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Mount Shasta 4317 m

California, USA

Mount Shasta from the north

Mount Shasta seen from the northeast showing Hotlum and Bolam Glaciers

Of all the Cascade Volcanoes, Mount Shasta is exceeded in height only by Mount Rainier, but Shasta is much less technical to climb. In fact, you don't even have to climb, you merely hike (slog, may be more apt) for an eternity from a trailhead and if your legs and lungs hold out, you summit.  To be fair, there are some decent routes on the peak that involve snow, ice and glacier. The standard route though, called Avalanche Gulch, is where the masses go up. Strong winds, cold weather and lack of sleep spoiled my solo attempt on a route called Hotlum-Wintun Ridge, so I somewhat redeemed myself, if only marginally, by slogging up and down via Avalanche Gulch later that same day. Although Fall weather is usually better, all the snow had melted by then so instead of step-kicking up and glissading down in snow, I was treadmilling and wallowing in pumice. UGH!  I'd recommend a May-July visit instead.

click pics to enlarge

Hotlum Wintun route  Here is Hotlum Wintun Route, taken on the approach from Brewer Creek. High winds and lack of sleep spoiled my try. Maybe some day I'll go back and do it, when I don't mind driving 6000 km just to repeat a summit.

Avalanche gulch route Here is the slog route I followed up Avalanche Gulch from  "Bunny Flat" instead. I slept there in the campground, ate my banana and bagel, then started at 3:15 a.m. by headlamp and moonlight. There was a surprising lack of people then...

Red Banks. This is the dreaded Red Banks section. It is dreaded mostly for rockfall apparently, as is the huge slope beneath this band. It stands some 15-75 feet high or more, depending on where you are. The idea is to find an easy way through it as the rock tends to break off when climbed. I traversed right and found a short easy gully. The rubble here is light, airy pumice, and it is much more tedious than the scree in our Canadian Rockies. (This picture was taken on descent.)

Two hikers above Red Banks The only other 2 people I saw near the top were these two, just above Red Banks. The other 2 of their party had turned back (they had all camped up at 10,500 ft at Lake Helen---which was merely a patch of snow amid rubble).


Suncups At these high elevations and this latitude, the sun melts snowfields into horrid deep cups called suncups. This is the trench worn by hikers across the summit snowfield. You wouldn't want to travel a great distance in suncups.


spring eats man's pants! Just below the summit is this interesting hot sulpur spring. You don't hear much about it in the literature. It was so interesting, I knelt down close and took a picture; 2 hours later, the sulphuric acid from it had eaten a hole through the knee of my windpants. Glad I didn't sit down to warm my butt.


Summit of Shasta Here is the true summit of Shasta, a hump of rotten rock that I had all to myself.  I had taken 5'50" up, which wasn't bad for the 7200 ft of elevation incurred.  Sleeping at 10,000 ft the previous night had undoubtedly helped.  The temperature was just above freezing on top at 9:30 a.m. Bigger, higher peaks like this have nothing over mountains in our Canadian Rockies though. The view here was mostly haze, valley and low lying, tree-covered hills. A view from Mounts Robson, Assiniboine or even a modest scramble peak in the Rockies gives a better view---you would see another 50 or more mountain. We Rockies climbers are spoiled, undoubtedly, but after rising at 2:45a.m. it was still nice to be up there.


Shasta view Not the most incredible view from a summit, but with such good weather, I wasn't about to complain. Besides, I had it all to myself, which wouldn't have happened had I started later from the campground or gone earlier in summer. My round trip time was 11 hours from Bunny Flat. If I could have glissaded, it would have been faster (and easier on the knees too!)

If you're thinking of ascending Mount Shasta, there are a couple of guidebooks for it. Jeff Smoot has  "Climbing the Cascade Volcanoes", Michael Zanger has written a book entirely about Shasta and its numerous routes. The town of Shasta City is a darned friendly little spot and the best dinner of my whole 2 week vacation was there at "Piemont" restaurant. Try the all-inclusive pasta special after you've done the peak. Best deal you'll get anywhere I'd say!

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all photos copyright by Alan Kane 2001.