Mt. Shasta/Hotlum Wintum Ridge

July 10-12, 2008

With California literally On fire, the fact the mountain was rapidly becoming unclimable for the year, I was ambivalent about making the trip south.

The climb of Mt Shasta moves forward and Brian Hamilton and I drive down for an opportunity to bag a 14'r. We chose the Hotlum Wintum route on the east side of the mountain. It was the one route on the mountain that still had ample snow cover.

We arrive at the trailhead at 11:30 p.m. and quickly make the back of Brian’s pickup a temporary shelter for the night.

The trailhead elevation is approximately 7,200 ft and are goal for the day is to hike about four miles to high camp at the 10,000 ft. level at the base of the Wintum Snowfield.

We arrive after a typical slog fest up the scree to a windswept plateau. We pitch the tent and promptly take a siesta. When we wake up, the camp is swarming with activity. What started out to be a peaceful location, became climbers central for the guided climbs this weekend. Brian and I "sighed" but we made the best of the situation and went about are business preparing for the big climb the next morning.

We woke up at 1:30 in the morning to a brilliant star display, quickly pulled our boots, jackets, and helmets on. Loaded the backpacks with essential food, clothing and gear and headed out into the night. A few minutes later we found the snow to be firm and we put our crampons on our boots. We quickly worked our way up the snowfield and begin to pass other climbing parties. We began to notice a change in the snowfield. It had become icy and it was becoming hard to find a path that wasn’t water-ice. We also noticed that it was much darker than when we had started the climb. There was no moon. This was a bit eerie. We proceeded up the snowfield swinging way to the right (north) to try and stay on firm snow. We continued up and up until Brian further to the right than I found his way to an awesome vantage point of the Hotlum Ice Fall. After some pics of the ice fall Brian promptly resumed the climb with me. A few minutes later we discussed the ice on the slope and if one of us did slip it was a long way down. We decided to pull the rope and the ice screws out and start a swap the leader belay run to the ridge over yonder. Our decision to protect the route slowed us down a lot. By the time we made the ridge, the sun was out and already softening up the snow. We decided to take a rest on the ridge, rehydrate and get some nourishment. It was at this time that Brian pointed out the smoky haze that was obscuring the lower mountain. It would explain the eerie darkness of earlier in the morning.

We put away the rope and the pro and moved from the ridge onto the the Wintum glacier at 12,500 ft. it was still turning out to be a slow moving climb with intense sun, soft snow and rarified air. We continued upward now following in the steps of the guided groups that we passed up earlier in the morning. We were postholing at times all the way to the top of are thighs. It was only 8:30 a.m. and I was imagining a descent in the afternoon slipping, sliding, and plunging to are waists. And worst yet twisting are hyperflexing my knees in the soft snow “Yuk”.

Ok already, I called the climb at the 13,000 ft level (Bahhh). As it would turn out it was a bit of work to get down anyway. We have already deciced to make a date with the mountain next year under cooler conditions with a better snowpack.

Larry Huff, leader.


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