Thank You! Mt. Shasta climbers, guides, and friends

September 16 was the final day of our 2013 climb and ski season on Mt. Shasta. Brandon Seymore led the strong team of  Shannon and David to the summit in full alpine conditions. Solid blue ice required multiple pitches of steep climbing and the route was full of added challenges. The final push up the summit cone the team endured hurricane winds and cold temps. Congratulations on a great effort! A fine way to cap the Mt. Shasta climbing season finishing on a high note!

Ice climbing on the Hotlum-Bolam

Ice climbing on the Hotlum-Bolam  photo: D. Webster

The south side of Mt. Shasta currently is completely barren of snow; save for a few small patches tucked into shady corners, the mountain is as dry as it gets. The north side glaciers, though sporting California’s only true permanent snow, are scree covered, sun cupped, and solid ice above 11,000′. Add to that a NOAA forecast of a wet cold front approaching the area with new snow expected this weekend and you have a recipe for difficult climbing conditions. We will schedule guided climbs once better conditions allow.

Basecamp on Shasta's northside

Mt. Shasta northside in fall  photo: M. Shamsee

2013 was Shasta Mountain Guides’ 32nd season of operation. As with previous years, our climber’s safety, enjoyment, and success is achieved through the diligent effort of our guide staff. This year’s crew is one of strongest, most dedicated group of fun and unique individuals we’ve ever seen. We can not express our gratitude enough. Thank you Rich, Dave, Dane, Kerr, Brian, Pierson, Pat, Jason, Patrick, Wilson, Joe C., Tucker, Greg, Andrew, Ryan G., Eric, Natalie, Ryan M., KP, David, Brandon, Jonas, Justin, Adam, and Joe Z.

Shasta Basecamp

Things we love: Alpine sunsets around Basecamp  ph: M. Shamsee

To those who climbed, skied, and hiked with us this year; Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to share this grand adventure with you. Mt. Shasta is a special place and we are grateful to share our local knowledge and passion for the mountain with you. Please, please share your pictures and comments on our Facebook Page and other social media, we love to hear from our guests!

Greg Cunningham summit plateau

Greg Cunningham summit plateau  photo: M. Shamsee

Fall in Mt. Shasta can be dazzling with cooling temps, changing colors on the trees, and the ever present prospect of snow coating the upper elevations. The skis are waxed and ready for the changing season, but there is still lots of time before we’ll be making laps on Green Butte. Until then, we’ll be on the rocks, in the alpine, and at the beach. Happy fall, see you when the snow flies!

If you are looking for a new adventure this fall season, a few of our senior SMG guides are leading trips to international destinations. We work in partnership with International Alpine Guides to offer other select peaks and trips.

Mexico Volcanoes

Mexico Volcanoes

Dave Miller, our fully certified Technical Director will be climbing the Mexico Volcanoes starting October 26. Nine days of high altitude mountaineering with a highpoint of Pico de Orizaba at 18,491′

Fresh off his recent summer in the Alps, Dave is excited to head back to Mexico.

 

Chile Volcano Ski

Chile Volcano Ski

Rich Meyer, adventure ski seeker, departs soon for his second foray to Chile’s northern Patagonia region in search of volcano skiing, great food, local hot springs, and corn snow in September. Looking for the best spring skiing in the fall, join Rich in the Lakes District for this unique adventure

 

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

 

 

When is the best time to climb Mt. Shasta?

This is a very common and important question, and rightfully so. Proper conditions will greatly increase the safety of the group, as well as increase the likelihood of summit success on a giant Cascade volcano. We’ll answer best we can with the understanding that it greatly depends on the current mountain snowpack and weather.

Casaval Ridge

Casaval Ridge in early season

Historically and statistically, April-September can have some of the most stable weather on Northern California’s Mt. Shasta. Part of the Cascade mountain range, Mt. Shasta is a strato-volcano and on average receives over 500″ of snow per season. This snowpack is what creates good and saf(er) climbing conditions on the volcanoes. The snow provides an efficient and essential surface for climbing. As a Cascade peak, underneath all the snow lies an unstable rock surface. Optimally we climb when the snow still covers these loose rocks and the weather mostly stable. With proper timing we will climb when the snow is frozen in the wee hours of the night and early morning. Then typically, by 10:00 or 11:00 the surface has softened and makes for a quick and exciting descent with one of the longest glissades on the planet!

Mt. Shasta summit pinnacle

The primary factor is we want to climb Mt. Shasta when there is adequate snow coverage and a reasonable chance for high pressure and good weather. The current winter snowpack depths and weather patterns will ultimately determine when that is.

Unlike peaks to the south in the Sierra Nevada Range, we need the snow depth for safe and efficient travel. The old notion to wait for the snow to melt is a potentially dangerous solution and certainly a tedious challenge of uphill scrambling on loose, steep, rocks. We at SMG choose climbing routes in optimal condition and utilize several trailheads and aspects as conditions change throughout the year. We are on the mountain daily scrutinizing route conditions as they quickly change.

We recommend and regularly schedule summit climbs from April-September. A climb outside of this timeframe is certainly possible as a private and custom trip. In 35 years of guiding on Mt. Shasta,we’ve found best summit success in the spring and summer months.

Green Butte Ridge

April Ski Mountaineering Mt. Shasta

April and May are generally considered early season and can have fantastic alpine conditions. We feel this is the best timing for true alpine climbing and ski mountaineering with all of the routes having excellent conditions. There may still be concerns of avalanche hazard in Avalanche Gulch, especially if we receive new snowfall, but the ridges are prime now. You will be on snow the entire trip, from the trailhead to the top. Weather tends to be a bit colder and the wind a bit stronger as compared to later in the season. The advantage is the scenery is absolutely stunning and there are far fewer climbers on the mountain. Casaval Ridge is the preferred route for climbing and this is the season for a summit climb and ski or snowboard descent! Our experience is that there is a 90% chance of climbable weather in May, and 70-80% in April.

 

June summit!

June and July are peak season on the mountain. This is typically the best stable weather and adequate snowpack combo. Avalanche Gulch and the West Face are both in prime climbing condition at this time. In a big winter we may receive enough snow to allow climbing on the south side routes through August. In drought years, earlier is better. This is also the most impacted season, but anything is still possible; we have skied fresh powder in June and had snowstorms in July that dropped over 4 feet!

Hotlum Glacier August

August and September can have excellent and stable weather on the mountain. The North side Glacier Climbs are perfect at this time. August can be hot, but over on the north side, it’s cooler and the glaciers in prime shape. We may see afternoon thunderstorms, but they are usually late on Mt. Shasta and infrequent. Avalanche Gulch is typically done at this point, but the Hotlum and Bolam Glaciers are perfect! The snow level and temps may be creeping up on the south side routes and these may be too melted to allow safe climbing with serious rock fall a real hazard. As we get deeper into September, the days are short, temps a bit cooler, and the chance for snow not uncommon. The route conditions will deteriorate and we’re usually finishing up by mid September.

 

SHASTAAAAH!

Fall and Winter A climb is always possible however Fall often has very poor climbing conditions due to melted snow and glaciers. For those intent on an off-season climb, the Clear Creek route is a good choice. If one is resolved to experience whatever the mountain chooses to dish out, a winter expedition is a wonderful experience. Statistically, it is also the least likely time to be able to reach the summit. Severe, unpredictable weather and winds, extreme temps, deep, unconsolidated snow all make for a challenging winter ascent. This is the time to bring the backcountry skis and boards, Mt. Shasta is legendary for off-piste recreation.

We’ve had summer conditions in a January summit and fierce winter storms with powder skiing in July. One thing is for certain, there are few sites that equal the rugged beauty of Mt. Shasta in a storm; the clouds reveal a fresh landscape that will leave you breathless. Be prepared for all types of weather and temperatures, any time of year. Check the current weather and do not trust any forecast more than 2 days in advance, storms move quickly and can create whiteout conditions.

 

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!