June 23 - 25, 2000
Ruth * Rick * Brett * David * Ben * Jeff? * Sylvester?
Site last updated 6/8/00
|Meals: Need to work this out...
|Equipment Rental Options:
|Costs (these need to be confirmed/elaborated upon...)
|May 22, 2000: Discussion with Shasta Ranger
|Route:||Traditional John Muir / Avalanche Gulch|
|Difficulty:||3rd class. Moderate terrain and moderate conditions, either rock or snow, requiring proper footware, ice ax and crampons. A rope is generally not needed, but may be taken in reserve for less experienced members.|
|Access:||Everitt Memorial Highway via Bunny or Sand Flat|
|Campsites:||Horse Camp, Helen Lake, Sand Flat, Bunny Flat|
|This was the route of the first recorded ascent of Mt. Shasta by Captain
E. D. Pearce in 1854, and is by far the most popular climbing route today. In the early
days before improved roads and all-weather highways, a climb began on horseback in
Stawberry Valley in the town of Sisson. In those days, guides and outfitters led their
parties to timberline near the site of the present-day Sierra Club cabin at Horse Camp.
Here, meadows provided forage and water for the horses while the party climbed. Over the
years, increased use of this area brought improvement of the trail, construction of
Olberman's Causeway, and establishement of campsites. Nevertheless, Horse Camp is still
remarkably much like it was a century ago. There is still the gathering and the
camaraderie of climbers from the world over, a summer custodian is in residence at the
cabin to help the first-time visitor, and the evenings are still the catalysts of tall
tales. From the stone benches lining the rear wall of the cabin, you can see the panorama
and many features of this climbing route. This is a wonderful base camp for one's first
climb on Mt. Shasta.
From the Sierra Club cabin to the summit is only 4.1 miles, but over 6000 vertical feet! From a viewpoint just behind the cabin, the foreground vista (and the beginning of the climb) can be divided into three areas from left to right: The climber's gully, the middle moraines, and Avalanche Gulch. Olberman's Causeway, laboriously built of huge, flat stones by the cabin's first custodian, Mac Olberman, begins just a few feet behind the cabin and heads you in the proper direction.We follow the causeway as it leads toward the peak. (When the causeway is still covered with snow, ascend the broad, main drainage behind the cabin.) Continue up the long climber's gully which curves left, then straightens and opens up to a broad area of gentle flats and rock moraine. You are now at the left (W) of the huge, open drainage called Avalanche Gulch. Ascend moderate slopes upward to a flat area at 10,4000 feet known as Helen Lake. You can also reach Helen Lake by ascending the morainal hills, or steps, just right (E) of the climber's gully. This line is a little more direct, but also steeper in places. Conditions at the time will dictate the best choice; consolidated snow is always easier climbing than loose talus. Few climbers use Avalanche Gulch proper as a means of ascent to Helen Lake, but it's often an excellent ski route.
Helen Lake was named in 1924 when Helen Wheeler, guided on a successful summit climb by Ed Stuhl, inquired as to the name of the lovely tarn. Ed christened the tiny lake on the spont, and the name has stuck ever since. Actually, the lake is usually under snow, and hence seldom seen except late in exceptionally dry years. During the drought years of 1975-1977 and again in 1988, Helen Lake was visible and worthy of its name. If you wish to establish a higher base camp than Horse Camp, the bench at Helen Lake makes an excellent, and often popular, campsite. Except in winter and early spring, runoff water is usually available, and a number of flat, protected campsites have evolved over the years. Increased use of this fragile alpine environment necessitated the installation of a pit toilet by the US Forest Service in 1988 at the east of Helen Lake. (In winter, locate your latrine away from the lake).
Above Helen Lake lies the most strenuous section of the route, a 2500' snow field that steepens to 35 degrees near its top. Stay right of center of the main drainage, aiming generally toward the right side of the Red Banks, the prominent orange palisades of welded pumice which represent one of Shasta's more recent flows. Constant vigilance is advised; the Red Banks are the source of most of the rockfall in Avalanche Gulche. Allow yourself plent of time to climb and return before the sun's heat can loosen and dislodge any rocks. Mid-to-late summer is the most dangerious time, although rockfall can occur during any season at any time. At nearly 12,000', stay to the right of a large rockfield called the Heart. Depending on the time of year and the previous year's snowpack, this feature may take on a variety of sizes and shapes. The Heart can also be a source of rockfall.
The little saddle between the Red Banks and Thumb Rock at 12,800' is a good place to rest, eat and warm up in the sun; a small alcove can provide protection in case of wind. Now walk briefly around behind the Red Banks on the edge of Konwakiton Glacier, avoiding the crevasse (called a bergschrund) where glacier snow has pulled away from the rock. Regain the Red Banks and follow the ridge at its top, a broad snowfield bounded on the north by the Whitney Glacier and on the southt by the Konwakiton Glacier. In mid-to-late summer the bergschrund can be quite large, blocking easy return to the Red Bank's crest. Snowbridges across this bergschrund may offer safe passage in the cool of the morning, but they can be dangerously softened by the afternoon sun. If so, or if your lack of equipment and experience or your intuition causes doubt, you can backtrack a few hundred feet and climb upward through one of several shallow gullies in the Red Banks, reaching their top shortly.
A short but worthwhile side trip is a brief walk north on the snowfield at the top of the Red Banks. Here you can enjoy a view of the whole expanse of Whitney Glacier, the longest glacier in California. In mid-season, Clarence King Lake (within Shastina's crater) and Sisson Lake (on the saddle between Shasta and Shastina) appear as turquoise jewels against the stark white backdrop of snow.
Continue up "Misery Hill" (either a misnomer or an understatement, depending on conditions) via the best-quality snow or a faint scree trail right of the center of the hill. You soon reach the flat summit snowfield. Cross this plateau, heading for an obvious col between the summit pinnacle to the right (E), and a smaller one to the west. The summit snowfield is often wind-sculpted into a labyrinth of bizzare and beautiful shapes. During late season, and in years of light snowpack, the twisted cylindrical remains of the old geodetic monument may be seen emerging from snow beneath the southweset face of the summit pinnacle. The bubbling sulfur fumaroles nearby are a reminder that Mt. Shasta is indeed a volcano, active not long ago.
Ascend the summit via easy scrambling on its northwest side, thus concluding Mt. Shasta's most historic and most popular route. Descend via the same route.