The second peak of our
adventure was Mt Shasta, a 14,162’ volcanic peak, located in the
Our party of eight arrived at the Motel6 in beautiful downtown Weed within a short time of each other, and made plans to have a breakfast meeting at the nearby Hi/Lo Restaurant the following morning (Sunday). Sunday was, appropriately enough, our rest day, and after breakfast we went our separate ways. Some drove north on US97 towards Klamath Falls, Oregon where there’s an excellent vista point of Shasta, and then drove to Mt Shasta City to explore the town, visit the local mountaineering shop (Fifth Season), sample the town’s many interesting shops and of course, drive to the trailhead at Bunny Flats.
Mt Shasta was as
magnificent as I’d ever seen it. The
near-record winter snows, coupled with recent storms, had left the mountain
with a heavy coating of snow. The rocky
prominences of Casaval and
The following morning
dawned clear and sunny, with light breezes.
The weather forecast for the next two days was favorable. We were met at Bunny Flats by our 9th
climber, Jerry, who arrived a bit early to complete some volunteer duties for
the US Forest Service, and soon the rest of the gang arrived. Since this was our second climb of this trip,
we were getting the drill down pat, and were on the trail a few minutes
early. We followed the summer trail a
short distance, turned right, and followed the more direct route up the
drainage, bearing left as we neared treeline and stopped at Horse Camp for a
quick rest and some water. The trail was
snow-covered and well-packed from the parking lot. At Horse Camp we found the building still
mostly buried, but the free-flowing spring was dug out, and we filled a few
water bottles, happy that it was clean and we didn’t need to filter it. Despite our rather hectic schedule, people
seem rested and in good spirits for what is a rigorous, and somewhat tedious,
slog in direct sun for the steep two miles to high camp at
The following morning we
were on the trail about ,
starting out with headlamps on our helmets and crampons on our boots. The temps at
Now the fun began: on most Shasta climbs via Avalanche Gulch there are certain zones where one has to be mindful of possible rockfall. In most years these zones are fairly obvious as there are reasonably well-defined debris paths. This year was different – there was very little evidence of rock fall, and we soon found out why – ice. The good news was the ice and rime coating was holding much of the loose rock in place. The bad news was that instead of dodging falling rocks we’d be dodging ice chunks varying in size from ice cubes to softballs. They were difficult/impossible to see in the dim light, and most of us got pelted by one or two of them. The worse incident involved a direct hit on Andrew’s kneecap, and for several minutes we were wondering if he’d be OK – fortunately, he was. As we neared the lower section of Red Banks the rate of ice fall diminished rapidly, for which we were most thankful. Despite the fact that it was a bit cold and we were in shadow, we took a short rest to refuel and rest before continuing.
The crux of this climb is always Red Banks, which involves climbing thru a rather steep chute to a broad, open area above which has a somewhat lessened pitch. Typically climbers head for one of three chutes, and the one to climber’s far right is the least steep. On this day all three appeared to be in good shape, and while the one the right is the least steep, it’s also involves a bit of a detour. Since the middle one was in fine shape, with steps kicked into the steepest sections, this route was selected. Brian slipped once, causing me (and him) a bit of consternation, but he caught himself immediately, and we all scampered up. It was , and we were in fine shape to make the summit by 11.
I’ve come to regard the
top of this section of Red Banks as a transition zone as 1) it’s a highly
visible location which climbers focus on since leaving Lake Helen, 2) the
grades, except for the final summit pitch, are less steep, 3) we would now be
climbing in sunlight, which always improves spirits, and 4) above this point
(approx 13K’) the wind and weather is now much more of a factor. With the sunshine came a steady breeze,
occasionally gusty, and some of us put on additional clothing while others
waited until the long rest stop promised at the base of Misery Hill. We angled slowly left and upward for about 45
minutes, stopping again for a brief rest just below a crest. Jerry, who was feeling strong, volunteered to
pop up the last 50’ and verify where we were.
He soon hollered down that Misery Hill was just ahead, and we trudged up
to join him and took a well-deserved break at the foot of this last major
obstacle. As we rested we could see two
climbers emerging from the Casaval Ridge route.
We were to speak with them briefly on the summit: it turned out I’d
visited with them at the trailhead on Sunday.
They were two experienced climbers from
Misery Hill is aptly named. There’s nothing particularly difficult about it – it’s not especially steep, it’s mostly smooth, although under today’s conditions it was not a good idea to stray too far from the center of the cone as a slip on the icy surface could send you over a shelf with some questionable consequences. Still, it only required a modest amount of care to do it safely. What makes it difficult is that it is featureless and boring, and occurs at the point in the climb where getting to the top becomes a proverbial ‘head game’. One cannot see the actual summit until you reach the top of Misery Hill, so without some knowledge of Shasta, it’s difficult to gauge the amount of remaining needed effort. It’s said that many climbers make it to this point, only to become discouraged and turn back. I’d talked with our group many times about this hill, and told them how to persevere, which mainly involves following Tom Casey’s Rules of Climbing, to wit: 1) put one foot in front of the other, 2) remember to breathe, and 3) don’t look up.
After 45 minutes of
somewhat steady trudging, I made it to the top of this hill to find the others
discussing which peak ahead was the actual summit, and which route was the
best. Since their consensus seemed to be
a direct frontal assault on the main peak (and from past experience I knew this
wasn’t the best route unless you were an experienced ice climber) I decided to
relinquish my usual position as sweep and took the lead across the last slight
inclined slope, then turned left on the contour towards the sulfur spring near
the base of the final pitch. Here we
dropped our packs, gathered up our cameras, put on extra gear as the wind was
blowing a steady 35mph, and zigzagged slowly to the top of the col. Here there was a protected spot where we
gathered out of the wind, and then made a mad dash to another sheltered spot
just beyond the summit register box. We
didn’t linger, just long enough to take a few pictures of each other on the
summit (the summit itself is a small patch of ground), sign the summit log, and
down climb the last 200’ to our packs.
It was now slightly after ,
and while a bit cold and windy, the weather was stable and the sun shone
brightly. We now had time to savor the
views, especially down onto Shastina and the Whitney Glacier, marveling at the
enormous circular bergshrund on the top of the glacier. Soon we were at the
bottom of Misery Hill, which is a rather fine place to dine, all things
considered. I was looking forward to a
most wonderful glissade, deciding to wait until just below Red Banks. Had the conditions been a bit warmer, the
snow levels would have permitted glissading down Misery, but the cold winds
kept the surface hard, so I had to bide my time. Below Red Banks the snow was in perfect
condition, so having played the role of sweep most of the day, I decided to
join Jerry near the front, and away we went, on a controlled slide which
refreshes the spirit and is just plain FUN!
The others soon joined us in their own fashion, and we made our way back
Parting at the trailhead
was difficult – to fly cross-country and climb two fourteeners within the space
of a week was an ambitious trip, and created a strong sense of camaraderie,
especially among those who’d shared many peaks before. We were also concerned for Lou and Al, who
would now continue to travel north to meet our friend Jen at the Whittaker’s
for an attempt on
Pictures of the climb can be seen at Webshots here: