (such as this good one) that other people do it.  I figured I would turn back if conditions looked too bad or too dangerous.

For a limited time I have video available in this trip report, and here is a short video of the mountain I took around the same time as the pictures above.  Note that the videos are very large (20 to 60 megabytes) so you should have a fast internet connection.

That evening I walked to the ranger station in town to pick up my wilderness permit, summit pass, and human waste pack-out bag.  On the way I ran across an amusing sign.  Normally the distance would be interpreted as horizontal distance from the sign, although I guess technically the arrow is pointing up!

Here is the kiosk at the ranger station.  I filled out the permit, put my $15 in an envelope and deposited it, and picked up a waste kit.  I was dismayed to find they are a lot bulkier and heavier than the wag-bags used at Whitney.  I should have brought along one of those instead.  But I picked one of these up and returned it at the end of the hike unused at the trailhead.  The trailhead also had a kiosk and I could have done all this there, but it was nice to get it done in advance.

I was debating just when to start the climb.  It's better to start early and so get cooler temperatures which keep the rocks frozen in place.  On the other hand I was worried about not being able to figure out where the route went in the dark since there is no real trail after the Olberman Causeway past Horse Camp.  The Shasta conditions site said you should set a definite turn-around time of 11am or 12 noon and that sounded like a good idea.  I wasn't sure how long it would take me to get up.  Some sources said 8-10 hours for the ascent, which is 7 miles gaining over 1000 feet.  The author of the trip report cited above took 5:20 to get up under what seemed to be similar conditions I'd face, but I didn't think I could go that fast.  My experience on steep scree and talus (for example Mt. Dana) had been about 1 hour per 1000 feet.  So I figured I'd try starting at 4am and hope I could get up in 7-8 hours.  That would give me only an hour in the dark, and I should still be on the trail or around the end of the trail at that point.

I decided to travel light.  I'll probably write up a separate description of my gear later, but the basics are this.  The weather looked like it would be excellent, sunny and in the 70s or 80s at the bottom and no worse than 30 or so at the top.  I wore my Marmot scree insulated pants, which seemed they'd be on the warm side but hopefully would be okay, with just short underwear.  I brought rain pants for glissading.  For the top I wore a synthetic short sleeve shirt and also had my lightweight fleece and heavier softshell and also goretex paclite rain shell.  I wore my mountaineering boots with lightweight synthetic socks and also thin liner socks.  I brought lightweight gloves and a wool cap, and also my baseball cap.  I brought handmade "glacier glasses" using my old sunglasses and duct tape that Kurt had made for me, but also my regular sunglasses (in both cases I wear them over my normal glasses); I figured I'd just use the latter as there was little snow, and indeed I did.  Some snack food and two quarts of water; I filled up in the hotel just in case the spring at Horse Camp was not running or I couldn't find it.

I had a new toy for this trip:  A Panasonic SDR-S150 digital camcorder.  I've always felt still photos are very limited in capturing the beauty of mountains, and video, which still wildly insufficient, could convey a little more of the feeling of being there.  This camera seemed to have a good balance of light weight and decent video quality, and I've always thought solid-state memory (in this case SD cards) is the way to go.  It came with a 2GB card and I bought a 4GB card as well, which would give me plenty of recording time.  The camera also seemed to take acceptable still pictures, which I also wanted especially for my web trip report!  All the pictures here were taken with the camera, as was the video of course.  The video quality is impressive for such a small camera, and I was only using the medium SP mode to save space.  The still pictures varied a lot in quality--I'll have to play around and figure out how to get them to be more consistent.  Some came out poorly while others, as you'll see, were spectacularly good.  The 10x zoom lens worked well for both video (although if you zoom in too much the image shakes a lot) and still pictures.

I brought crampons, my ice ax, and my trekking poles.  All three turned out to be essential.  I used my medium-size backpack, which was perfect for this hike, and although I didn't weight everything I'm sure it was under 20 pounds including water.  Indeed I hardly noticed the weight on my back.  I used my Polar heart rate monitor both as a watch and altimeter.

I packed up the night before and went to bed as early as I could--I forget just when.  I woke up at 3am and drove to the trailhead (Bunny Flat, 6920 feet).  Shasta has one of the easiest drives to the trailhead of any mountain I've climbed.  It's just off highway 5 for one thing, and then the drive from there is only about 13 miles on a nice paved road.  I got started at 4am using my headlamp.  The moon had already set so it was no help, but the reward was a beautiful sky full of stars.

The trail was easy to follow to Horse Camp, and it took maybe 45 minutes to go the 1.8 miles.  The spring was indeed running and I emptied my water bottles and refilled them.  The water is apparently famous for being pure and delicious, and it was indeed good although not spectacular.  My favorite water is still what I drank at the top of Mt. Tamalpais north of San Francisco when I bicycled there, although that was probably at least partly due to my mood at the time.  I left Horse Camp at about 5am and continued up the Olberman Causeway, a rock pathway through the meadows.  At some point, around 5:30 or so I think, it got light enough that I could stop using my headlamp.  At about 6am I started taking pictures and shooting video.  Here is the very first picture, a view of the upper mountain from someplace between Horse Camp and Lake Helen.

Here is some detail using the zoom lens.

After the causeway there was a trail of sorts through the scree.  There weren't any cairns but there were some snow wands from time to time.  I was glad to do this part in the light as even then I got off route at times and had to find the trail again.  It's fine to just go straight up the scree but much easier if you stay on the trail.  On our backpacking trip I recall Rich Korf saying having a trail reduces the effort by about a factor of two, and I would agree with that.  The scree also was very loose and just awful to travel on.  Even the "trail" was not pleasant, but it was still a big improvement.  Trekking poles were an enormous help for hiking in the scree and I would consider them to be essential for this climb.

It seemed to take forever to get to Helen Lake (10,433 feet), the standard site for people to camp at who would climb the mountain in two days.  I probably arrived around 7:15am, so still on track for my 1000 feet in one hour, although the climbing would get much harder after this point.  I saw a group of three guys milling around their tent, and headed straight for them.  I asked them what would be the best way to go up, and they said it seemed everyone was going up the snowfield to the left the heart rather than the standard route to the right of the heart, which no longer had any snow.  They said they'd heard the right route was very muddy (I later heard from a guy going up as I was going down that someone else had tried to do the right side and got caught in a mudslide).  However according to them the left side (which must have been the variation mentioned in the conditions report) was very steep, up to 60 degrees!  In the picture above this is the large snow bank at the far right of the picture, and the route would head to the left edge of the Red Banks at the top (just skirting left of the two smaller rocks at the left end of the banks).  Here is a video I took from around Helen Lake showing the snow bank and a couple climbers in it.

I decided to try out the snow.  After all, I'd come here because I wanted to climb snow, and practicing that seemed more important than reaching the summit.  I could always turn around if conditions started looking too dangerous or beyond my ability, and I could always climb to the summit next summer.  I was worried about somehow getting in over my head and into trouble, though, especially as going down is always much harder than going up.

The guys asked me if I had crampons and then saw them strapped to the back of my pack.  They seemed outdoor types and in good shape, so I assumed they'd climbed the previous day and were heading back, although I didn't ask them.  I found out later (from the climbers on the snowfield in the video) that they actually didn't know what they were doing.  They'd come up with only one ice ax between them and no crampons, and decided to abandon going higher than Helen Lake.  They were smart to do that, in any case.

After more of a slog through scree I finally made it to the snow field.  It was actually quite hard snow, even icy, and would have been hard to kick steps in.  I put on my crampons and the conditions were perfect for using them.  I didn't bother switchbacking and just went straight up using pied canard, the duck-walk.   I used my trekking poles rather than the ice ax, and they worked very well.  It was tough going up but enormously better than the scree.  The slope seemed steep but I wasn't sure just how steep.  I guessed 20 to 30 degrees, but wasn't sure.  I always recall Gerry Roach's statement in Colorado's Fourteeners that "even experienced climbers are notorious for guessing a slope angle to be steeper than it is".  However I may have erred on the other side in this case.  I called the ranger station after the climb to ask how steep this snow field is, and they weren't sure but guessed 30 to 40 degrees, getting to around 50 at the top, so maybe those three guys weren't too far off when they said 60 degrees.  When I came down I realized it was steeper than I'd thought going up, and I likely would not have been able to stop myself with my trekking poles had I slipped and fell.  On the other hand the trekking poles were much better than an ice ax to go up, and I never felt in danger of falling, so I think they were the right way to go.  In any case this was a tougher first snow climb to do than I had anticipated!

There were some glissade chutes in the field and I wondered if I'd feel comfortable glissading down.  I was worried about rock fall too, of course, but one nice thing was I was the only person on the snow field at the time, and I knew most rock fall is caused by climbers themselves.  As if to prove the point, when I stopped by one large rock to rest, I managed to dislodge a nearby smaller rock which started tumbling down the slope.  Luckily there was no one below me.

I hardly took any pictures going up, but did take some video.  Here is one from near the top of the snow field, around 12,800 feet.  This was taken after 10am, and by this time I was very worried I was not going to make it from the top, and also worried how I was going to get down the snow field.  I thought I should give up and turn around at some point, but as I still had time before my turnaround deadline I figured I might as well continue up.

At around 10:30 I made it to the Red Banks and the slope suddenly steepened considerably--this was the 50 or 60 degree slope depending on who you believe.  I was going to turn around at this point, especially since it was so late and I wasn't sure how I'd get down it again.  However there looked to be a distinct ridge just above me and I thought I'd try getting to that and see what it looked like from there.  The snow was quite hard here too and a bit worrisome.  I angled across to keep the slope down, and I can't remember if I kept to my trekking poles or switched to the ice ax here.

In any case I somehow made it up!  And to my surprise there was a nice flat plateau.  I took some video at 10:43 and although it was late and I was tired I actually didn't feel too bad.  I was at about 13K feet but surprisingly the altitude wasn't bothering me.  The weather was also still excellent even though it was quite windy (around 20mph I think).  I still had time before my "last" turnaround time at noon, and figured it wouldn't hurt to go a little beyond that if necessary.  Although I had very nearly given up it seemed I would actually be able to make it to the summit this day, and the idea pleased me at least partially as I wouldn't feel obligated to climb the mountain again!  It had not been a fun climb so far, and I still had Misery Hill to climb next, which was more scree.  There is a sort of trail switchbacking up it, but it starts at the standard route more to the right, so it was a while before I intersected it.  Still this hill was a lot less miserable than the scree sections lower down.

At the top of Misery Hill I reached the summit plateau, a beautiful place.  Here it is with a view toward the summit.  There is also video, taken at 11:19am.

Here is a view of the mountains toward the west.

And my favorite picture of the trip, of the sub-volcano Shastina.  This picture came out beautifully.  Click on it to see the original full-size version.

At around 11:30 on the other end of the plateau I ran into the two guys I'd seen climbing up the snow field earlier.  They were returning from the summit.  I talked with them for a little while, and would talk with them later breaking camp at Helen Lake.  They were really nice, and were in the army, here to train for search and rescue.  They were impressed that I'd started at the trailhead at 4am since they had started at Helen Lake at the same time.  They were also feeling beaten up by the mountain, but they were carrying a lot more weight than I was, with big packs filled with all kinds of gear including climbing rope, pickets, shovels and so forth.  They'd done Rainier before and thought it wasn't really much harder than this mountain--they said people ran from the trailhead to the summit and back in a day and thought I could also do that climb in day if I wanted to.  I wasn't so sure myself as Rainier has crevasses and 2000 feet more elevation gain, and this mountain was plenty hard for me this day.  I asked them if I could make it to the summit in 30 minutes and they said no problem.  They were right as it took 25 minutes, and I was at the top at 11:55.

Here is the summit.  The register is clearly visible, but it wasn't clear which was the high point (and there was a third point behind me that was also a candidate).  Just to make sure I climbed up all three.  I also took video here, which is the longest and also best of the video for this trip.

I was surprised to find a frisbee along with the summit register.

Surprisingly there was almost no wind on the summit.  It was also quite warm (maybe 50 or so; I forget), sunny, and very pleasant.  Perhaps the best summit I've ever been on, and I had it all to myself.  I only spent 20 minutes there, since I was worried about conditions going down, but really enjoyed the time, relaxing a bit, eating some food, and enjoying the scenery.

I started down at 12:15, and at 12:36 took this picture of the top of the Whitney Glacier with Shastina on the right.  You can clearly see the bergschrund at the top of the glacier.  This is the first glacier I've seen in person, I believe, and a beautiful one.  This is my second favorite picture of the trip, and you can also click on it to see the original.

At the top of the snow field, I prepared myself for a serious descent.  I figured I wanted my crampons, and also the ice ax instead of trekking poles.  Kurt had shown me how to make a leash for the ice ax, but I took it off before the trip.  He'd told me it's very rare to lose your ax, as the natural tendency is to tighten your grip in times of stress.  I found this to be the case and didn't have any trouble keeping hold of the ax.

I didn't put on my rain pants, figuring I wouldn't glissade, and also it was warm so I didn't want an extra layer on.  As I put on the crampons, clouds started rushing up from the valley.  Oh no, I thought, now I'm going to start descending a steep snow field into a white out.  I started to get very worried.  I had brought my GPS but only set up one waypoint at the top of the Red Banks since I wanted to make sure to start my descent in the right place (interestingly when I checked the waypoint I was just a few feet from it, so I'd found it without GPS help even though I managed to get off track at other places on the descent).  So it wasn't clear the GPS was going to be able to help me.  I hoped I could see well enough to make progress, at least.

The steep section at the top of the Red Banks was very tough indeed to go down and although it had warmed up slightly since the time I went up the snow and ice were still pretty solid and I couldn't get the ice ax in much.  I'd jam it in, take a couple steps down, try to plant my feet okay, take out the ax and jam it in lower down, and continue.  I made it down somehow.  Then came the less steep but still worrisome slope.  The clouds were not thick and there were breaks in them so I could see where I was going.  I tried to follow next to the glissade chutes but not in them.  It was very tough and slow going.  I think I tried to plunge step with the crampons on but this didn't work too well.  The two army guys later told me they'd been able to plunge step down the glissade chutes (they didn't glissade) using just boots.  I probably should have tried that, but felt I needed the security of the crampons.  But I was not very secure going down even with crampons, and at one point went into an involuntary glissade which I soon self-arrested.  I think I tried walking down some more, but soon realized that although it was very steep and tough to glissade, it was probably no more dangerous than trying to walk down, and sure to be faster as well.

I now faced a problem.  I still had my crampons on, and although I've read in many places as well as been warned personally in the snow travel class that I should never glissade with crampons on, there was no safe place to stop and remove them.  And I wanted to keep them on anyway for the times I needed to walk between glissades.  Of course books and classes don't talk about these kinds of situations....  I also could not stop and put the rain pants on, and was worried about ripping up my insulating pants.  But there was nothing to do.  I figured the crampons were not going to be a real problem as long as I kept my speed down and watched where my feet were going.  I walked over to one of the chutes and started glissading.

This was a lousy snowfield to glissade on.  Even the chutes were in bad conditions, icy with rocks below them.  I'd slide for a while, get going too fast, and have to self-arrest.  Then I'd stop to collect my wits, and as soon as I pulled the ice ax out I'd start sliding again.  It was both physically and mentally exhausting.  Also at some point I noticed some blood.  It turns out during a self-arrest my hands must have gone over some rock or sharp ice and I had skin scraped off the ring finger and pinky of both hands.  I hadn't been wearing gloves since it was so warm, and so learned the hard way the lesson that one should not self-arrest without gloves on.  But now with them bleeding and it still warm I didn't want to put gloves on (not that I could have gotten them out of my pack), and the snow anesthetized them to some extent anyway.  I figured I'd just try to be careful, as much as I could anyway, and fortunately I didn't injure myself further.  My pants also held up fine, impressively.

At some point, around 1:30pm I think, I ran into two guys who were headed uphill!  One was on the far side of the snowfield, but the other was nearby and I angled over to talk with him.  He'd seen me going down in my very awkward fashion and I'm sure thought I had no idea what I was doing.  On the other hand I was a bit worried about him as well, as he was going up very slowly.  He was going straight up as I had, but using his ice ax in self-belay mode and going up using rest steps and pressure breathing, which all seemed overkill.  I found out they had started at 6:30am, which meant he'd taken 7 hours to get to this point and probably had another 4 hours or more to go up at this pace.  What's more it was late in the day, rockfall was getting worse, and they were heading into the clouds and a possible whiteout.  I found out later from the army guys that these two said they expected to be descending in the dark.  I hope they knew what they were doing and got back okay.

I warned him there was a still a long way to go, but he didn't seem concerned.  On the other hand I wasn't sure just where to get off the snow field and back onto the scree, so I asked him and he said to just follow one of the glissade chutes (he called it butt chute, another good name) and it would lead to the bottom of the snow field.  That was further down than I wanted to go, but I walked over to it and continued my ugly descent.

I got below the clouds at some point, and also at some point decided to head back to the scree and out of the snow.  As much as I hated the scree it was a relief not to worry about sliding any longer.  The scree seemed to go on forever, and I was well beyond tired and miserable at this point.  Clearly I was not in as good of shape as I should have been.  However I must say I did still feel a lot better than I did on the North Fork hike near Whitney, so I'd improved to some extent.  It was good I got out of the snow chute before the end, as while I was descending the scree from time to time rocks (about football size) would tumble down the gully at high speed.  I saw a fair number of rocks fall but they were all comfortably far away.

Eventually I saw the tent that I was sure belonged to the army guys, but as usual distances are much greater than they seem in the mountains and it took forever to get them them.  They were just finishing breaking camp and I enjoyed talking with them for about 15 minutes while I ate some food and rested.  They still had some work to finish breaking camp so I headed down before them and didn't see them again.

It was a relief to finally see Horse Camp from below Helen Lake.  This picture was taken at 4pm.

Here is detail and you can make out the Sierra Club hut (called Shasta Alpine Lodge on the map).

Below is the Shasta Alpine Lodge at Horse Camp, with the mountain behind it.  Again it seemed to take forever to get to it, but I must have arrived around 4:40pm.  A man greeted me when I arrived.  He didn't seem like a hiker and indeed he turned out to be the caretaker of the hut.  He said he'd be there for the next four days.  I told him of the two army guys and the other two still on the mountain.  Like me he was worried about the latter group, especially with the clouds on the top of the mountain (this seemed to be common in the afternoon, as you can tell from my pictures the previous day).  It was very easy to get lost in those conditions.  They only covered the very top, so hopefully those two guys were okay.

After Horse Camp it was a relief to continue down the easy trail, although I went very slow as my legs and feet were sore and I was exhausted.  I got back at the trailhead at 5:30, so 13.5 hours for the hike.  This was almost the same time it took me to do the longer (22 mile) but easier hike up Mt. Whitney the previous year, and I must have been in better shape that year because I felt a lot better at the end of that hike.  I'd gotten rather sunburned on my face and neck; I stupidly hadn't re-applied sunblock, and should have done so on the summit.  I drove back and got to the hotel a little after 6pm.  Kyoko and Kyle were in the pool--it was the first time Kyle had been in a pool in many years and he spent hours this time and didn't want to leave.  Earlier they'd seen a movie together, Ratatouille, and that was Kyle's first experience in a movie theater (as I haven't gone to a theater in over 10 years and Kyoko rarely goes either), although a bit disappointing as the screen was apparently tiny and there were only 8 people in the theater, the same number I'd encountered on the mountain that day!

I have mixed feelings about the Shasta climb.  On one hand the mountain is incredible, the scenery absolutely superb (as usual pictures and even video don't come close to the experience), and the weather perfect.  This was my first true snow climb, and even though it was tougher than a first climb should probably be and I didn't do it as well as I could have, I managed to use the skills I'd learned in the snow travel class and make it up and down safely.  On the other hand they weren't lying that the conditions were very poor.  It just wasn't that much fun to climb the mountain.  I'd like to come back again when conditions are good (and my skills better) and do the standard route on snow.  I think that would be a lot more enjoyable, and it's well worth climbing this mountain again.  Perhaps someday I'll try one of the other routes as well.

After this climb my schedule immediately changed.  I no longer wanted to do Mount Hood this trip.  For one thing I needed some time to recover, and Hood was planned for two days hence, although I could also have done it on the way back.  But also the prime climbing season on Hood was also supposed to be over, and conditions were reported to be bad there as well.  After Shasta I wanted to do Hood in good conditions.

Further north, Washington had plenty of snow this winter and Adams and Rainier were supposed to be in great shape now.  However I figured I'd skip Adams this time as well.  It's supposed to be a straightforward snow climb and I figured after Shasta that would be a let down.  I'd still get a chance for a straightforward snow climb in Rainier, and I was still really looking forward to that.  Rainier is the subject of another trip report.

On the way back we of course passed by Shasta again, spotting it for the first time around Medford, Oregon, and got some great pictures and video from the 5 freeway.  Here is a picture taken from the north on July 28.  An absolutely beautiful mountain.



Roundtrip distance: 14 miles
Elevation gain: 7242 feet (6920 to 14162)
Time up: 7:55 (4am to 11:55am)
Time on top: 0:20 (11:55am to 12:15pm)
Time down: 5:15 (12:15pm to 5:30pm)
Total Time: 13:30

Detailed Times

Location Time
Trailhead 4:00
leave Horse Camp 5:02
around Helen Lake 7:25
near top of Red Banks 10:05
top of Red Banks 10:40
summit plateau 11:20
summit 11:55
leave summit 12:15
leave Horse Camp 4:50
Trailhead 5:30