Mt. Shasta - Hotlum-Wintun Ridge

June 26-28, 2009

Tim Swallen joined me for this attempt of the east side of 14,162' Mt. Shasta via the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge. The road to the trailhead had been free of snow for almost two weeks when we arrived on a warm Friday afternoon. We took a few minutes to put on our boots and finish stuffing our packs before starting out on the Brewer Creek Trail at 7,315'. Not knowing what conditions we would encounter on the climb, our packs were heavy with a variety of gear, including rope and harnesses, ice screws, snow pickets, and rock anchors. Following the trail generally to the south, we crossed a few patches of snow over the first 1.7 miles and 570 feet of elevation gain to reach an unofficial climbers’ trail. The climbers’ trail led us over a sparsely vegetated moraine, snow fields, and finally a steep section of scree for 1.6 miles and 1,968' of elevation gain to reach our base camp at 9,853'. We shared the triangular moraine with a group of four other climbers and a pair of skiers and felt lucky to find a glacial stream nearby for our water needs.

The ascent for the summit began shortly after 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. The sky was clear and the temperature mild, but it would drop to 33 degrees as we progressed up the mountain. Our route ascended the snow field on the north side of the moraine at the base of the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge. The snow was hard enough to require crampons and the hiking was slow, but we were in no hurry; we had plenty of time. We had planned to ascend the snow field running up the middle of the ridge when we reached the top of the moraine, but found the snow too steep to negotiate safely without rope and pickets. Instead, we elected to climb the rock ridge directly, but first took an hour-long break, resting, looking at the scenery around us, and watching climbers below.

The next 1,500 feet of elevation gain consisted primarily of 3rd class scrambling with a few 4th class moves thrown in for fun. Occasionally, we had to cross small, but extremely steep patches of snow to reach the next section of the scramble. We had our first glimpse of the summit when we reached an altitude 13,850'. Our side of the mountain was sparsely populated with only about ten climbers on the Wintun Glacier to the south, below us, but the summit above appeared to be swarming with climbers. We crossed the top of the Wintun and reached the summit at about 11:00 a.m., nine hours after starting out from our base camp. There were about 30 people on the summit with many of them lined up to sign the summit register. Climbers were continually leaving the summit and being replaced by others coming up from Avalanche Gulch. Looking over that side of the mountain, we could see a line of maybe 50 climbers on their way up the final stretch with many others on their way down.

Tim and I stayed on the summit for an hour, where we brewed coffee and enjoyed the sunshine and 72-degree temperature. When we were ready to begin our descent, we chose to zigzag down the Wintun Glacier instead of down-climbing the rock ridge. While plunge-stepping down, each of us lost our footing once on the steep slope and had to employ self-arrest techniques. When we reached the top of the moraine at the base of the rock ridge, we crossed over to the snow field on the north and then enjoyed a long glissade down the “spring corn” snow, losing 2,000 feet of elevation in about five minutes. Our descent from the summit to base camp took only two hours. We rested at camp, refilled our water bottles, and then packed up for the 2˝ hour hike, reaching the trailhead by 5:30 p.m., ready for the 5-hour drive back to Eugene.

Climbers were Tim Swallen and Brian Hamilton, leader.

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