Thu, Jun 21, 2012
Ryan was able to sleep for much of the drive, but was still tired when I roused him sometime around 2a as we were driving through the town of Mt. Shasta looking for the Everett Highway to the TH. This wasn't the first time I'd had trouble finding my way - you'd think the town would do a better job of directing traffic through this sleepy little town that owes much of its existence to the huge mountain rising up behind it. A few well-placed signs would help, but sadly these seem to be completely lacking. It was 2:30a before we were filling in the forms and paying our $20/each (I'm sure I would have neglected the payment if Ryan hadn't been with me) for the privilege of climbing above 10,000ft.
The weather was wonderfully cooperative today. Though cold at the start where we began with a whole lot of extra clothing, less than ten minutes from the start we were stripping down, in Ryan's case to just a t-shirt which he wore for the next several hours. It was almost 3:30a when we reached the stone building at Horse Camp. We had seen several lines of lights high on the Avalanche Gulch route as we approached, but we were heading further west to Hidden Valley. I had the route track loaded into the GPS, but that didn't seem to help us find the darn thing as we wandered about the many footpaths in the area that lead mostly to nearby campsites. But within about 15 minutes we had stumbled onto the trail leading to Cascade Gulch and Hidden Valley. The Forest Service had very nicely flagged the route traversing the southwest side of the mountain. While the trail is obvious in most places, it does go through a number of loose avalanche slopes where the flags were a big help in keeping us on route.
We could see the town lights of Mt. Shasta to our left as we ascended, yet even with no moon we could see the new day taking shape at a very early hour. It was 4:40a when we arrived at the overlook marking the entrance to Hidden Valley. We got our first view of Shastina at this time, and though it doesn't look all that far away, it is still some three and half hours before we will reach the top. We passed through the relatively flat Hidden Valley, past a half dozen tents where not a sound is heard stirring. The occupants may have been sleeping or they may have already left for the summit of Mt. Shasta via the West Face Gully, but in either case we seemed all alone.
At the north end of Hidden Valley, now about 5:30a, we paused to put on a jacket and get out our crampons and axes. The snow is hard but good for cramponing, excellent really. Behind us, dawn arrived, with the first rays of the day lighting up Castle Crags to the the south. The shadow of Mt. Shasta blocked much of the western landscape, but as the morning wore on it would recede first from Mt. Eddy, then from Black Butte. Ryan has had crampons on before, but only for practice and never for any real climbing. This would be his first big effort and to my surprise he would perform strongly. All that long distance running at school must have given him quite an energy reserve. Not that he was running up the mountain, mind you, but he was not all that much slower than my own pace and he never complained about it even once. We had several options for reaching Shastina from Hidden Valley, including an almost all-talus line up the South Ridge, an easier snow climb to the saddle between Shastina and Mt. Shasta, or the more direct, but steeper line up the Southeast Slope. I didn't offer the first option (far too tedious), but was happy to see he chose the more challenging direct line. We would spend much of an hour tackling this 30 degree slope that stayed hard in the shade and offered no respite from the angle to where the snow ran out. We took several short breaks along the way, but otherwise managed in fine style.
By 7:40a we'd reached the end of the snowfield and landed on the tedious talus we wanted so much to avoid. The snow about Shasta was melting out more than usual due to low snow conditions and it was not possible to find the all-snow route we would have preferred. Ryan was unused to such unstable slopes and had some trouble maintaining his balance as anyone would on their first real experience with the stuff. He used his hands a good deal to keep from taking a bigger spill and we spent about 20 minutes climbing this ugly mess. We had another short bit of snow to contend with, but since the angle wasn't all that much we slipped and struggled our way up it without crampons. Above that was another 10 minutes of talus and boulders, leading to the highest point with a bit of easy class 3 scrambling that we reached shortly after 8a.
Now fully in the sun, the weather was surprisingly mild with pleasant temperatures in the 50s and only a slight breeze. We were able to sit atop the highest point in our tshirts quite comfortably, taking in the sights around us. Mt. Shasta loomed another 2,000ft above us to the east. On the other sides the rock and snow slopes of Mt. Shasta fall away to the forested valleys and mountains that surround it. A PVC register we found at the highest point turned out to be empty, to Ryan's disappointment. I spotted another one about 30 yards further east at a small saddle. After taking a father/son photo, we slipped down the snow to the main register which turned out to be a very nice find, indeed. Left by the Sierra Club in 1941, the aluminum box housed the third of three registers, this one dating to 1985. All the pages of the small book were occupied, often by longish entries from those enjoying a highly emotional moment at the summit. Ryan and I used a small bit of blank space on a page from 2007 to add our own entry, considerably more terse.
I asked Ryan if he was interested in climbing the remaining distance to Mt. Shasta, an effort that would probably require another two hours. He declined. It had been a big effort for him to reach Shastina and he didn't feel he had the energy or motivation to continue. As I had been to the summit twice before, I was perfectly happy to call it a day. Down we went.
We followed snow and talus down to the large saddle with Mt. Shasta. From there we started down the gravelly slope, bootskiing our way to the start of the snow a few minutes lower. Since the angle in this gully was not very steep, we did not need crampons for much of the descent. The snow was getting softer, but still not soft enough for a good glissade. Another hour or so would have been far better. Around 9:50a we stopped above the steepest section to put on crampons. We dropped down to Hidden Valley in less than ten minutes where we took off the crampons once again. The tents we had seen earlier among the rocks at the south end of the valley were all gone - somehow the small encampment had disappeared without us seeing a trace of them. Our best guess was that they had headed up the West Gully much earlier than us, descended while we were on Shastina, and then packed up and left before us. The other possibility is that they had simply awaken in the morning after we'd passed by and left before we got back at 10a.
After leaving Hidden Valley the snow suddenly gives way to loose dirt with almost no snow. The dirt is really just ground pumice and other volcanic rock that covers much of the south side of the mountain once the snow melts. The trail that runs through it all the way to Horse Camp was a big help in keeping this from being a real drag. It was 11a when we reached Horse Camp where we found a small village of people. A group of rangers, many backpackers, some day visitors, all milling about the large stone building in the middle of the large clearing. I thought the rangers might ask us about climbing permits, but they seemed occupied with their own conversations. Some of the backpackers were from Hidden Valley, more from Helen Lake on the Avalanche Gulch route. Most were taking a break before continuing down the trail to Bunny Flat.
It would be another half hour before we'd plied the trail back to our start at Bunny Flat, making our round trip time just under 9 hours. There was a large group of family and friends at Bunny Flat preparing for the arrival of their loved ones. The church group had colorful prayer flags with the names of those who had gone on the Shasta outing hung along the trail. It seemed to be a very nice reunion in the making.
On the drive home, Ryan stayed awake long enough to get the venti-sized Frappuccino Starbucks somewhere along Interstate 5. Though loaded with enough caffeine to keep me awake for hours, he didn't last even a single hour before passing out. The sleep of the young and tired is a good one...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Shastina
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