Mt. Shasta late summer update

Only a few weeks remaining in our 2015 climbing season. There are still good conditions to be found on the north side glaciers. And for those looking for a non-technical ascent, the Clear Creek route is always an option.

Mt. Shasta is known for it’s alpine beauty and unusual cloud formations that appear. Lenticular clouds in particular often make stunning vistas and are frequent in the fall and winter. We’ve seen plenty of photos of a shrouded Mt. Shasta; here’s Mike Whitman’s view from a summit climb that pushed through the clouds.

Inside a lenticular cloud Mt. Shasta  ph: M. Whitman

Inside a lenticular cloud Mt. Shasta ph: M. Whitman

As we move later into the year, the snow from the previous winter is primarily melted. The glacier surface becomes extremely textured and sun cupped. There may be sections of exposed ice which require careful crampon technique and belayed sections of the route. Best options are the Hotlum-Bolam and Hotlum-Wintun. The south and west side of Mt. Shasta have very little snow and are not recommended due to rock fall hazard and poor climbing conditions.

Mt. Shasta Hotlum-Bolam from basecamp  ph: A. Zok

Mt. Shasta Hotlum-Bolam from basecamp

At this time of year, we recommend our Glacier I and II courses. These are 4 and 5 day seminars which allow time for thorough skills training, practice, and acclimation in order to tackle the late season conditions. For a less technical option and summit climb Clear Creek is possible as well. This will be primarily rock and scree hiking and scrambling on open volcanic slopes.

Hotlum Hilton 10,200' Mt. Shasta

Hotlum Hilton 10,200′ Mt. Shasta

As the season on Mt. Shasta winds down, there is the eager anticipation of the next adventure. Rich Meyer heads to Chile to lead a ski touring trip in Northern Patagonia. The timing looks awesome as Chile has been receiving multiple feet of snow this week! Dave Miller will be guiding alpine climbs in the Alps, then heads to the Mexico Volcanoes in November, this is a great intro to high altitude mountaineering on Pico de Orizaba. Many of the guides head to the Eastern Sierra for alpine rock and other destinations to get some personal climbing and hone their skills.

While we may spend the shoulder season chasing adventures, we are still hopeful that the forecast for a significant El Nino brings major snows back to Mt. Shasta. The last big El Nino years delivered dizzying amounts of snow, we can only dream that we see this return to winter once again!

Mt. Shasta Summer Climbing Report

It’s been a summer of fun and adventure here on Mt. Shasta. We’ve been going strong and escaping the heat by retreating to the snowy slopes and glaciers of the upper mountain. The forecast has been somewhat consistent, warm temps with a slight chance of afternoon thuderstorms. We’ve been fortunate that the heat induced lightening has been accompanied with some precipitation, our air is clear and the views sublime. Our climbers even experienced new snow falling in July last week on Misery Hill!

The view from camp.  ph: jcizzler

The view from camp. ph: jcizzler

Avalanche Gulch has decent snow cover above 9,500′ but the Red Banks are melting fast. This will be our final week on these climbs before moving to alternate aspects on the mountain. Clear Creek will be the best choice for new climbers and the north side for our Glacier Seminars and advanced summit climbs.

Starting the Mt. Shasta Climb

Starting the Mt. Shasta Climb

We’ve been in summer peak climbing season and want to reflect on some highlights from the last couple weeks. The Annual Climb Against the Odds was once again a huge sucess. Climbers from across the country met in Mt. Shasta and completed their goal of raising money for cancer prevention for the Breast Cancer Fund while challenging themselves on the rugged beauty of Mt. Shasta’s West Face. Lots of smiles and tears highlight this climb and this year was no different. We were fortunate to have near perfect weather and mild temps even on the summit. Thanks to all the climbers and supporters for a magical experience!

Pat Bush leads his team on the West Face

Pat Bush leads his team on the West Face.  ph: D. Miller

Climb Against the Odds Mt. Shast

Climb Against the Odds Mt. Shasta

The other big news is the opening of our new downtown storefront location. After 34 years in business SMG moved to 230 North Mt. Shasta Blvd, our goal is to add visibility to our services, create new programs, and provide gathering spot for outdoor recreationists. Come by and check out our shop and gallery; we’ll be adding new products and photos, maps, information, and stoke to the main corner downtown, right across from our partners The Fifth Season!

Shasta Mountain Guides storefront 230 North Mt. Shasta Blv

Shasta Mountain Guides storefront
230 North Mt. Shasta Blvd

We’ll be adding posts and trip reports from our guides, including our advanced guide training happening now on the Hotlum Glacier. With the mild temps and retreating snow line, this is the time to explore the glaciers of Mt. Shasta. Our teams have been climbing the Hotlum Glacier and the Hotlum-Bolam Ridge and enjoying excellent summer volcano climbing. We expect ideal conditions through August and early September on the north side routes.

Ready to add glacier skills to your repertoire? Join us for our most popular trip, the Glacier I Seminar. This will be a hands on and skills based trip with a summit climb on the Hotlum-Bolam route, the place to be in the summer heat!

Mt. Shasta climbing conditions update June 2015

Mt. Shasta is sizzling! Summer is officially here when swimming in the lake is the post climb afternoon activity. Now is the time to seek the cool snow and great climbing conditions on Mt. Shasta. The snow coverage is excellent above 9,500′ and Misery Hill at 13,200′ looks fantastic and not miserable at all!

We <heart> Misery Hill

We heart Misery Hill  ph: C. Krumholz

We have been on Avalanche Gulch, the West Face, the Hotlum Glacier, and the Hotlum-Wintun this past week. All routes have very good snow climbing above 9,500′. We are walking on dry ground to Horse Camp and beyond and patchy snow will be encountered to Hidden Valley. On the northeast side, you will reach snow after about 500′ vertical of hiking.

We appreciate the feedback and shared photos from our guests and love this time-lapse of climbers on Shasta’s West Face. Thanks Jonathan S. for sending this along and for a great climb on the mountain!YouTube Preview Image

Congratulations to the American Liver Foundation and their successful climb this week. We always have great respect for climbing for a larger cause. A special shout out to Kendall McGuffrey who at 12 years old was here climbing for his mom. Great effort Kendall, I know we’ll see you in the mountains again!

American Liver Foundation on Mt. Shasta's summit

American Liver Foundation on Mt. Shasta’s summit

Good to excellent climbing is found on most routes. We have seen warm temps and heavy rain this week, heads up for potential for rock fall. Hopefully it is cooling off the and the snow pack gets a good freeze which will enhance the climbing conditions.

Mike Whitman enjoys the view while melting snow for the summit climb

Guide Mike Whitman enjoys the view while melting snow for the summit climb

Although the skiing is winding down for this season, there is still plenty of good turns to be found for the adventurous and those willing to work a little harder. Polly Layton skied with Anne and Cynthia and scored 3 days of great fun from Hidden Valley.

Ski touring from Hidden Valley June 2015  ph: P. Layton

Ski touring from Hidden Valley June 2015 ph: P. Layton

The ladies charged, were fit and motivated, and skied both the lightening bolt on Shastina and the West Face on Mt. Shasta. Polly reported some of the best ski conditions she’s had on the mountain. A little bit of new snow smoothed the route and made for awesome summer skiing! Congrats, you set the new record for the Cascade 2 fer completing 2 summits in 2 days!

Mt. Shasta holds California’s largest glaciers and the Hotlum is our favorite. Our upcoming Glacier Seminars are a perfect introduction to learning the skill of glacier travel and crevasse rescue. Mt. Shasta’s north side is a completely different mountain with ice falls and seracs and some of California’s most diverse landscapes.

Dane tours up the Hotlum Glacier June 2015

Dane tours up the Hotlum Glacier June 2015

Each passing day, the snow level slowly inches higher up the mountain. We’re pretty excited about the current state of conditions on Mt. Shasta. This season is likely the best climbing we’ve seen in the last 4 years. Although California is experiencing severe drought, we’re fortuntate here up north to have a near normal snowpack.

Old Ski Bowl Mt. Shasta

Old Ski Bowl Mt. Shasta

The Mt. Shasta area and Siskiyou county have to be some of the most scenic and rugged destinations in the American west. We invite you to explore the area by boots and bikes, on rivers and lakes; you’ll be surrounded by fresh air and few other distractions but nature’s beauty.

Come visit us at our new storefront location; 230 North Mt. Shasta Blvd. Doors will be open July 1st, look for more details to come! Happy summer!

Mt. Shasta Climb Report and Current Conditions 5.27.15

Climbing season on Mt. Shasta just went into high gear. With a festive holiday and near perfect snow and weather, mountaineers who made the journey to Northern California were rewarded with Mt. Shasta in ideal late spring conditions.

West Face Mt. Shasta May 2015  ph: C. Krumholz

West Face Mt. Shasta May 2015 ph: C. Krumholz

The mountain received new snow last week and with an improving weather window, the conditions in the alpine zone were beautiful. A reliable boot pack facilitated the climbing and the refreshed snow surface made for epic glissading and skiing on all aspects.

Mt. Shasta shadow West Face  ph: C. Krumholz

Mt. Shasta shadow West Face ph: C. Krumholz

SMG had groups on the south, west, and north sides of Mt. Shasta and all the teams had climbers reach the summit. Avalanche Gulch was the choice for many, we counted over 70 tents at Lake Helen Saturday night. The West Face teams found ideal climbing and a full glissade from the top of the route all the way back to camp in Hidden Valley. Greg and Jonas led our ski mountaineering expedition to the Hotlum-Wintun and found classic Shasta skiing for 7,000′ of relief.

SMG Guide JC serves up dinner at high camp.

SMG Guide JC serves up dinner at high camp.

Although it was a little impacted in Avy Gulch the favorable conditions minimized hazards. We witnessed very little rock fall and all routes have great climbing and melt-freeze conditions. We anticipate the south side routes to have good conditions through June and probably longer and the north side routes to be good through August and beyond.

a 4,000' glissade down the West Face of Mt. shasta  ph: C. Krumholz

A 4,000′ glissade down the West Face of Mt. shasta ph: C. Krumholz

It’s always fun to see friends old and new and we love the inspiration! The postcard-perfect views were beautiful and the alpine conditions allowed us to sample a variety of temps and climbing techniques. It’s always such a joy to witness climbers have a great adventure, be pushed beyond their comfort zone, and achieve their goals. Over the years we’ve made many friends on Mt. Shasta, it’s the most enjoyable part of what we do, thanks for climbing with us!

Mt. Shasta summit team May 2015  ph: C. Krumholz

Mt. Shasta summit team May 2015 ph: C. Krumholz

Congratulations to all the climbers this week on Mt. Shasta. Now that we are moving into summer, we are settling into prime climbing season. Best conditions are here and now. See you on the mountain!

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Upcoming Events

5/26 and 5/27 USFS Climbing Ranger Nick Meyers will be at REI Santa Rosa and REI Saratoga for Mt. Shasta climbing presentations.

June 6-7 American Liver Foundation Liver Life Challenge The Liver Life Challenge Mt. Shasta Climb, the American Liver Foundation’s annual mountaineering expedition to fight liver disease.

Look for exciting news from SMG, it’s going to be a great summer!

Mt. Shasta Climb Report 5.18.15

At our climb debrief Sunday afternoon, the guides came off the mountain raving about the great conditions on Mt. Shasta. You know it must be good when they reach the summit on Sunday and turn around early Monday morning to head right back up on their day off. The recent weather pattern has been a fairly “normal” spring. At any moment it could be snowing, sunny, windy, hot, cold, or complete whiteout. It changes frequently and when the sunny card turns up it can be magnificant!

Basecamp Mt. Shasta  ph: Mike Whitman

Good times at Basecamp Mt. Shasta ph: Mike Whitman

This is what we experienced this past weekend. At 3:00am Sunday morning, the snow and wind howled and our climb teams forged on by headlamp, hoping for a more favorable weather pattern with the rising sun.

SMG ski group climbs through the Red Banks Mt. Shasta

SMG ski group climbs through the Red Banks Mt. Shasta  ph: David Marchi

Hard work and persistance paid off by 7:00am when the clouds parted and allowed climbers and skiers to reach the summit in winter like conditions. As Senior Guide Eric Layton says The summit was not a give me over the weekend. The cold temps, high winds and around 4-6″ of new snow kept us in constant motion all the way to the top, only to be greeted by the warmth of the sun and a view that always inspires. Really good skiing out there right now too!!”

 

With more new snow this week, the climbing and skiing continue to be excellent on most routes on Mt. Shasta. As of now all trailheads are open and the upcoming Memorial Weekend looks to be a busy one here.

Mt. Shasta Summit May 17, 2015  ph: Mike Whitman

Mt. Shasta Summit May 17, 2015 ph: Mike Whitman

Mountain weather continues to be unsettled this week. Weather systems tend to be short lived this time of year, but can still pose significant challenges. Our guides are mountain professionals and watch the conditions closely while in the field. We can often plan our climb around potential weather windows and still have great success in poor or unfavorable conditions.

We are always so impressed with our guests and their desire to climb Mt. Shasta. We were thrilled to climb with Vy and Andrew this week from the Send It Foundation.

Vy and Andrew Sending It on Mt. Shasta

Vy and Andrew Sending It on Mt. Shasta  ph: Lauren Seymore

SEND IT’S MISSION IS TO INSPIRE POSITIVITY, COURAGE AND GRATITUDE IN YOUNG ADULT CANCER FIGHTERS THROUGH THE GIFT OF OUTDOOR ADVENTURE AND COMMUNITY.

Congratulations to all our climbers this week, it was a true test and we experienced all of what Mt. Shasta can offer. Joe summed it up pefectly “…that was one of the best experiences of my entire life” Yup, we have to agree!

See you on the mountain!

Spring is rocking on Mt. Shasta

We’re officially in spring mode. Warming temps, multi sport days, and the snowpack is beginning it’s creep up the mountain. We’re shifting into climbing season and most/all routes are in excellent condition. The weather is getting more reliable, but don’t be surprised when we see another cold front pass this way.

Dave Miller and Rich Meyer were here to lead our first Guide Training this year. As an IFMGA/AMGA certified guide, Dave is our Technical Director and keeps our staff honed for the challenges of climbing Mt. Shasta. Dave is a mountain professional and travels and guides among the great ranges of the world and looks forward to returning to Mt. Shasta each season.

Guide Training 2015

Guide Training 2015

Rich brings his expertise and perspective from over a decade of international adventure guiding. Fresh from the the Alps, Antarctica, and Chile; Rich is always excited to be back on the Shastahorn. We are extremely grateful to have such skilled staff leading climbs on Mt. Shasta. We spent several days learning, recreating, and enjoying the fantastic conditions on the mountain.

Rich Meyer skis up the middle moraines Mt. Shasta

Rich Meyer skis up the middle moraines Mt. Shasta

Cheers to Eric Layton who became the first American Splitboarder to pass the rigorous AMGA Ski Mountaineering Exam. Congratualtions Eric for this accomplishment. SMG Guides are the highest trained on Mt. Shasta. To get a glimpse of what Eric went through, check out this video he made of the exam. Bravo Eric!

We’ve had some great trips this Spring. Greg and Jacob were able to ski guide the Trinity Chutes with Luke who was especially stoked to ski this line.

Trinity Chutes Mt. Shasta. ph: Luke R.

Trinity Chutes Mt. Shasta. ph: Luke R.

Nick Caselli has been eager to get out on the rock and led Steve on the mega-classic Cosmic Wall in Castle Crags State Park. This alpine gem is a true adventure climb and a route we love in Northern California.

Cosmic Wall second pitch Castle Crags State Park

Cosmic Wall second pitch Castle Crags State Park

With summit climbs, ski trips, rock outings, and more there is no shortage of fun to be found in and around Mt. Shasta. We love this time of year, with great snow remaining the climbing will be good on the south side through June likely.

The only accessible trailheads are Bunny Flat and Clear Creek. Currently the snow level is just about 400′ from the parking area.

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Upcoming Saturday May 2

Photo Presentation from SMG’s Chris Carr. Rock climbing in the Mt. Shasta Area. Fundraser to benefit the Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center. 6:00pm Mt. Shasta Sisson Musuem.

Trip Report: Shasta Mountain Guides Ski Mountaineering Seminar

Here is a special report from SMG Senior Guide Dane Brinkley. This is a new, exciting trip for us and it’s no understatement to say the planets aligned and the team experienced the most amazing weather and ski conditions for four days in Hidden Valley. Check it out and prepare to be impressed (and maybe a little jealous!) 13,000′ of prime spring skiing, wow! Thanks Dane and hearty congratulations to the team!

Day 1: Gear Check, Tour from Bunny Flat to Hidden Valley

Basecamp Hidden Valley

Basecamp Hidden Valley

With great weather in the forecast and excitement in the air our crew of 6 met in the morning at the Fifth Season in Mt Shasta, CA. We were a team of 4 guests, myself and SMG Guide Jacob Swartz. We all got together on the morning of April 17 to make introductions and get our gear sorted. After a short while of being with this crew it became obvious that we were in for a great time! The most successful expeditions require a group of people that work together and help each other out and that was exactly what we had. The team departed Bunny Flat (6,950 feet), the snow was soft enough to make for easy travel on skins. Heavy packs made for slow but steady movement. Most of our group had just come from sea level so we took our time as we skinned to our basecamp in Hidden Valley (9,300 feet). A slow ascent is critical for proper acclimatization. The final traverse into Hidden Valley is steep and exposed to rock fall and avalanches on the warmest afternoons. We wanted the snow on the traverse to be soft enough to skin across but not so soft that we’d be exposed to these hazards. This was the case until about half way across at which point the snow became just firm enough to make skinning stressful for even the most experienced. We transitioned to boot travel and made the decision to do so relatively early. In my experience it’s best to anticipate transitions and to make them a little earlier than necessary. This way one can avoid putting oneself into an uncomfortable situation on a steep and exposed slope. The traverse now behind us, we made it into camp by about 4 PM and were pleased to find excellent snow coverage in Hidden Valley. We’d be able to skin right out of camp the next day and then ski all the way back to our tents. After hydrating and enjoying a big pot of organic chili made with couscous, lentils, and vegetables the crew was ready to rest up for the next day.

Day 2, Acclimatization & Ski Mountaineering Skills

We woke to a clear sky and warming temps. Breakfast would be bagels, cream cheese, Canadian bacon, coffee, and tea. Properly fueled and caffeinated we prepared ourselves for a full day of ski touring and mountaineering skills instruction. Our plan for the weekend was an ambitious one. With climbs and ski descents of both Shastina (12,330) and Mt. Shasta (14,179) proper acclimatization would be essential. With this in mind we used this day to actively prepare our bodies for massive elevation gain. This is a critical skill in mountaineering that doesn’t come as easily as one might think. Our experience at Shasta Mountain Guides has taught us that the old adage of “climb high, sleep low” rings true and is the best way to maximize one’s red blood cell production, which allows for oxygen transport in the blood stream. Our pace, to everyone’s surprise was slow and easy however efficient enough to still climb about 1000 feet an hour. We skinned slowly allowing our bodies to adjust, we used “pressure breathing” for efficient lung function, and we practiced the basic movement skills that we’d use in the next 2 days of mountaineering. We also thoroughly practiced self-arrests just in case any of us slipped on the way up or down. The skiing was as good as I’ve experienced in my 10 years on the mountain so we climbed and skied 2 laps each up to about 11,000 feet. The team returned to camp about 4 PM feeling stoked on the skiing, confident with skill, and hungry for dinner, which would be SMG’s famous “Mountain High Burritos”.

Day 3, Shastina via Cascade Gulch

Skinning up Cascade Gulch

Skinning up Cascade Gulch

We woke up once again to clear skies and mild temperatures. After breakfast we shouldered our packs and steadily began to skin toward Cascade Gulch, our chosen ascent route. The skinning was smooth and pleasant as we approached our first transition to crampons. We climbed a short steep chute with crampons before continuing on our skis and skins. The skinning felt quite easy and we all enjoyed the rhythmic sliding of feet and swinging of arms gradually and casually ascending Cascade Gulch. At a certain point we knew that we’d have to transition once again to crampons so we opted to do this just a little sooner than needed to ensure that we wouldn’t find ourselves fumbling with gear while clinging to an impossibly steep slope. We strapped our skis to our packs and used crampons to climb out of Cascade Gulch and onto Shastina’s crater rim. After a short time we found ourselves off of the rim and climbing the final few hundred feet of the Shastina’s summit cone. Another few minutes and we were on the summit of the third highest volcano in the Cascade Range! It could’ve been so much harder than it had been if we hadn’t taken time to acclimatize the previous 24 hours or if we tried to rush the pace. Our casual approach actually was helping us achieve big goals while maximizing the fun factor. We were happy to run into a group of 3 locals on the summit and enjoyed a few laughs on top before skiing 3000 feet of perfect corn all the way back to our camp. Back at camp morale was high and everyone was wearing a smile. To give ourselves the best possible chance at Shasta’s summit we would need all our strength the following morning. “Active Recovery” is the only way to stay fit on any demanding expedition. This includes hydration, nutrition, sleep, and some light stretching. With this in mind we dined early on organic soup and pasta with meatballs, and vegetables, in a cream sauce, then washed it down with herbal tea. The team all checked gear and packed backpacks for the next day’s adventure, climbing the West Face of Mount Shasta. Then, feeling strong and well fed we all retired early to get some sleep.

Day 4, Mount Shasta via The West Face

Topping out on the West Face

Topping out on the West Face

An early start was important to give ourselves the best chance at climbing then skiing optimal conditions. When my alarm sounded at 2:45 AM I got dressed, put my feet into my still damp boot liners, unzipped the door of my tent, then persuaded the foam of the liners into the cold plastic of ski boots. I straightened, looked up, and was taken aback by the sky above. Cloudless and so clear it felt as if our camp floated among the stars themselves and although the early morning air bit cold on my face and hands I was suddenly filled the warmth of confidence that today would be a safe and successful day. Our training and mindful preparation would pay off. I always try to give gratitude for these experiences at this quiet and still hour of the day before waking up my teammates. After a hot breakfast we left camp a few minutes after 4 AM and traveled out of camp under the light of headlamp with skis on our pack and crampons on our feet. In a short while we found ourselves standing beneath The West Face. We roped up in 2 teams. The mood was positive and we moved together supporting and encouraging one another. Ice axes in hand, one step at the time, together.

Summit Success!

Summit Success!

It’s important that we stick to our plan. It was a good plan having worked all weekend. Keep the pace steady and the mood casual. Remember to relax and breathe. Eat and drink every hour. Talk to and look out for each other. The climbing was wonderful, perfect cramponing on smooth frozen snow that would soften by early afternoon and make for incredible ski conditions. The top of the West Face gets a bit steep and the last 500 feet always seem to be the most challenging. With determination and patience we overcame the hardships of ski mountaineering and embraced the relief of sunshine and rest at 13,000 after finally reaching the very top of the West Face. Still having almost 1,200 feet of climbing to attain the summit we pressed upward, steadily still. “Misery Hill” was the next challenge. In stride, we climbed it. The positive vibe of the crew made the task almost easy and we overcame “Misery” together as a team. The next step of our climb was to cross the summit plateau, which is basically walking the flat distance of a soccer field (if soccer was played at 14,000 feet). This part felt like an active rest compared to the rigors of our climb so far. With the plateau behind us, we climbed the last 200 feet and before long were all standing on the summit! So far our mindful approach and careful training had paid off but the crew was feeling the elevation so we didn’t waste too much time. I always consider the summit our halfway point. It’s a long way back down to camp and I reminded myself that although the skiing was sure to be fantastic we still had a few hazards to manage. Afternoon rock fall is always a concern on Shasta and we must be careful with our decent, skiing well and avoiding any injuries on the mountain. We stepped into our skis and began out decent. Off of the summit, back across the plateau, carefully linking turns down misery hill, then traversing back to the top of the West Face.

Skiing the West Face of Mt. Shasta

Skiing the West Face of Mt. Shasta

Looking down we could tell that the sun had by then worked its magic and transformed a frozen surface from the early morning into something soft and smooth. 3,700 feet of perfect conditions waited below. Elated, we dropped in and enjoyed one of the most incredible ski runs in the country. Within an hour we were back at camp. All that remained was to pack up and descend to Bunny Flat. To our surprise the snow on the lower mountain hadn’t over-softened in the afternoon heat and again we were gifted 2,300 feet of perfect snow, which helped us manage the burden of skiing with 45lb backpacks. At 4:30 PM we arrived at the Bunny Flat parking lot tired and euphoric after 4 days and 13,000 feet of ski mountaineering on 2 of the most majestic volcanic peaks anywhere in the world.

SMG Trip Report Denali Prep April 2015

A favorite early season trip is our Denali Prep Course. Mt. Shasta is a long way from Denali (Mt. McKinley) but we’ve been offering this trip for several reasons: 1. Mt. Shasta is a perfect training ground for bigger objectives and winter storms can be as fierce and cold as anywhere. Whether your first climb or 50th, Mt. Shasta will whip you into shape while delivering some valuable mountain lessons. 2. Many of our guides also lead trips to climb North America’s tallest peak and what a great opportunity to learn expedition skills from those actually doing it.

This year’s trip was ideal Alaska training conditions and we had SMG Senior Guide Patrick Chu leading the climb. Patrick heads north from Mt. Shasta to guide a couple climbs on Mt. Rainier before heading to Talkeetna and guiding a climb up Mt. McKinley. Assisting Patrick was Jacob Swartz; Alaska native, SMG Lead Guide, and Squaw Valley big mountain instructor. Along with a winter storm forecast, all the pieces were in place for a great learning experience.

This season will be turning the keyboard over to some of our guides who will offer a first hand report of some special trips and expeditions on Mt. Shasta. After 5 days of snow, wind, and single digit temps here’s Patrick’s narrative of the trip.

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As I rummaged through my equipment bins I found myself pulling out sunglasses, light down layers, and spring gloves. Although it was 60 degrees, I was packing for a Denali Prep climb on Mt Shasta. It had been a little while since I had guided on Shasta and in my mind I envisioned 5 days of blue skies, corn snow, and maybe even a pair of flip flops. I was wrong! By the time I arrived in town it had become apparent that the coldest storm of the entire winter was creeping towards the mountain packing feet of new snow, high winds, and bitter cold temps. Suddenly my backpack was stuffed to the brim with goggles, mittens, puffy pants, and whatever else might provide some protection and warmth to battle the storm.
The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

Day 1: A group of deidicated climbers departed from Bunny Flat under stellar spring conditions on Friday 4/3, taking turns towing a sled full of group gear to simulate the mandatory sled hauling that occurs on Denali. We built a simple camp at Horse Camp and spent the rest of the afternoon learning about our technical equipment, knots, and how to prussik up and down a fixed rope.
Day 2: We started the day off with an in-depth snow school which included numerous movement skills, self arrest, and safe glissading. We then learned rope travel techniques and took an acclimatization hike to the top of Giddy Giddy Gulch to both practice our rope management skills and to simulate carrying loads to a higher camp on Denali. At the top of Giddy Giddy we practiced rappelling and fixed line use. The fingers of cold air at the front of the storm began to chill us in the early afternoon and a light snow started to fall. The team decided it was time to descend to camp and we spent the rest of the afternoon learning about snow protection and pitched climbing.
Paul practices safe glissading technique under Jacob's watchful eye.

Paul practices safe glissading technique under Jacob’s watchful eye.

Day 3 : Time to move higher! The team packed up at Horse Camp in semi whiteout and snowy conditions to move to Camp 2 at 9,000 feet. The weather forecast was calling for 33″ of fresh snow, 65mph winds, and single digit temps at 11,000; perfect Denali training. We roped up into two glacier teams and began moving towards our next camp placing wands to mark our route of travel in case we had to descend in whiteout conditions. Our sole purpose for the day was to learn how to build a bomb-proof camp that would weather the incoming storm. After arriving at high camp we slaved for hours, cutting blocks of snice (snowy ice) and building walls to solidify our camp. After camp was built we spent the rest of the day eating, drinking, and fine tuning our new battle ready castle.
The team, roped up for glacier travel, moves higher up Mt Shasta.

The team, roped up for glacier travel, moves higher up Mt Shasta.

Working hard to build solid snow walls to protect our camp from the wind.

Working hard to build solid snow walls to protect our camp from the wind.

Day 4: The storm moved in with a vengeance in the early hours of the morning. Temperatures plummeted into the single digits and the wind began howling through our camp. We still had plenty of material to cover and spent the day cycling out of the tents to learn and practice anchor building, running belays, and crevasse rescue. Jacob saw all the fresh snow as an opportunity to lead a seminar on avalanche awareness and to demonstrate a step by step avalanche beacon recovery. This day was the perfect opportunity to truly taste of what Denali weather can be like. We regrouped in the cook tent often throughout the day to warm up, sip hot drinks, and recap on course material. Everyone was ready to sleep in the early evening and we hunkered down for what was sure to be a cold and stormy night. I had to reluctantly crawl out of my sleeping bag twice in the middle of the night to shovel out my tent which was quickly becoming buried by all of the wind transported snow.

Jacob and Steve take a round practicing crevasse rescue during the worst of the storm.

Jacob and Steve take a round practicing crevasse rescue during the worst of the storm.

Day 5: With a slight reprieve in the wind by morning, we made haste and packed up camp after breakfast and a mountain navigation lesson. The team roped up and navigated their way down the mountain following the wands we had placed on our way up. With all the new snow the trip out was quite an adventure. It ended up taking us almost three hours of wallowing through deep, fresh powder to reach Bunny Flat (about as much time as it took us to get up!).
While it may not have been the sunny, warm, and forgiving conditions that spring and summer on Mt Shasta can offer, last weekend’s Denali Prep gave us the best possible conditions to train and prepare for what The Great One can throw at climbers attempting to reach its lofty, corniced summit. Only through teamwork, mental fortitude, and plain old hard work will one have a fighting chance of standing on the summit of North America. I feel quite fortunate for such opportunities to experience mother nature’s raw (and frigid) power and I’d like to personally thank the team for an awesome and humbling experience on Mt Shasta.
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Within a few hours of the team battling their way off the mountain, the storm cleared and left several feet of new snow. Patrick and Jacob dried out, warmed up, and along with several other SMG guides headed back out to truly enjoy the powder on skis!
Remnanats of camp after the storm while Dane breaks trail above

Remnanats of camp after the storm while Dane breaks trail above

Look for future trip reports and guest blogs from our staff. We’re super excited about the upcoming season and look forward to the opportunity to share it with you.

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

Mt. Shasta Conditions Report 3.16.15

It’s currently snowing on the mountain, we love rainy Mondays, and any other days for that matter! Despite the dry winter and unseasonably warm temps, Mt. Shasta has fared quite well this year and we’re grateful to have a fun and enjoyable winter at the top of the state! December and February delivered with significant storm totals to give us a solid base and thus far March has been kind with small systems to refresh and replenish our snowpack. The climbing and skiing have been fabulous!

Matt and Dane enjoy new snow at Lake Helen March 2015

Matt and Dane enjoy new snow at Lake Helen March 2015

The long periods of high pressure have provided for unusually fun climbing and skiing with spring-like conditions. Although it may not be the winter dreams are made of; ski touring in t-shirts, flip flops in the parking lot, and low to no avalanche hazard has made for stress free touring and smiles for miles for backcountry enthusiasts.

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Dane Brinkley drops into the Lake run with fresh powder and a clean slate for 3,500′

Last week we received 4-6″ of new snow on Wednesday. This past weekend delivered more wet weather and although the snow levels are high, this is just what we need to provide a good climbing season on Mt. Shasta. The best news is the long term forecast which is showing a cold and wet trough bringing significant valley rain and mountain snow early next week with snow levels down to 5,000′. After 35+ years guiding on Mt. Shasta, we know one thing is certain, you can never predict what the weather will do, despite what the calendar says.

Shay rips telemark turns in Avalanche Gulch March 2015

Shay rips telemark turns in Avalanche Gulch March 2015

We’ve been skiing some obscure lines as well as touring our old favorites. We have a full calendar of trips this year with something for everyone. Our upcoming Denali Prep Course 4/3-4/7 has just a couple spots left, as well as our new Cascade 2 for 1 for the hardiest mountaineers. Along with day classes and tours, summit climbs, ski descents, glacier seminars and spectacular ridge climbs for the alpinists out there, Mt. Shasta has been the place to be in 2015.

Casaval ridge is a striking feature on Mt. Shasta. Matt descending in good stlye.

Casaval Ridge is a striking feature on Mt. Shasta. Matt descending in good stlye.

Shasta Mountain Guides is your local professional guide service, on the mountain daily and in tune with the ever changing conditions. Call or email for questions or details. We look forward to seeing you on the mountain!

Upcoming Events

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March 17 REI Saratoga. Climbing Mt. Shasta Photo Presentation with Chris Carr SMG Director

March 18 REI San Carlos. Climbing Mt. Shasta Photo Presentation

March 19th REI Berkeley. Climbing Mt. Shasta Photo Presentation\

April 3-7 Denali Prep Seminar

April 17-20 Mt. Shasta Ski and Snowboard mountaineering seminar. Climb and ski/board both Mt. Shasta and Shastina