Trip Report: Mount Shasta & Castle Dome
February 22-24, 2002
| 1) Introduction |
During August 2001 I made my first climb of Mount Shasta via the traditional Avalanche Gulch route. At the time I considered this my first big mountain and though I had done virtually zero training for the climb, I was able to make it up in the standard 2 days without difficulty. Reflecting back, most of the challenge the first time around was psychological due to all the hype given this mountain in magazines, books, etc. Reading all the accidents on the USFS list didn't help either. In the end, however, we had beautiful weather and it was a simple crampon and scree affair. Given how much I thought about Shasta beforehand, I was suprised at how fast I forgot about it afterwards as I spent October enjoying class 3 to 5 climbing in Yosemite on peaks such as Cathedral Peak and Mount Conness. Once the dust settled from my trip to Tanzania in January 2002, I was itching to get out again, but where to go? Living in the SF Bay Area, most of the peaks in the Sierra's were too far away for a weekend excursion due to seasonal road closures. Big Sur was a possibility but I wanted more of a challenge so I set my sights on Shasta again - this time for a February attempt on Casaval Ridge....
One of the problems that presented itself was that I still never graduated to anything beyond simple leather hiking boots. Granted, my EMS Ultra boots were full-grain leather with a Sympatex waterproof/breathable membrane, but they're not exactly what one considers a mountaineering boot and certainly not silicone impregnated or anything like that. I was proud of myself for never purchasing another pair of boots and had used these on Shasta, Hood, Adams, as well as Kilimanjaro. But now, I thought it was time for something more robust. I went to Western Mountaineering in Santa Clara, CA to pick up a pair of Koflach Verticals but they didn't have my size. They did have the Scarpa Invernos which I wasn't too keen on (they don't look as cool) but luckily they had these for rent which is what I did. I also considered getting a pair of "automatic" crampons, but then thought I'd give my CM S12 Articule strap-on ones a go first.
2) Mount Shasta - Casaval Ridge - Feb 22-23, 2002
After working on Thursday, Feb 21, I was tired and went to sleep around 8pm after picking up my Invernos. I woke up soon after, had some dinner, and then ... watched the Olympics female figure skating event where Sarah Hughes scored a stunning upset over Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya. It was an amazing performance and I'm glad I didn't miss it. It meant I left my apartment at around 11pm and started the long drive north. I ended up sleeping at a few rest stops before making it to Mount Shasta in the morning to meet up with George, Bill, Bill, John, and Randy who I would be climbing with. We planned a short first day, heading up from the trailhead at Bunny Flat to "First Window" at 9,880' on Casaval Ridge. George and I were sharing a Mountain Hardware Trango 3 tent as were Bill and Bill. John and Randy were going to go light with a couple of bivy sacks and a Black Diamond Megamid shelter. When we got to the trailhead, we put on our gear, straped on our snowshoes and headed up to Horse Camp which we found buried under snow, but with it's doorway cleared. After resting here a bit we headed up to Casaval Ridge proper. As the snow steepened, George and I popped up the Televator heel lifters in our MSR Denali Ascent snowshoes and went up the slope. The others seemed to be going up fine without them. At about 9,200' we stashed our snowshoes, put in some wands to mark the location, and headed up the left side of some rocks to reach "First Window." Although it was a gorgeous day and we got a late start, we didn't see anyone until we got to camp where there was a tent and a descending party. The descending party told us they had turned around at about 13,000' after encountering 100+ mph winds and were packing up and heading off the mountain tonight. Two of them were kayaking guides from the PNW and they had a great dog with them as well. While they were packing up, we dug a tent platform for Bill and Bill. George and I would use theirs while John and Randy would setup their Megamid just over the ridge.
It was sunny when we got to camp, soon after the sun went down, the clouds would come in, the winds would pick up, and we would have a hard time even getting our tents pitched. We started by shovelling some tent platforms and by the time it was time to set up the tents the winds had picked up to 65-70 mph. Our tents were threatening to fly away and we had to use "human stakes" holding down corners of the tents while the tents were secured. At night with the winds howling with 100+ mph gusts and an electrical storm around us - our tent would be lit up over and over throughout the course of the night - George and I decided to just stay in our tent and not venture out at all. John came over to our tent and found that he couldn't find his way back. It took several shots of lightning to provide enough light for him to make it back to his site. One of the more glamorous parts of the evening was deciding how to relieve ourselves since neither of us was too eager to head outside at night in the wind and snow with the lightning hitting around us. George had an extra 0.5 liter Nalgene bottle which we ended up using and then dumping outside each time. 0.5 liters ended up being too small but we didn't mind going twice ;-)
In the morning, the snow was up to the Mountain Hardware logo on the sides of our tent and when we went outside, the contrast was so low that the sky was just a flat gray with zero contrast. Winds were hitting up to 80+ mph during the morning and we were deciding what to do. I also found out that the BD Megamid that John and Randy were using ripped during the night due to the strong winds and they had thought that the entire thing might have blown away leaving the two of them in their bivy sacks. Luckily it didn't happen that way and the rip was limited to about 2 feet wide. With 2 feet of new snow on the ground, we weren't too keen on making a summit bid, but were instead deciding whether to head down today or wait a day or more until the snow settled. In the end we decided to head down as the avalanche danger would just build over the next few days. We took down our tents and the 6 of us roped up for the first part down the ridge until we retrieved our snowshoes and reached the first few trees. At this time, we ran into one group from Santa Cruz that had also come up the day before. They said they had to make an "emergency camp" last night somewhere below ours before they too decided to turn around. On our way down we ran into yet another group that was making their way up the lower ridge, however, after continuing up a bit, they turned around the same day. Once we got lower on the ridge, we ducked beneath the clouds and actually had some decent views though we still could not see the summit. By the time we got to Bunny Flat, the clouds were so thick that we could not see anything above the row of trees.
Afterwards, Bill and Bill decided to head out to Reno while the rest of us went into town for dinner. There was an hour wait at "Mike and Tony's" (Italian) so we ended up going to "Lai Lai" (Chinese) instead. Afterwards, George, Randy, and I went back to the Mt. Air Lodge to soak in their hot tub and plan a climb of Castle Dome the next day. John, being more of a ski mountaineer, headed home after dinner. In the hot tub, we met all kinds of people including one person that we called "Bluto," a student at Cal Poly who I can only say was drunk and crazy. He was telling us how he has skied and snowboarded all over the world, yet when I asked him about Chile or New Zeland, he said no. He did hit on Jackson Hole, Wyoming though, telling us that Grand Teton was over 14,000 feet and he was getting 14,000+ feet of vertical on his snowboard descents. I tried unsuccessfully to tell him that there were no mountains over 14,000 feet in Wyoming and decided against telling him that even if there were, he would have to snowboard down to the ocean to get 14,000 feet of vertical, the base of the mountain simply isn't that low ;-) After a little while I made some private comment that I don't remember to Randy. Upon noticing this Bluto told me that he wanted to hear everything that was going on and he wasn't going to have any of this private conversation stuff going around under his watch. I told him it was none of his business and that we weren't talking about him but nevertheless he challenged me to meet him afterwards to "settle things" at which time I told him it would be good for me to use my "kung-fu" on someone, feeling as if I was in grade school again. Though this didn't turn into a fight, this still sucked because even though I wasn't planning on meeting him to settle the score, I was worred he'd see where I was parked and key or otherwise damage my car at night so I ended up finding somewhere else to park/sleep at night.
3) Castle Dome - Regular Route - Feb 24, 2002
Although I had wanted to climb Castle Dome for some time, on Sunday morning, I wasn't sure this was the day I wanted to do it on. Afterall, the previous day had been with almost no views on Shasta and I didn't want my first experience with the dome to be the same way. We met around 6am, drove around town looking for coffee places that were open, however, none of them seemed to open until 7am. After having some breakfast, we were on our way to Castle Crags State Park, arriving at the trailhead around 8am. Carrying much lighter packs today, we mainly brought climbing gear, snowshoes, and water. Since this was a moderate "climb" we all wore hiking boots instead of bringing rock shoes. The first part of the trail was through gorgeous stands of coniferous trees which lasted a while until we ran into snow which would continue against some rock formations before we put on our snowshoes at 4,300 feet. Around here we met our first other hiker who was from Colorado and in the Bay Area for a conference. We then made good time up to the area beneath the crags, looking at the Ogre's face on Mount Hubris before heading over to the base of the dome where we roped up. I wasn't sure what to expect here, but Randy headed up with a light rack and we simul-climbed most of the way. The route turned out to be barely over YDS class 3 which was surprising but the views from the summit were stunning. Thankfully the clouds had left and we had gorgeous views of Shasta as well. From the summit we saw a woman hike up by herself and take some photos of us waving, however, by the time we got down she was gone. Another lone hiker had come up to some lower rock formations that we also climbed for good views of Castle Dome. When we got back to the trailhead, we found a note on Randy's dashboard from the girl taking photos of us on the summit with her contact information offering to send us her photos. Wow! Pretty sweet we thought! Then it was off to In-and-Out Burger in Redding before we parted ways and headed back home. I was glad to have made the trip to Castle Crags, and area while small, was very striking. I made a mental note to come back sometime to do Cosmic Wall on Mount Hubris which I hope is sooner rather than later.