7-9, 2006 Mt. Shasta (14,162 ft)
These notes were last updated 7/17/2006 4:37 pm PST
On the weekend of July 7-9, 2006, I went to Mt. Shasta in northern California with one other hiker. We left the Bay Area early Friday afternoon and got to Shasta around 7pm and started hiking to Horse Camp at about 8pm. We camped at Horse Camp (whose spring was not running - so we had to carry extra water up) Friday night and then on Saturday, hiked up to Helen Lake. It took us about 5 hours for this segment. We prepared for the summit dayhike by having dinner around 7pm and going to sleep around 8pm with the intent to wake up around 1:30am and starting the hike at 2am. We got up on-time and started the hike at about 2:20am.
From Mountain View to Mt. Shasta is about 310 miles almost due North. From the Google map below, you can see the path marked in purple/blue. Most of the road travel is on Rt 5. The amazing thing is that after we past Sacramento, while still at least 150 miles from Mt. Shasta (see Pt. A in the picture and the picture after the map), we could see a snow-covered mountain far away and that was indeed Shasta! Absolutely amazing! I had never seen any mountain from so far away before. As you can see, Shasta is almost to the Oregon border already, and to be able to see it from so far away instantly inspired awe.
Here's a pic from Rt 5 (Pt A in the above map) that shows Shasta sticking out in the far background. Even at this distance (at least 150 miles away), the mountain looks huge. I simply could not and would not believe it. But it was true.. as we got closer, the mountain just got bigger and bigger.
Here's another Google map showing Mt. Shasta itself next to the town Mount Shasta and Rt 5. Look how massive it is - almost 10 miles diameter with the summit almost at the exact center.
Once we arrived at the town of Mount Shasta, we had dinner at the Burger King. I wanted to take in some high energy, high fat 'food' in prep for the next couple of days. Here's my hiking partner CS and a strange 5-dollar bill I got back as change from my Crispy (spicy) chicken combo (w/OJ). I also bought a veggy burger and 6 chicken-sticks for breakfast/lunch for the next day (Saturday) and the hike to Helen Lake from Horse Camp.
After dinner and getting last minute supplies (water -since the spring at Horse Camp wasn't running, weather-proof matches, garbage bags for glissading), we drove the rest of the 15 miles or so to Bunny Flat trailhead, shown in the next pic. We got there around 7:30pm and started to pack for the trip - this is it!
We self registered for the wilderness permit and also a $15 summit (above 10,000') permit:
Here you see my backpack (green-left) and CS's (red-right). My cramp-ons are clipped to my bag and you can see CS securing his ice ax to his backpack. I was carrying about 1 gallon of liquids, the tent, jacket, camera (20D), ax, etc, and probably totalled at least 40-45 pounds, perhaps more. I'm not sure how heavy CS's backpack was.
Here is CS (left) and myself (right) on the sunset hike up to Horse Camp from the trailhead.
Summit dayhike [top]
Generally, the easiest path up the snow field is to the right of The Heart, coming up at the base of Red Bank. In the following pic, you can see that much of the snow on the Heart has melted, exposing rocks. One should NOT hike on these rocks as they're quite loose and if knocked about, could roll down and strike hikers below.
Since there weren't many people ahead of me, I basically followed the lights in front of me and ended up going to the left of The Heart. This path (also known as variation 1a in many guide books), as I found out later, is steeper and requires going through 'challenging' chimneys. Chimneys are cracks in the cliff face where snow/ice flow through. From below, I picked a chimney that looked pretty passable and went towarded it. As I got closer and closer, I wondered why the slop was getting so steep. It was so steep, in fact, that I wasn't walking up anymore, but rather I was climbing up, using the ice ax as a hanging tool, rather than for just support. It was rather scary.
In this next pic, I show the main structures above Helen Lake (10,400'). Generally, people take route 1 (R1 - in red) which goes to the right of The Heart to the base of Red Bank and just to the left of Thumb rock. I ended up taking the blue route (V1a - variation 1a).
In the next picture, you can see more clearly the Heart and Red Bank which is now completely melted. You can see that if you take the path to the left of The Heart, you can skip the entire ascend of Red Bank. Sounds good, right? Well, you can see that there's a battery of rocks you have go get through first.
In the following picture, I show the main route (R1 - red) and the route that I took (V1a - Blue). You can see what looks like vertical pipes of snow in the cliff face - these are the 'chimneys'. As you can see from the pic, I went up the blue line to a set of chimney on the left. But after almost 2 hours of trying to ascend the first chimney and failing, I took the pink/purple line downwards and towards the Heart and finally go through to the top via a lower chimney.
Here's a picture I took when I am almost at the base of the chimneys. WHat you're seeing is the lower parts of the right side of the Left-of-the-Heart. You can see 2 people climbing. One person is above the Heart already and on his hands to gain stability. The other person is walking upright, he is at the top-edge of the Heart. The Heart in this picture is just a thin strip of land right behind the lower person.
Here's the same picture as above, magnified a little. You can see the angle of incline is probably about 30 to 35 degrees. It gets even steeper as you get closer to the chimneys!
Here's another picture taken at the same time as the above 2 pictures. You can still see the lower climber from the previous pics. You can see some black dots in the lower-center of the photo, those are other climbers making their way up - see the pic after next.
I thought that the steep snow bank/field would be the most difficult part and that the chimney shouldn't be so difficult to go through. But was I ever so wrong! Once I got to the base of the chimney, I saw just how steep the chimneys were and high up. It was perhaps 80' in length and 35' in elevation. That wouldn't be so bad if the surface could be walked on. As it turns out, parts of the chimney was covered in ice. The temperature had been so warm during the daytime that there was water flowing under the ice and snow in the chimney. I couldn't see the water but I could hear it flowing - sometimes in drips, sometimes like small streams.
In the following pic, I've drawn a box around the series of chimneys that I tried to traverse through. This picture was taken when I was probably about 300 ft from the base of the chimneys. It was taken at 5:28 am, the sun had not risen yet. The picture after next shows a more detailed view of the chimney (I believe) that I tried to go through.
There were two chimneys sort of side by side, a left and a right. I couldn't get to the chimney on the right and besides, it looked more dangerous than the left, so I started towards the left chimney. I had to first go onto a seemingly loose boulder about the size of a large fridge and seemingly only held in place by the snow and ice. I was afraid that if I got onto it, that I would loosen it and send it rolling down the snow field. But it stayed in place when I got onto the top of it. From there, I had to do a small jump to the bottom of the left chimney. It was pretty scary because if I fell, I would've put quite an impact on the boulder and really send it loose, or worse yet, I could miss the boulder on the fall and just end up falling into the snow bank and its seemingly 60 degree slopes (but it was probably more like 40-45 degrees) and down the 2500' to Helen Lake.
Once I got to the bottom of the left chimney, I felt confident that I could get through it. That is, until I started to climb it. Almost immediately I had to use the ice ax to chip away at the surface. This was because the slope was very steep and the surface was not just hardened snow, but in many places, solid ice. I pulled myself up perhaps 10 ft and looked up and realized that I really couldn't go any farther up because of the steepness and no footholds or grips whatsoever. There were areas where it was less steep, but to get to those areas, I would have to get through patches of steep areas. (My hands are sweating even as I just write about it). I thought about going back down and use a different chimney. I came down and by this time, the sun had risen enough so I could see just how steep everything was and how no one was going in my direction at all. Everyone had gone to the right of the Heart. If I went down, I would probably lose at least an hour and a half, and my energy would've been all used up.
I decided to continue going up the left chimney. I started using the ice ax to belay myself up and keeping my body closely leaning into the surface. I could still kick my crampons into the hardened snow. But in just a few short feet, I found that I could no longer push the ice ax into the snow and my cramp-ons would not give me much hold to the surface. So I started using the other parts of the ice ax to dig holes into the chimney so I can place my feet into them. As i got farther up, the digging became more and more difficult as the material was now harder and harder, and the slope kept increasing. Several times I turned around to look behind me and found myself shaking in the legs and thinking what a mess I had gotten myself into. I was in an awful situation - I couldn't go up nor down and I was getting tired very quickly from all the pounding of the snow/ice using the ice ax.
Everytime I thought I couldn't go farther up, I made myself think that it's just a few more feet, that I'm almost through. I would dig more holes and kept pulling myself up. I was definitely very scared. The snow and ice that I was dislodging using the ax fell downwards to my boots, onto my jacket, my face, everywhere. I didn't even care anymore that some of this material was going straight down the snow field. If anyone else had be climbing up behind me, they would've been bombarded with chunks of snow and ice. But fortunately no one followed me and the stuff that fell would just end up with all the avalanche debris.
Here's a picture I took from INSIDE the chimney. You can see the part of the chimney on the very left of the picture - that's showing part of the volcanic rock structure. You can see the snow appears to be kinda dirty with what looks like tracks or evidence that things have rolled through the area. In fact, that is true - the dirtiness comes from a mixture of falling rocks, melted snow, and ice. They are NOT human tracks but instead are created by the avalanche debris. The danger of falling objects is probably why this isn't a recommended route and why I saw no one else behind me on this route. You can't tell the steepness from this picture but basically, if I fell, I would've not been able to stop myself for probably 1000 vertical feet or more until the slope became more gentle.
Finally, after more than an hour of digging and going up slowly, I thought I was just about done, then I saw that ahead of me was a stretch of ice about 6' wide and 8' high. If I was going to get to the top, I needed to get past this stretch of ice. Up until now, I was able to dig holes for my feet but this was now different. My ice ax could not break into the ice enough to make any holes that I could put my feet into. I was only able to chip into the ice about an inch or two. And even if I was able to spend 20 minutes digging each hole, there was no guarantee the holes would hold me because it was all ice. The cramp-ons worked great on hardended snow and partial-ice, but total ice?? I had no experience and didn't know if it would work.
So I had to make a critical decision - I had to turn back. If I attempted to climb the ice and go get through the last 8 ft or so, I would've arrived well above Red Banks. It was very risky though - if I lost my grip or footing, I surely would've fell and sustained major injuries or death. I was not ready to die yet. I made the decision to go back down. You'd think that going down would be the safe thing to do, but as I turned around to go down, I realized how even more scared I was now. Because of the steepness, I couldn't always see the holes that I had dug, and so didn't know where to place my feet. Thoughts of falling into the chasm crept into my head often. Slowly, one hole at a time, I finally got down to the bottom of the chimney and at the edge of the snow field. The worst was over - now I had to decide whether to try another chimney or to go back down and cross over to the right of the Heart and continue up.
Or perhaps just give up the summit attempt altogether since by now I had used up almost all of my energy. Had I taken the main route, I would've reached the summit easily by about 7:30 am, or about 5 hours. But instead, it was past 8 am and I had to decide how to continue or to go back all the way down. I started down the snow field in a small debris gully, facing outwards. If I stood up and lost balance, I would've easly fallen. Once I descended about 50', I stood up and faced the snow and crab-walked downwards and to the right - towards the Heart. Since I had 'survived' the chimney, I felt confident I could traverse the snowfield w/o much trouble. And so on this descent, I started to walk normally (one foot in front of another) while leaning with the ice ax with my left side. After only a few steps, I realized my over-confidence was uncalled for because I lost a grip on one foot and almost fell. So of course I quickly returned to my pose of facing the snow and with my feet on either side of my body and walking like a crab.
My intent was to go to the right side of the Heart and decide if I had enough energy to still summit. I was also being realistic with myself in that I knew most of my energy had been sapped and I might have to abandon the summit attempt altogether. In either case, I had to go down and to the right. As I descended more, I passed by another chimney and thought about trying it but did not because it didn't look any easier than the one I attempted earlier. But as I went down more, I saw another chimney that looked passable. In fact, there seemed to be footsteps into the chimney and up. I was already below the chimney perhaps 30' but I decided to try it anyway. I thought it would be much better than going all the way back down, perhaps I could salvage the summit attempt, even if I dont get to the top. This chimney was smaller/shorter and less steep and I was able to 'easily' climb through in a matter of a few minutes. Mind you, I still had to dig a few holes, but nothing remotely as scary as the first chimney I tried. It was very comforting to see some footsteps along this path!!
Once I made it out of the chimney, I was totally exhausted but happy that I didn't sustain any injuries. From there I hiked slowly up misery hill and the rest of the way to the summit. What an experience!! It was so beautiful up there - I could see for over 100 miles in all directions. Too bad I was too tired to really take everything in but it's a trip I will never forget!!
Topo and route maps [top]
In the following 2 pictures, the yellow hilited path is what I took to summit from Helen Lake. I went on the V1a, which is a variation of the main route (R1). V1a bypasses Red Banks entirely. The picture of the description of V1a, as well as the map photos are from the book "The Mt. Shasta Book":
Below are sequential photos from the trip [top]
047b - View of Mt. Shasta on Rt 5, from perhaps 20 miles away. We could see it from as far as 150 miles away.
069 - Mt. Shasta - the gulch in the middle is where we'll ascend - see next photo.
069b - The red line is the easiest path but since it was dark, I ended up taking the blue route. At the bottom of the red line is Helen Lake (10,500') where we camped.
082 - Sunset while hiking from trailhead to Horse Camp
115 - Camping on the snow at Horse Camp on 7/7. The next day we'll climb to Helen Lake (10,500')
255 - We started the ascend at about 2:20 AM. This is a view of Avalanche Gulch from the left half of Red Banks (top-end of the blue line in picture 069b). It's a 2000+' drop to Helen Lake below - see next pic
255b - The red ellipse is where we camped - Helen Lake.
275 - Top of Misery Hill - can finally see the summit of Mt. Shasta - the hump in the center of the photo
291 - The Book at the summit. Signed it!
295 - Me at the summit - view was spectacular though I was too tired to pay much attention.
298 - View from the summit - the folks hiking below are coming from Misery Hill.
303 - Another view of the summit - lots of tired folks up here.
304 - Me at the summit again - I may not look too tired but I was definitely exhausted and took quite a bit of effort to put myself in position to take this picture. It was extremely warm at the summit that day - I'd say at least in the high 50's, maybe even low 60's. Note that I didn't actually measure the temperature so it could've been much lower, but after continuously climbing for so long and under the intense sun w/o much wind to speak of, I think even 45F degrees would've felt like 65. The long white thing is my camelbak tube. I had wrapped it up with insulation to prevent the liquid in the tube section from freezing up. But it wasn't necessary since it was quite warm.
310 - View of Red Banks - look at the next picture to see how steep it is.
311 - Red Banks again - notice the tiny dots on the slopes - they are hikers coming down the loose rocks - see next pic
312 - Red Bank - this is same pic as above, but here you can clearly see the people coming down. The angle is nearly 30 degrees. You don't walk straight down because it's too steep and the rocks are too loose. There are impromptu switchback trails you can sort of follow. If you're more adventurous, you can sort of step-slide down. That is, you can take a step and let your feet slide a little over the loose rocks. You'll have to balance yourself carefully - this is a good location for hiking poles. The problem with step-sliding is that you might kick a rock too far and it starts to roll down the hill and could hit someone below. I did this twice and had to yell out loudly "ROCK!! Watch out!" to the people below. Fortunately, both times the people below were watching carefully and did not get hit.
314 - Those are my shoes as I glissade down the gulch.
314b - You can see the tents at the camp area at Helen Lake, about another 1000' below where I'm at now.
Preparation for the trip pictures [top]
001 - here are just some of the stuff I was preparing to bring - tent (blue/orange), daypack w/hydration pack (blue- upper middle), sleeping bag, sleeping pad, 2 1-liter bottles, 1 half-liter bottle, two 0.6 liter gatorade bottles, swiss army knife, camera bag with extra batteries and 5 GB's worth of CF cards, compass with thermometer and mangnifying glass, 2 Mountain House freeze dried food (2 servings each), travel size sunblock, toothpaste/brush, lip balm, mosquito repellent, emergency blanket, beef jerkey, dried pineapples, trail mix, granola bars (6), garbage/zip-lock bags, ropes, 6 GU's (powergel), 2 power bars, scarf, ski pants, winter jacket, 2 pairs of gloves (1 thin, 1 ski), instant hand warmer, sweatpants, walkie-talkie, 2 pairs of hiking socks, 1 pair of sock liners, first-aid kit, and a number of other items.
003 - Details of just a few of the items for the trip.
005 - I ended up having 3 of these gel-things on the day-hike to the summit. Each is 100 calories of instant energy. It was a lot better than powerbars which require chewing and just dont taste very good at all. GU, on the other hand, is easily taken and its effects seem to kick in very quickly. And it's very easy to carry - just put in pocket. Each is only about 1.1 oz in weight, so it was very efficient energy.
Recommended Gears [top]