In 2009 (so long ago!) I attempted to summit Mt. Shasta, one of California’s tallest mountains and a fourteener at 14,180 feet. Unfortunately, we didn’t top out — several things didn’t go as planned (more on that in a future post), and I ended up turning around after making it over Red Banks.
Goal is to reattempt climbing Shasta this year between late May and early June. This is the best time of year since it’s ideal to have a good amount of snow. Once it melts, you’re hiking up loose scree, which is a lot more dangerous and a lot more annoying than climbing on snow and ice with crampons.
There are no paths — it’s literally just a straight climb up the mountain (of course, going from one landmark to another.)
The biggest issue I have at this moment is not having a definite partner for the climb. This isn’t something I’d want to do alone due to the small amount of potential danger. It’s honestly a little tough finding others who are mountaineering minded (since it’s not the most comfortable experience, sleeping on the snow and all.
Potential issues and problems
In terms of danger, it’s more than the average hike, but not much more. The route I plan to take is Avalanche Gulch, which has almost technical pieces.
- Climbing with crampons is potentially dangerous if you lose your footing and aren’t able to self-arrest using the ice-axe. If you fall and end up going head over feet, there is a real possibility of major injury (you know, sharp blades on your feet and all that can catch on ice in bad positions, or worse, on yourself). When we were at Helen Lake last time, some other climber decided to glissade, didn’t take his crampons off, and we watched him go head over feet about 100 feet into camp. Rangers, were astonished he escaped injury.
- There is a very small potential for ice climbing without harnesses if the Thumb Rock pass is closed. If it warms up too much, the crevasse opens up and it’s recommended to avoid that route and go up one of the climneys at the top of Red Banks. Last time we went up the first climney, so we had to climb (without ropes or harnesses) about seven feet of ice using our ice-axes and crampons. The ice also wasn’t vertical, but still a little scary — if you lost your footing, you could fall backwards off the mountain. I honestly didn’t find it that bad at the time, but my partner had some issues.
- Not danger, but uncomfortableness: being in the snow is no picnic. Last time, the snow getting to camp #1 (Horse Camp) was deep so we post-holed our way there, which takes a ton of energy. We ended up post-holing on the way back down the mountain as well (pro-tip: avoid hiking in the afternoon in snow!) Not to mention how uncomfortable sleeping in the snow is. I personally sleep very cold normally when hiking, and night #1 I didn’t sleep at all. I think I slept the night before summiting just because I was so exhausted.
- TMI alert. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. My bowels hate pooping anywhere there isn’t a toilet, and there are definitely no toilets on the mountain. There were issues. More on this on my recap (oh joy, right?)
- Altitude sickness (HAPE and HACE) can definitely happen. I’m hoping to mitigate these risks by taking Diamox, arriving in Shasta City early, and using both Base Camps (whereas most go straight to Helen Lake and only spend one night on the mountain.)
- Summiting a mountain!
- A very physical effort. I love it.
- Some of the most amazing and beautiful views I have ever seen in my life.
And yes, those potential awesomeness reasons definitely make it worth it.
First 2014 Goal: Finally summit Mount Shasta.
Photo credit: Jeremy Gillick