Mt. Shasta Report March 2017

It’s March and we’re in the midst of a banner season on Mt. Shasta and California. In most years an atmospheric river or two is all we need to ensure a decent snowpack; this year we’re up to nine and counting. Mt. Shasta has just entered into the top ten wettest winters on record and the news of California’s drought ending winter is indeed something to celebrate.

Mt. Shasta March 2017

Mt. Shasta March 2017

For snow riders this came in the form of back to back powder days and over the head snow that revitalized the spirit of California’s skiers and snowboarders. We’ll be talking about this one for awhile, both the quality of snow conditions and amount of shoveling this year!

Backcountry snowboarding Mt. Shasta, CA

Backcountry snowboarding Mt. Shasta, CA

The Cascade Range which Mt. Shasta flanks the southern end is dependant upon our winter snowpack for optimal spring and summer climbing. The winter of 2017 finds us over 150% of normal so far and we’re not done yet. Translation; this will be an excellent year to explore Mt. Shasta on skis, crampons, boots, or boards.

Ski touring Avalanche Gulch Mt. Shasta

Ski touring Avalanche Gulch Mt. Shasta

It’s a guarantee that we will have a deep consolidated snowpack and will enjoy exceptional climbing and skiing for the entire summer. This winter has been a welcome relief for many craving snow and stormy weather.

This short video attempts to capture one of our highlights of winter travel; being on Mt. Shasta after a clearing storm. It is truly breathtaking and a beautiful landscape. We invite you to visit and experience your own adventure on North America’s most sacred peak.

The climbing season is quickly approaching and it’s time to kick your training and preparation into high gear. Are you interested in climbing Mt. Shasta? This is the year and the time is now! Let us help you have the experience of a lifetime!

Casaval Ridge Mt.Shasta, CA ph: F. Coots

Casaval Ridge Mt.Shasta, CA ph: F. Coots

There are a couple trips coming up that will be excellent with this year’s deep snowpack. Our 4 day Ski Mountaineering Seminar has lofty goals of making a ski descent of both Mt. Shasta and Shastina. It’s going to be awesome! The ever classic Casaval Ridge ascent will be in prime shape this season, we have dates confirmed for this alpine route. April and May will be best for both the ridges and ski descents.

It’s going to be a long season on Mt. Shasta and we anticipate most routes will be optimal all summer long. Get in touch and let us share the beauty and thrill of a Mt. Shasta adventure!

-Chris C.

Mt. Shasta Conditions Report and Winter Update

To say that we have received a lot of snow this season is a vast understatement. January alone is 197% of normal so far. California has been absolutely clobbered; Shasta, Tahoe, and Mammoth all received epic amounts of snow which has guaranteed a great ski season and full reservoirs. The snowpack on Mt. Shasta at 7,600′ is measuring close to 10′ and yes, another storm is headed our way this week.

Mt. Shasta West Face January 2017

Mt. Shasta West Face January 2017

A series of potent and wet storms came in with fluctuating snow levels. Fortunately, it all fell as snow above 7,500′ and it’s safe to assume that the upper slopes of Mt. Shasta received over 8′ of snowfall this week. After the warm system on Wednesday, the temps dropped and we received another 2 feet of colder snow to deliver excellent powder skiing conditions.

Mt. Shasta backcountry skiing

Mt. Shasta backcountry skiing

We finally had a break in the weather and fantastic high pressure sunny skies for the weekend as Mt. Shasta is holding excellent skiing from the chairlifts at The Mt. Shasta Ski Park to the earned turns in the Mt. Shasta Backcountry. It has been beautiful with all the winter weather and sky-high ski stoke here in far northern California.

Mt. Shasta backcountry skiers

Mt. Shasta backcountry skiers

A deep winter snowpack and regular storms not only benefit the powder skier, but these storms will ensure that the climbing, ski mountaineering, and backpacking trips will have excellent conditions. Without question, Mt. Shasta will be primed for outdoor recreation all year long.

Mt. Shasta West Face and Casaval Ridge 2017

Mt. Shasta West Face and Casaval Ridge 2017

With the abundant snow conditions and growing interest in backcountry skiing; our guides have been busy teaching Avalanche Courses and leading ski tours this winter. Dane Brinkley has been showing guests the charm and unique terrain from the Beyond the Boundaries program hosted with the Mt. Shasta Ski Park. Nick Caselli is our resident split-board guide and ready to share his expertise with snowboarders getting into the backcountry.

Earning a long run on Mt. Shasta

Earning a long run on Mt. Shasta

Backcountry Skiing Mt. Shasta, CA

Backcountry Skiing Mt. Shasta, CA

We’ve been working in partnership with our local Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center this season and are hosting the free monthly Avalanche Awareness presentations at our downtown shop. It’s been a full turnout this year and it’s great to see so many enthusiastic for learning. February 3rd is the next date. Nick Meyers is the Lead Avalanche Forecaster and Climbing Ranger on Mt. Shasta and works tirelessly to educate the public, thanks Nick! I always enjoy the opportunity to tour with Nick and observe him in action. Not a bad office:

Nick Meyers

Nick Meyers Lead Avalanche Forecaster

We are entering into one of the most exciting weeks of our winter season. Not only is there another storm coming with 1-2′ of snow expected, but there is a great weekend of activities planned for the backcountry enthusiast.

Mt. Shasta Ascension Race

Mt. Shasta Ascension Race

Mt. Shasta Snowball!

Mt. Shasta Snowball!

Saturday there will be the annual Mt. Shasta Ascension Backcountry Ski Race, free demo day at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park, and Shasta Mountain Guides is offering a free Intro to Backcountry Ski tour. To top it off, Saturday night is the highly anticipated 15th Annual Mt. Shasta Snowball. I’m tired just writing all that, hope to see you here, it’s going to be a blast!

The winter is still early and we have a solid base to guarantee an excellent season. As guides we are a local resource available to answer your specific questions and are happy to share our daily observations. Please be safe out there and always remember to check the daily avalanche advisory:

Mt. Shasta Avalanche Advisory.

Have fun and see you on the mountain!

Mt. Shasta Backcountry Report

It’s November and late fall and early winter can be extremely variable on a Cascade Volcano. At least for us, it has been remarkable in the high quality conditions for ski and splitboard touring. Mt. Shasta received nearly 400% of precipitation (about 12″ of water) for October and with some November storms, our pack is currently measuring 4-6′ above treeline.

Broadway ski tour Mt. Shasta, CA

Broadway ski tour Mt. Shasta, CA

November ushered in our first true powder days of the new season. Ryan Ghelfi, SMG guide and professional runner inspired a dawn patrol ski tour that delivered an all-time powder day on Mt. Shasta. The early storms were warm and created a dense, smooth base. The final storms were much colder with snow levels down to 5,000′ and dropped 16″ of pow, still undisturbed by the wind. We scored!

Green Butte ridge Mt. Shasta, CA

Ryan scores first powder tuns of the new season

We both were amazed at the quality of the snow. The overall depth is still relatively shallow but the dense structure made for mid-winter conditions.

Mt. Shasta backcountrty powder skiing

Mt. Shasta backcountry powder skiing

Our last precip event was last night (11/11) and otherwise it has been a mild and sunny weather pattern. The fair weather and dense snow has created seriously smooth corn conditions between 8-11,000′ and excellent skiing. Although this changes rapidly.

November powder skiing Mt. Shasta, CA

November powder skiing Mt. Shasta, CA

The mild temps have receded the snow level and it’s necessary to walk about 10-15 minutes before being able to skin-up. The approach to treeline and back down is shallow; caution advised to minimize damage to equipment and self. However, the rewards are worth the effort and above 8,200′ is excellent. We have a smooth, consolidated snow pack and with proper timing and aspect awesome skiing and riding conditions can be found.

Taking snow depth measurements while touring to Lake Helen

Taking snow depth measurements while touring to Lake Helen

I’ve seen a surprising number of visiting skiers and climbers and it’s fun to welcome everyone to our area. It has been amazingly beautiful with fall colors, the low sun creates a glowing effect with the snowcapped Mt. Shasta standing majestically over town, and truly epic sun and clouds lately. We are so grateful to live here and share this experience with friends.

It looks like we’ll see some more precipitation next week and long term forecasts are calling for wet ending to November. Once we have 4-5′ of snow at Bunny Flat we will start leading ski tours. We are super excited about the jump start to our season and hope that this is a bountiful winter for all.

Early morning ski tour Green Butte Mt. Shasta, CA

Early morning ski tour Green Butte Mt. Shasta, CA

Mt. Shasta Spring Update

Spring on Mt. Shasta is an exciting prospect and each day brings something new; an updated weather forecast, cool tempertures, sun, wind, maybe even some new snow. Such is spring in the Cascades. Our weather in California can be stable and consistant but in early spring of an El Niño year, anything is possible.

Mt. Shasta Hidden Valley basecamp

Mt. Shasta Hidden Valley basecamp and West Face route

One of the challenges of mountaineering is to manage our goals and attitude to reflect the current reality. It’s easy as climbers to focus on the end result, did you stand on the summit or not? But the adventure of alpinism absolutely lies in the process. And if we ignore the beauty and struggles of the entire expedition and judge our success on whether or not we reach the summit, then we’ve missed the whole point.

all smiles in Avalanche Gulch Mt. Shasta

all smiles in Avalanche Gulch Mt. Shasta

With the variable weather and unseasonably cold temps, reaching the summit has been especially challenging this month (May 2016) on Mt. Shasta. We’ve carved small windows of opportunity from the weather forecast, adjusted our climb schedule to maximize climbing chances, bundled under layers of fleece and down and huddled from the blowing wind. The truth is, not everyone reaches the summit; goals fall short and objectives un-met. It’s easy to feel disappointed but we want to remember that whatever our high point, just by choosing to climb and taking that first step, we’ve already accomplished so much pushing beyond our comfort zone. Congratulations to all climbers, whatever your high point is.

Alpine start Mt. Shasta, CA

Alpine start Mt. Shasta, CA

Early spring and summer on Mt. Shasta is one of our favorite times of the year. With cool evenings, mild days and occasional storms smoothing out the snow surface. We joke of our recreational stress syndrome (R.S.S.) and manage the affliction with a cold beer on the tailgate or camp chair after a full day. Morning ski tours followed by afternoon bike rides. Do you pack the climbing gear or load the kayaks, mountain or road bike, glacier hike or trail run? So many decisions…

S. Fork Sacramento River Clean Up. SMG guides pulled out a ton of garbage and junk from this pristine watershed

S. Fork Sacramento River Clean Up. SMG guides pulled out a ton of garbage and junk from this pristine watershed

We at SMG are locals, we live in Mt. Shasta, this is our home and our guides are like family. This past week on a perfect spring day, we had a group of guides volunteer their time to help with an annual project that SMG supports; a garbage clean up of public lands. Special thanks to Adam, Razor, Aysha, T.L., and Chris who filled 2 large trucks with garbage, appliances, and junk from the South Fork of the Sacramento River drainage. Bravo!

Currently there is 2-3 feet of snow at Bunny Flat, this and the Northgate trailhead are the only trailheads accessible. Clear Creek is 2-3 miles and Brewer Creek is between 5-6 miles to reach the trailhead.

Our calendar is rapidly filling, please be in touch if you have any questions or wish to join a Mt. Shasta summit climb. Good luck, be safe, and enjoy Mt. Shasta!

Mt. Shasta Winter Backcountry Report

Winter 2016 has delivered on the hope of an abundant snowpack on Mt. Shasta. Storms were consistant in December and January and basically shut off in February with record warm days. Currently our snowpack is 90% of normal and 130% of normal for water, measuring about 116″ at 7,600′. With the outlook of a very wet March, this will only guarantee the prospect of an epic spring and summer on Mt. Shasta. Climbers and skiers are rejoicing!

Mt. Shasta 2016 ph: J.W.

Mt. Shasta 2016 ph: J.W.

The storm track looks to return and the hype is building to a proclamation of massive amounts of water headed to nearly all of California. The QPF totals keep increasing and as of now, the current prediction is anywhere from 6-12″ of water. This can translate to well over 10′ of snow across the Sierra crest and the southern Volcanoes. All we can say is Bring it On!

Backcountry skiing Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Backcountry skiing Shasta-Trinity National Forest

While we wait, we prep our bodies and gear and reflect on what a great winter it has been thus far. The powder has been enjoyed at all the old local zones once again. The spell of high pressure created enjoyable days on the mountain, seeking corn snow and even summits for the enthusiastic. Tall snow banks greet visitors at most trailheads and we anticipate snow to linger well into the summer months.

Backcountry skiing Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Backcountry skiing Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Ski touring is perfect training for the upcoming mountaineering season on Mt. Shasta. Climbing the Cascade Volcanoes is greatly enhanced with a deep snowpack and we’re eager for what will be an excellent summit season on the mountain.

Climbing Avalanche Gulch Mt. Shasta, CA

Climbing Avalanche Gulch Mt. Shasta, CA

We’re excited for what the next week will bring. The storm total mania has us hoping for the upper limit of the forecast and plotting powder days to come. With storms of this magnitude, be sure to check weather updates and warnings and of course the daily avalanche advisory from the Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center. Be safe in the backcountry and we’ll see you on the mountain!

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Upcoming Events:

March 5th: Film showing of Dream Line to benefit Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center

March 8: REI Berkeley Mt. Shasta climbing presentation by Chris Carr

March 9: REI San Francisco Mt. Shasta climbing presentation by Chris Carr

 

Mt. Shasta update and outlook for 2016

Fall in Northern California has arrived. Leaves are changing and a crisp chill greets us in the morning. We love the newness and the absolute thrill of what a new season will bring. There is endless discussion of a strong El Niño this year, this historically brings significant snow fall to Mt. Shasta, but there is still some uncertainty. We will remain patiently optomistic and be happy with whatever comes our way.

We have completed our climbing season for 2015. Sincere thanks to all those who joined us this year and most especially to our staff of guides. We had great fun and are truly grateful to all who participated in 2015. We look forward to carrying the momentum into the new year and the possibility of a big winter on Mt. Shasta!

Climbing the Hotlum-Bolam Ridge Mt. Shasta ph: MG

Climbing the Hotlum-Bolam Ridge Mt. Shasta    ph: M.S.

We are still getting many inquiries about climbing Mt. Shasta this year. Currently (October 2015) all routes are in overall poor condition and we are not recommending summit climbs on Mt. Shasta at this time. The chance for unfavorable weather is increasing and days are getting short and cold on the upper mountain; route hazards are increased with the poor conditions. We recommend waiting until next season when climbing and and the snowpack are far more favorable. We have published our scheduled climb dates here: SMG Summit Climbs.

Climbing the Hotlum-Bolam Ridge Mt. Shasta. CA ph: C.L.

Climbing the Hotlum-Bolam Ridge Mt. Shasta, CA    photo: C.L.

Our last summit climbs were on the Hotlum-Bolam and Clear Creek Routes on Mt. Shasta. Although the glaciers hold permanent snow, it becomes quite icy and more difficult to climb. Our teams climbed strong and reached the summit after a challenging ascent, a great way to finish up on Mt. Shasta. Congratulations to all our climbers this year, this is the highlight for us, sharing this experience with you all!

Mt. Hubris Castle Crags, CA

Mt. Hubris Castle Crags, CA

Although summit conditions are not favorable, there is still plenty to do and enjoy in Siskiyou County and the north state. Castle Crags State Park is a granite pluton that holds some unique gems; including the Cosmic Wall which some have called the “best 5.6 in California”. The hiking and backpacking are exceptional with the cooler temps. Road and mountain biking is great cross training for the upcoming ski season, and trail running too as the local trails are in great shape with some light rain recently.

We’re all enjoying the fall in various ways while we wait for the snows of winter. Eric just guided a backcounty snowboard trip to Chile to ride the Patagonia Volcanoes. Dave is recently back from the Alps and heads to the Mexico Volcanoes soon. Many of the guides have been checking off objectives from their personal tick list in the Sierra, Winds, Tetons, and beyond. Fall is perfect time for new adventures and challenges while we wait for the return of snow to Mt. Shasta. Until then, keep the tips up, rubber side down, and preseason stoke fired up. We can’t wait to see you back on the mountain!

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Upcoming Events

October 17th. California Avalanche Workshop. This will be a good way to tune up for the upcoming winter and hear the latest from the California Avalanche Centers and guest speakers.

January 29-31. AIARE Level I Course Mt. Shasta.

 

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 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 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.

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.