Mt. Shasta Guide Report: 12 Straight Days in Avalanche Gulch

Here is another in our series of special guide posts and trip reports. This comes from Greg Cunningham, a senior guide and dedicated skier. Greg spends the winter as a ski patroller at Kirkwood Mountain Resort and heads to Mt. Shasta as soon as the resort closes for the spring and summer volcano season.

Greg Cunningham Mt. Shasta summit plateau

Greg Cunningham Mt. Shasta summit plateau

We often say that what makes SMG special is our amazingly talented and skilled guide staff. We are honored to have such a capable crew who are passionate about the outdoors and sharing that experience with our guests. Thanks Greg and our entire guide family!

 

 

 

12 Straight Days in Avalanche Gulch

The 2015 guiding season with Shasta Mountain Guides got started in a hurry. After another meager winter in Tahoe, I was eager to get back up to Mt. Shasta and coax what I could out of the remaining ski season. My first ski trip was scheduled for April 25-27, and conditions were looking good; high pressure, warm days, and cool nights promised classic Shasta corn. Driving north from Kirkwood, I didn’t yet realize that my first three day would turn into a 12 day marathon of four consecutive ski trips, stellar clients, great friends, and 40,000 vertical feet of some of the best spring skiing anywhere.

Orly skiing up the lunar landscape of the Lower Gulch

Orly skiing up the lunar landscape of the Lower Gulch

Trip number one brought clear skies, perfect conditions, and two great guests. Luke and Orly showed up psyched and ready to go. We wasted no time getting after it, and spent the first two days skiing dreamy Shasta corn, acclimatizing, and dialing in our climbing skills for summit day. On summit day, conditions were absolutely ideal, and after recruiting Jacob from guide training to help out, we got Luke to the summit, skied two great ski lines and got a rare guided ski descent of the Trinity Chutes in great condition.

Kyle carefully climbing into the center Trinity Chute

Kyle carefully climbing into the center Trinity Chute

The second trip of the streak was a personal trip with friends from Kirkwood, and as I returned to Horsecamp the next day, I felt like I had never left. We were even able to use the same tent platforms that we had sculpted in the snow on the previous trip. This trip was a bit more casual than the first, but there was no shortage of motivated skiers, classic lines and great snow. I left my friends on Thursday evening and skied out to Bunny Flat, knowing that I would run into them tomorrow as I headed back in with my next group.

Skiing out of the Trinities

Skiing out of the Trinities

The third trip of the corn shredding extravaganza brought Phil and Andrew for Andrew’s birthday celebration, and probably the best conditions of the spring thus far. We quickly became friends, and since I had spent the previous six days skiing in Avalanche Gulch, we wasted no time finding the good skiing. The truth is, at this point in the weather cycle, the good skiing was everywhere, and it was hard to go wrong.  We skied great lines off of Casaval Ridge and in the Lower Gulch, and then lounged in the afternoon sun, as we rested up for our summit day.  On summit day, we started at 4am under a full moon that completely illuminated the Mountain, so much so that we didn’t need to use our headlamps. Climbing conditions were excellent, and we summited and skied 6,000′ continuous vert of Mt Shasta magic.

Dan and I on the summit on the fourth and final trip

Dan and I on the summit on the fourth and final trip

My fourth and final consecutive trip brought Dan out from Manhattan in search of a summit and a ski descent all the way back down.  We spent the first two days skiing, exploring all that Avalanche Gulch has to offer, and practicing our climbing skills for what was forecasted to be a somewhat rugged summit day. Our summit day was cold and a stiff north wind was blowing. Besides one other party, we were apparently the only ones on the upper mountain.  The snow was in excellent condition for cramponing, and we made good progress and summited right at noontime. The cold temps and north winds weren’t very conducive to soft skiing. Luckily, Dan grew up skiing in New England and is no stranger to skiing hard snow. We negotiated the upper mountain smoothly and efficiently, and to our relief, found softening snow for the last couple thousand feet of our run.  Although conditions were challenging at times, Dan was psyched and the trip was a total success.

And so concluded an epic start to the 2015 season.  4 ski trips back to back, summits on every trip, day after day of endless corn skiing, and 12 days and 40,000 vertical feet of human powered skiing. Mount Shasta has an entire range worth of skiing on one mountain, and although we skied only in Avalanche Gulch for the entire time, we were always skiing different lines and never getting bored.  Avalanche Gulch is still holding good snow, but my attention is now turning towards the other sides of the mountain in hopes of riding out the ski season as long as possible. Reports from the West Face are of good coverage and great, smooth snow, and it’s about time to start heading out to explore the North and East sides of the mountain.  I have a feeling I’ll be skiing for another month or more, and I can’t wait to share some more turns with new guests and old friends alike.

Mt. Shasta conditions report 4.9.15

There is one truth is backcountry skiing; you better enjoy the up. You’re going to spend the majority of your day skiing uphill and a fraction of the time ripping turns and blasting pow on the way down. And if we’re being totally transparant, the skiing conditions can be a veritable mixed bag, from all time epic to challenging crusts that test the hardiest of skiers.

Mt. Shasta April 2015

Mt. Shasta April 2015

Such was our day. We had high hopes, 2 feet of new snow, the temps were staying cool, the sun was out and all of Northern California and Southern Oregon converged on Mt. Shasta; from Tahoe refugees to storm chasing van living dirtbags, the stoke was high at Bunny Flat.

Jacob and Dane putting in the perfect trench up the middle moraines Avalanche Gulch, Mt. Shasta 4.8.15

Jacob and Dane putting in the perfect trench up the middle moraines Avalanche Gulch, Mt. Shasta 4.8.15

As you emerged from the low hanging clouds and fog in town, the mountain shone brilliantly fully coated in the most recent winter storm in spring. Upon closer inspection, it became obvious that the wind had it’s way with Mt. Shasta, and the bluebird skies we all love were going to wreak even more havoc on the fragile snow surface.

Dropping in from 10,400', variable snow and zero visibility in Avalanche Gulch

Dropping in from 10,400′, variable snow and zero visibility in Avalanche Gulch

But that’s the beauty of backcountry skiing, it really doesn’t matter how good or bad the snow is, it’s all about being out with friends and putting yourself in beauty. The skin up was glorious, deep trailbreaking with the anticipation of scoring 2 feet of new snow. The reality was slightly different; just as our crew of 6 transitioned at Lake Helen for the descent, the clouds moved in and bluebird skies went to 100′ of visibility. At one point I couldn’t determine if I was moving or stationary and we skied “leapfrogging” one another to try to get some perspective. A true comedy as soon as the skier took first position an immediate slow speed tip over ocurred. Skiing is difficult enough, it’s near impossible when you can’t determine the fall line.

There were some highlights though and there were sections of smooth snow less effected by the wind and warming temps. There were plenty of deep turns to be found and soft snow under your skis always feels good. I reckon the best skiing will be once this snow consolodates and we get back to spring corn conditions. The climbers will be most challenged by the recent storm and anyone thinking about a summit climb will be extremely challenged by the deep snow and potential avalanche hazard. I recommend giving the snow pack some time to adjust.

Skiing up Avalanche Gulch

Skiing up Avalanche Gulch

It looks like we may see a little more precip in the next week, nothing big but enough for a couple refreshers. The snowpack above 8,000′ is great, near normal depths and we expect a super climbing season. The latest storm helped the lower elevations but soon we’ll be on dry ground from the trailhead at 7,000′

Heads up while the snow transitions; today’s (4.9.15) warm temps may produce some instabilities. Check the avalanche advisory and use good route finding and track setting for the best conditions. We’ll see you in the Shasta BC!

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Upcoming:

Cascade 2 for 1! Climb and ski both Shasta and Shastina basecamped in Hidden Valley. Are you ready for the challenge and the rewards? April 17-20

SMG Mt. Shasta Backcountry Conditions report 3.26.15

With new snow and cooler than normal temps there really was no choice but to head up the mountain and check on ski and avalanche conditions, cracked ribs or not!

Monday was a bit of a surprise to see stars in the morning so we left SMG HQ for a quick hike up the gulch. There are few vistas more inspiring than a newly frosted Mt. Shasta. The first round brought 8-10″ of new light density snow, perhaps a foot in places with gusty blowing winds above 9,000′

Mt. Shasta March 20115

Mt. Shasta March 2015

Another smaller system added a few more inches Tuesday with snow levels down to 5,000′. With clearing forecast for Wednesday and above normal temps coming this week, we decided to head back up before the sun and wind did any significant damage and enjoy the winter-like snow sliding.

Jen Carr skinning up the Gulch, good turns await!

Jen Carr skinning up the Gulch, good turns await!

Apparantly many others were thinking the same, I was somewhat surprised to see so many people out climbing and skiing mid week so early in the season. There were multiple groups of visiting skiers and riders and it’s fun to be out with so many stoked backcountry shredders! Mt. Shasta has been a focal point for West Coast backcountry skiing and this will only increase this Spring as resorts continue to close early for the 2015 season.

We are somewhat concerened for wet slide activity as the temps climb today and this week. Last week’s storms produced some good size wet slides. We now have additional snow and with the observed winds this week, the upper slopes of Casaval Ridge and the Trinity Chutes will certainly be loaded.

caswetslide

Wet slide avalanches March 2015 ph: BH

These slopes also receive the most solar input and we’re pretty confident we’ll see a repeat of wet slides from steep south east aspects. Heads up today (3.26) especially and into the weekend.

The USFS Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center issued a  midweek update on Monday afternoon. Stability tests indicated good bonding with the new snow at mid elevations. However, good timing and cautious route finding will be essential to minimize hazard from the forecasted warm temps this week. There may be some wind slabs which developed as well so heads up if venturing onto the upper mountain.

After a lackluster winter, it’s easy to let our guard down when the sun is shining and temps are mild, but lets not be complacent. We observed several red flag factors; new snow, wind transport, and now warming temps. Please be cautious out there!

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Upcoming Highlights

April 3-7 Denali Prep Course  (2 spaces available)

April 17-20 Mt. Shasta/Shastina Cascade 2 for 1. Bakcountry ski and snowboard seminar.

Backcountry skiing Mt. Shasta

Miracle March has lived up to it’s snowy reputation. As of March 4th we have received 3-5′ of new snow on the mountain. This has come with fluctuating snow levels and steady wet weather patterns. Generally the snow level has been around 6,500′, taking brief hiatuses to 5,000′. Classic Cascade cement which will make for great spring climbing and skiing on Mt. Shasta.

Mt. Shasta March 4, 2014

Mt. Shasta March 4, 2014

We had a short break in the storms Tuesday with more wet weather headed our way Wednesday-Thursday. The break in the action allowed us to get up to 10,200′ to investigate the snow pack and natural avalanche cycle. The storms ended with a nice frosty finish and cooling temps which made excellent powder skiing and riding.

Jenn skis the big trees

Jenn skis the big trees

We observed a large avalanche that likely occurred Sunday 3/2 and started in upper Avalanche Gulch and deposited a large amount of debris into both climbers gully and avalanche gulch proper. What was most impressive was the linear distance the avalanche traveled across relatively flat terrain, indicating a significant amount of energy and force.

avalanche debris in Avalanche Gulch

avalanche debris in Avalanche Gulch

Smaller storm slabs were observed from Casaval Ridge that likely occurred Monday with much less size and distance, yet still something to give wide clearance to.

avalanche activity in Avalanche Gulch

avalanche activity in Avalanche Gulch

Observing several red flags (recent avalanche activity, blowing snow, rapid temp increases) we were traveling conservatively and made our transition and ski from just below Lake Helen. We enjoyed 3,500′ of near perfect powder, finally winter comes to Nor Cal!

Middle Moraines

Middle Moraines powder riding

The storm cycle and impressive avalanche activity reminded us that winter is far from over. Be aware of ever changing conditions on the mountain and be prudent in your terrain choices as wet weather continues.

We will have excellent conditions for the upcoming AIARE Level I Avalanche Seminar March 14-16. Contact us for more details. Be safe and have fun in the backcountry!

Skiing returns to Mt. Shasta

Did you here that? That was the collective sigh of relief as California received a healthy amount of precipitation ending a far too long dry spell plaguing our thirsty state for over 13 months. Mt. Shasta received between 2-3 feet of new snow from the last storm. This base building material is perfect, but the best part is the upcoming and long term weather forecast; sometimes you wanna kiss those forecasters over at the NWS in Medford.

…THE FIRE HOSE WILL BE SET TO FULL BLAST AND AIMED DIRECTLY AT NORTHERN CALIFORNIA FOR MUCH OF THE NEXT SEVEN DAYS…

Jenn Carr skis up Avalanche Gulch

Jenn Carr skis up Avalanche Gulch

Currently we have 2-3 feet of snow on the mountain. That means in most places rocks and stumps are still lurking just below the snow surface. Many happy locals were out enjoying the phenomenal conditions we had on Monday but caution needs to be exercised until we have a more substantial snow pack; which hopefully will be in a couple more days. The upcoming holiday weekend could hold potential for some serious storm skiing on Mt. Shasta and bring us right back to normal seasonal values this year. A very welcome relief for everyone.

Jenn Carr skis down Avalanche Gulch

Jenn Carr skis down Avalanche Gulch

While waiting for the snow totals to pile up this week, I took the opportunity to head just a few hours north to ski in the Three Sisters Wilderness area with friend and fellow guide Jonas Tarlen. Jonas owns and operates Three Sisters Backcountry; 2 hand crafted yurts and a wood fired sauna perched at the base of the TamMcArther Rim in Central Oregon.

Jonas Tarlan Three Sisters Wilderness

Jonas Tarlen Three Sisters Wilderness

Arriving after several feet of new snowfall and clearing bluebird skies, we scored beautiful ski and weather conditions although with significant avalanche hazard. This provided a great opportunity to use safe terrain choices while exploring the area and snowpack. We had a great day and Jonas was the perfect host as he gladly shared his skills and local knowledge. If you’re looking for a fun few days to unplug in the backcountry, a cozy yurt in the woods surrounded by hemlocks and ski shots is a great way to do it. Contact TSBC.

backcountry slope testing

backcountry slope testing

So nothing but snow and smiles here in Mt. Shasta and soon back to full operations. Contact us for any questions at all.

Climb Mt. Shasta REI Store Presentations

Attention San Francisco/Bay Area and  Sacramento area climbers. SMG Directors Chris and Jenn Carr will be at numerous REI stores for an informative and inspiring photo presentation and discussion. With combined over 200 summits, Chris and Jenn will answer your questions and help you prepare for a successful summit climb.

In this digital presentation, we will discuss the major routes on this majestic peak, including Avalanche Gulch, Casaval Ridge, Sargeant’s Ridge, Hotlum Glacier, the West Face, and more. We’ll share our expertise on mountaineering gear and technique, best times to climb, U.S. Forest Service regulations, mountain weather, and snow conditions. Learn what it takes to make a safe and successful summit climb from someone who has climbed, skied, and guided on the mountain for 30 years.

Tuesday, March 27 REI Marina

Wednesday, March 28 REI San Carlos

Thursday, March 29 REI Dublin

Tuesday, April 10th REI Roseville

Wednesday, April 11th REI Sacramento

Thursday, April 12th REI Folsom

Tuesday, April 24th REI Saratoga

Wednesday, April 25th REI San Francisco

Thursday April 26th REI Berkeley

 

 

Climbing Mt. Shasta – Selecting a route

In Michael Zanger (SMG Founder) and Andy Selter’s guidebook: The Mt. Shasta Book 17 routes to the summit of Mt. Shasta are included; each with unique variations and specific seasons. Of these, we at Shasta Mountain Guides regularly lead climbs up about 6 of them and routinely climb, ski, and explore the rest. Nearly all of the routes can be climbed on a custom trip if it’s not regularly scheduled.

Summit!

Shasta Summit!

 

Choosing an appropriate climb to suit your goals, skills, and conditions will help ensure a safe and more enjoyable experience. Here we will discuss the popular routes, the skills and preparation necessary, the ideal months for each climb, as well as a few photos to hopefully get you fired up!

Climbing gear

Mt. Shasta essentials

 

 

 

Climbing Mt. Shasta is a sustained physical, mental, and technical effort. It is a very reasonable objective for those who are in good physical condition, training specifically for the climb, and are motivated for a big challenge.

As a 14,179′ Cascade Volcano (2nd highest, and largest by volume) Mt. Shasta is best climbed with snow cover to minimize hazard and provide most optimal and efficient conditions. Although we will climb with crampons, ice axe, and even rope up on summit day; the technical challenges are moderate on most routes. The biggest challenge is physical; summit day is generally a 14-16 hour effort and with proper training and preparation a very attainable goal.

 

 

Avalanche Gulch

Climbing past the Heart in Avalanche Gulch

 

Avalanche Gulch  Also known as The John Muir Route this is the most direct route up the mountain, and for that reason the most popular. “The Gulch” is best climbed with plenty of snow; generally May-July, although earlier and later are possible. This route is best for all levels of climbers from novice to advanced. Access is via the Bunny Flat trail-head at 6,950′. Fresh water spring at Horse Camp at treeline with good camping here and at 50/50. We offer this climb in itineraries from 2-4 days. Our 3 day Expedition Style Summit Climb is our most popular climb and a great introduction to alpine climbing and mountaineering.

West Face climbing route

The West Face route from Hidden Valley base camp

The West Face Mt. Shasta’s southwest side holds a high mountain cirque and one of Shasta’s most beautiful base camp’s; Hidden Valley at 9,200′. This is a great alternative to the regular Avalanche Gulch route with the same technical challenge and far fewer climbers. This climb provides a more Wilderness experience and our base-camp in Hidden Valley is a fantastic location to make our summit bid. The route’s difficulties are moderate and it serves up an aesthetic and stunning experience for all levels of climbers. Conditions for a summit attempt are best May-July or later in a good snow year. This is also the route we often select for a ski or snowboard descent ; the fall line drops nearly 4,000′ uninterrupted feet from the top of the West Face ~ truly awesome!

Sunrise on the Hotlm-Bolam

Sunrise on the Hotlum-Bolam

Hotlum-Bolam Ridge – Northeast Side Mt. Shasta’s north side is an alpine playground! 8 Glaciers, including California’s largest –  the Whitney Glacier – adorn it’s flanks. The Hotlum-Bolam route is a perfect choice for climbers looking for an intermediate level climb and intro to glacier climbing. Due to it’s northerly aspect, the season is later; June-September. Our base camp is perched atop a glacial moraine at 9,400′ and has fresh snow melt flowing through camp with the climbing route directly overhead. The conditions are slightly more challenging than those on the south and west side; yet still a moderate technical difficulty for those in good physical condition. This is an excellent climb for new climbers as part of our 4 day Glacier I Seminar. We also offer 3 day summit climbs for those wanting a new challenge and scenic and remote climb on Mt. Shasta.

Casaval Ridge

Casaval Ridge in winter

Casaval Ridge This is Mt. Shasta’s winter and early season climb of choice. Stunning, exposed, and steep; this is a route for climbers with previous experience wanting a greater challenge. Casaval Ridge is an undeniably beautiful and challenging alpine climb; a route that divides Shasta’s south side with dramatic rock towers and steep snow pitches. This route requires ample snow is is best climbed in winter and spring.

Glacier Training on the Hotlum

Glacier Training on the Hotlum

 

 

Hotlum Glacier The Hotlum is, in our consideration, Mt. Shasta’s most visually interesting glacier. A series of ice falls and seracs follow the glacier’s movement. This is a perfect training ground for climbers with bigger aspirations to Mt. Rainier and Denali. We climb and train on the Hotlum as part of our Glacier II and III Seminars. The Hotlum is accessed via the Brewer Creek trailhead and is best July-September.

The Mt. Shasta climb is a great challenge with the potential for great rewards.  Dramatic scenery, rugged terrain, new experiences, and memories to last a lifetime.  Ready for a new adventure!

 

 

 

Climb Report June 16

It was a long wait, but ultimately worth it.  For when the sun broke through the clouds, the snowfall ceased, and the thermometer creeped upwards to much more reasonable seasonal temps; the climbing and skiing conditions ripened into those once-in-a-lifetime days that we dream about.

Buttery smooth snow, low to no avalanche hazard, perfect styrofoam crampon conditions. Snow covered rocks and glazed over glaciers.  This is the Shasta we wish for.

Conditions so good that our crew of seasoned professionals is spending their free time exploring and recreating on Shasta’s pristine slopes on their days off.  Enjoy some of their adventures:

 

Cascade Gulch Mt. Shasta

SMG Guides ski above Hidden Valley

The coverage and snow quality doesn’t get any better on the mountain.  Hidden Valley is buried in snow and the West Face, Shastina, and Cascade Gulch all look fantastic!

Trinity Chutes

Drew Smith about to ride the right Trinity

There’s so much snow that the Trinity Chutes are calling adventurous skiers and boarders with all-time sliding and riding lines!

Green Butte Ridge

The view from Green Butte Ridge

All of the routes accessed from Bunny Flat are in prime shape; Avalanche Gulch, the West Face, Casaval and Sargent’s Ridge.

Weather forecast for the weekend is calling for cooler and windy conditions.  Be prepared for a great adventure!