Mt. Shasta/Avy Gulch
June 8-10, 2007
I originally scheduled the climb in early June to have an opportunity to climb the mountain with a healthy snowpack. The snow conditions this year were similar to mid to late July and deteriorating.
The initial weather forecast appeared stable for the climb so we agreed to meet Thursday afternoon and drive down to Mt. Shasta. The logistics for the climb were to hike into high camp on Friday and spend the day and evening acclimatizing. We then would go for the Summit early Saturday morning. We then would return to high camp and take a leisurely nap and then return to the vehicles late Saturday. It sounded like a nice idea, let’s find out how it really turned out.
A low pressure system entered the Pacific northwest and nor Cal on June 4 and wreaked havoc across the region through mid week. Our small group was not intimidated as we were looking for an excuse to go to nor Cal for an adventure. The weather models showed significant improvement through Saturday the 9th of June.
We were a group of five in two vehicles. Lori Tierney and Julie McGlinsky in one vehicle and myself (Larry Huff), Peter Green, and Lee Shaffner in another. We drove south to Mt. Shasta and set up camp at the Bunny Flat trailhead.
We spent the first night out under an amazing carpet of stars. It was nice to be in the tent away from our busy city lives. We awoke leisurely Friday morning and put our packs together for the days trek to high camp. The walk in shaked down to the young guns Peter and Lee heading out first, and agreeing to wait for the forty something gang at designated points along the way.
The first stage along the way is the hike through the forest to the Sierra Horse camp. Highlights along this section are rock strewn dusty trail with some good views of the Trinity alps to the southwest. The horse camp is a cabin with a spring and some composting toilets at the edge of the forest as it gives way to alpine meadows and the mountain. There is a trail junction here and person can either head up to the overly popular Avalanche gulch were most people Camp at lake Helen. Or the other option is to go to Hidden valley High camp with access to west face routes and Shastina crater. We were headed up to the tent village at Camp Helen. We meet Peter and Lee and bid them farewell, shortly thereafter we left the Horse camp.
The next segment heads out across the alpine meadows on a causeway of boulders painstakingly placed by volunteers to keep the multitudes of traffic off the vegetation. The trail now begins to become the true grunt. We have to negotiate a cliff band with full packs then walk up boulder strewn moraine deposits all the way to a plateau called the 50/50 camp. Here we meet Peter and Lee again patiently waiting for us. It is still another 1,000 ft. vertical to Camp Helen and some people prefer to haul their full packs no further then here. We bid farewell again to are sprinters and take a rest. We prepare for the snow slog into high camp which just happens to also be the steepest section of the lower mountain as we hump it into camp at 10,460 ft.
We spend the rest of the day in camp, napping, eating, hydrating, and melting snow for water. We also take in the magnificent view from camp. We have an early start the next morning and we all turn in about 8:30 p.m. and fortunately the other 50 or 60 people in camp are silent by 9:00 p.m.
We awake to a star filled alpine start, it’s about 3:15 a.m., and we begin our climb. Getting started up a mountain when you're already above 10,000 ft. is not easy. We continue on upward, learning as we go how to pace ourselves and properly hydrate and ingest food along the way. The first section up to and around the rock pile called the heart is really just a long slog. We are rewarded with the moon rising and falling and the shadow of Shasta beginning to form on the mountains to the south.
It is a beautiful full blown morning as we arrive and climb through the rock band known as the red banks. This is the crux of the climb as the snow for a small pitch reaches 40 degrees. We have breached the red banks and arrived on the wind swept plateau at the base of Misery Hill. It is definitely windy here. We immediately break for some rocks to get out of the wind and put on extra layers.
We begin to ascend Misery Hill and I begin to take notice of a thin but growing lenticular cloud to the east. We have had some altitude issues along the way, now I sense potential for a summit white out or worse. I begin to start pushing an early turn around, but first I need to convince my group. We are close, so for now we push on ever wary of this growing lenticular cloud. The wind is absolutely howling towards the top of Misery Hill and I start reeling every one in again. We keep moving forward though because my young gun Lee has gotten way out in front and I will have to catch him to turn around successfully. We catch up with Lee, and he now has grown suspicious of this ever ominous lenticular cloud, I now have everyone on the same page. We take pictures of the summit pinnacle, ourselves, and this awesome cloud formation. We turn around and head back over to and down Misery hill. Once we drop off the upper mountain back into the red banks we are all feeling stronger, and happy to be out of the wind. Peter, Lori, and Juli proceed on down the mountain, I stay behind to work on Lee’s crampons which have began to give him fits. We remedied the problem and caught up with the rest of are group as they were setting up for the glissade down along the Heart back to camp. We arrived back in camp gleeful about the adventure and happy with ourselves for saving our legs with a glissade down the mountain.
We gaze back upon the upper mountain as we witness the whole thing vaporize in a white sheet of precipitation. It wasn't long before we were being pelted by rain drops. We hastily packed up camp and beat feet down the mountain to are vehicles.
We enjoyed each other’s company and were completely satisfied with our Mt. Shasta adventure.