Mt. Shasta Climbing Route Photos and Report

Mt. Shasta has been the place to be this week. As the weather forecast showed signs of improving, there was a buzz around the near pefect climbing and skiing conditions on the southern Cascade volcano. Newly opened trailheads were allowing access and a long holiday weekend brought the snow craved masses to our tiny northern California town.

Avalanche Gulch awaits photo: C. Krumholz

Avalanche Gulch awaits photo: C. Krumholz

And for good reason, Mt. Shasta was glorious. The amount of joy and stoke was immeasurable by the looks of the smiling, sun burned faces on the mountain. We’re still glowing from a great weekend and now fully primed for a full summer of climbs, backpacking trips, and seminars.

Red Banks climb team Mt. Shasta photo: C. Krumholz

Red Banks climb team Mt. Shasta photo: C. Krumholz

At SMG our entire staff was out either for work or for play and found each aspect to offer classic Mt. Shasta spring adventures. On Sunday teams climbed the West Face, Casaval Ridge, and Avalanche Gulch. Monday teams climbed via Avalanche Gulch and the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge.

West Face Mt. Shasta perfect conditions

West Face Mt. Shasta perfect conditions

No matter where your chosen line, there was nothing but ideal snow for crampons and smooth snow for skis and snowboards. Guides all remarked how absolutely perfect the climbing currently is on all routes on Mt. Shasta, the best it’s been in years.

Alpine climbing Avalanche Gulch photo: M. Whitman

Alpine climbing Avalanche Gulch photo: M. Whitman

This week is bringing hot temps and conditions will start to change. The skiing is still holding good above 9,000′ but with warm temps the lower mountain is getting sun cupped and textured. Casaval Ridge is still decent but the cat-walk is melting fast and the traverse sections are showing rocks as well.

Climbing the catwalk Casaval Ridge photo: A. Zok

Climbing the catwalk Casaval Ridge photo: A. Zok

There is always lots of anticipation around the opening of alternate trailheads. Currently you can drive to within 1.5 miles of the Brewer Creek trailhead. We ventured over for a visit to climb and ski one of Mt. Shasta’s classic ski lines, the Hotlum-Wintun ridge. It’s hard to argue this status when looking down the immense northeast face and rearly 8,000′ of relief.

Hot Tune ski Mt. Shasta, CA

Hot Tune ski Mt. Shasta, CA

 

Thumb Rock sunrise photo: Cobi Krumholz

Thumb Rock sunrise photo: Cobi Krumholz

We’re pretty excited to have a “normal” season once again. With an abundant snow pack, mild weather, and summer vacation on the horizon, grand adventure awaits!

Avalanche Gulch and West Face will be great through July and maybe longer and the north side glaciers will climb well into September this year.

Congratulations to all the climbers recently, it’s been a super fun start to the season and we’re stoked for summer on the mountain!

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.

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.