Mt. Shasta | 14,179ft | Casaval Ridge Route
May 10th, 2013
My alarm went off at 1:30AM. I snoozed it, obviously. 5 minutes later Paul’s alarm went off. I was awake and I watched him sit up, snooze it, and then lie back down and start snoring instantly. After taking a second to enjoy that moment I woke him up and we slammed a 5 hour energy and then devoured our gourmet breakfast of off-brand pop tarts. After a few snafus we hit the trail running at around 3:15AM. Route-finding was a bit difficult in the dark. We were lucky enough to stumble upon someone else’s boot pack from the day before and found ourselves climbing a frozen staircase for a few hundred vertical feet.
Around sunrise we hit the ridge proper and were able to catch sight of our comrades heading up the Avalanche Gulch. The proper route was supposed to weave in and out of the gendarmes along the ridge and after taking a good look at the mostly snow-free ridge in better light we decided to stick with the snow and traverse along the west side of the ridge just below most of the features and then up through the hourglass couloir. We were moving along pretty well until we hit the couloir. Once we got inside it the snow turned against us. Kicking steps turned into continuous knee-deep postholes making upward progress more of a chore than usual.
After another traverse across thin snow and exposed talus we fell into the West Gully which we knew would provide mellow access to the ridge. Paul pushed it for about 1500 vertical feet of kicking steps in mediocre snow and we hit the ridge with depleted energy reserves. After a quick water and snack break we traversed along to the top of Avalanche Gulch to pick up the boot pack up Misery Hill. At this point I was wasted. Our punishing pace early on combined with the difficulties we encountered trying to break ground in un-consolidated snow had taken a toll on me. By the top of Misery Hill I was keeping a wary eye on the weather and wondering if I could allow myself to make an excuse. We dropped our skis and snowboard at the top of Misery Hill and pushed on toward the summit.
After about 20-30 grueling minutes in which many things were said that cannot be repeated, Paul and I sat on the summit of Mt. Shasta. On a day in which 25-30 people attempted the mountain and 15 or so succeeded, it was nice to have the summit to ourselves. Paul and I hung out for a few minutes and then headed back towards our gear. I was pretty beat and there was not much going on in my brain besides making sure I got off of the mountain in one piece, that and the stress I was feeling at the thought of spending my 6th day skiing trying to ski down Mt. Shasta. It started out okay and then my whole descent turned to shit. There were quite a few trying moments along the way. I was deep in a battle with my self and my inability to ski in the slushy soup that was the snowpack on a south-facing aspect at 1:30 in the afternoon. The exposed rocks everywhere did not help my mental state. After a long few hours in which I face-planted multiple times and got very good at getting in and out of the dynafit bindings I was riding we got to the parking lot.
The route we took was different and beautiful. I know we both enjoyed the solitude on the Casaval Ridge and Paul’s patience with my minimal grasp of mountain skiing has definitely earned him a few deserved beers next time we hit a pub.
Mt. Shasta | 14,179ft | Avalanche Gulch Route
May 10th, 2013
Sunshine, Izzy, Andrea, Randy Lovas, myself, and a Peruvian Tourista named Daniel left the Bunny Flats TH sometime around 3:30am. Whether or not you believe in the Pacific Time Zone, I assure you that the hour felt early. Before New York City was warmed with the suns’ first rays, we had meandered our way through a gently ascending mile of trees on a generally supportive snowpack. The air felt thick as the temperatures hovered somewhere above freezing. The stars overhead where overwhelming in number and luminance. It was a surreal experience to move through such an environment.
A few thousand steps more and the eastern horizon awoke from her slumber, giving us a visual perspective beyond our artificial headlamp spheres. All 14,00 vertical feet of Shasta showed herself to us. To be successful and gain the summit, we would have to climb from the trailhead a mile and a quarter into the sky on snow covered pumice. It was to be a longer day; a stout workout.
As we marched on, Shasta’s grade gradually grew. We worked our way up through suncupped ravines into the terminus of Avalanche Gulch. Avalanche Gulch is lengthy, broad, and south facing. It loads with heavy snows from the Pacific throughout the Winter and warms throughout the Spring, giving mountaineers, hikers, skiers, and riders a window to access her prominent summit. Avalanche Gulch is frequently traveled and well used, the easiest and shortest route to Shasta’s Peak. It rises at an increasingly steep grade, involving moderate snow climbing above 11,000 feet to the summit.
Around 10am we climbed through the vibrant reds and oranges of the Sulphur-laden rock formations of Red Bluff. We were above 13k and feeling good. Burk decided to turn around at this point, having climbed 6,000 vert. Randy made it all the way to 11k with San Diego lungs. A solid effort in a spectacular environment. Daniel, our new friend from Lima, seemed to gain energy the higher we went – blessed Andean physiology I tell you. So the summit team would be five. Building clouds ushered our tracks across the rolling lava flats beneath Shasta’s Rhime-blasted summit tower.
At 11:30 or so we took the final snowy steps to 14,179ft and took in a splendid panorama. Smiles, high fives, hoots and hollers were exchanged, and the team celebrated a safe, fun, and physical morning on Shasta.
Avalanche Gulch, while non-technical and straight forward from a route-finding standpoint, offers snowsports enthusiasts a remarkable appeal: a 7,000 vertical foot, 7 mile continuous run. Such prominence is a trademark of the Cascade Range, a unique advantage of the volcanic profile.
Riding off the summit involved making a couple of steeper turns down a thinly covered chute. The snow was breakable and nasty, not exactly confidence inspiring given its marginal depth. Either way it was fun to move from the high point of Northern California on my board. Following a half mile of cross-country riding, the team dropped into the first pitch of our descent – misery hill. The previous week’s storm had left a few inches of wind-buffed wintry snow, and we made the most of it, arcing fast turns down the 500′ face. A quick bootpack brought us to the top of the Trinity Chutes, a series of lengthy fun rock-walled lines with the perfect rippable pitch.
Sunshine dropped in first, discovering refrozen snow to the left and softening conditions right. Trinity was the most committing backcountry riding he had undertaken, and he managed the variable conditions with his usual poise. And he wore an American-Flag inspired ski-racing suite.
Learning from Sunshine’s line choice, Izzy moved to a more easterly chute and ripped big mountain turns straight down the corned up surface in great style. I followed suite and worked the rider’s right of the chutes, surfing the rapidly softening surface. Andrea closed out our time in Trinity with some steep turns as well.
After regrouping with Randy above Helen Lake, we worked our way down the final few miles of rotten snow, doing our best to stay afloat in the punchy and unpredictable surface. I don’t know if I have ever expended so much energy going downhill on my board, but it sure beat hiking. By 1:30 we were back at the Bunny Flats TH, refueling with trailmix and Bourbon under a hot California Sun.