OverviewCasaval Ridge is the striking, most prominent ridge on Mt. Shasta's south side. It forms the spine of Mt. Shasta's south side, framed by Avalanche Gulch on the east, and Cascade Gulch on the west. It is one of the mountain's most prominent features, & is visible for great distances.
Seasoned Mt. Shasta climbers frequently rate Casaval Ridge as one of the most enjoyable routes on the mountain. The route has several caveats: it is aesthetically pleasing, being the mountain's direct & continuous southwest ridge; while not overly technical, it traverses steep slopes, has a few sections of steep snow climbing, and a few portions with appreciable exposure; it is one of the most obvious winter routes, as there is only one section with avalanche potential (under uncertain snow conditions, however, it is always a good idea to err on the side of caution & treat all slopes as suspect until they have been confirmed otherwise); & the views are tremendous, & only get better the higher one goes- from the surrounding lowlands (Strawberry Valley, Mt. Shasta City, nearby Black Butte) to the Klamaths (Mt. Eddy is prominent, & the seemingly tiny Castle Crags are obvious), to Lassen Peak, the anchor of the southern Cascades, to awesome views of surrounding Avalanche & Cascade Gulches.
Climbing ConsiderationsWhile Casaval Ridge is an excellent climb, several factors should be considered before embarking on this journey. Some things to ponder:
* The route's rise is over 7,000 ft(!), as Bunny Flat is around 6,900' & the summit is over 14,000'. As many would-be summiters arrive from sea-level, acclimatization is a great idea if you want to not get terrible altitude sickness, let alone summit. Consider camping out at Horse Camp (where the Sierra Club hut is) the night before, a hike in of a few hours from Bunny Flat. 8,000 ft.
* While Casaval Ridge is relatively free from avalanche danger (there is a short section between the initial hump above Horse Camp & the start of the ridge proper that one should be wary of), it is always a bit of Russian Roulette under questionable conditions, especially if you want to descend another route (ascending the route is strenuous, steep, & exposed enough; under favorable conditions, climbers frequently descend either Avalanche Gulch or the West Face Gully). Check the Mt. Shasta avalanche forecast here, & ideally be knowledgeable about snow conditions, avalanches, & how to avoid them yourself. Due to budget cutbacks, be aware that the advisory is only done Friday, Saturday, & Sunday from December through April (i.e. use your own judgement Monday through Thursday).
* If you have limited experience with winter travel & steep snow climbing (read: correct crampon use, self belay & self arrest capability), you might want to wait until you're up to the task- the route involves traversing steep slopes, steep snow climbing, & exposure- some people bring along a rope & snow protection (of course this will slow a party down, too). People have died after slipping & being unable to self-arrest on the steep slopes below.
* Casaval ridge is best done during the winter during times of stable snow conditions, & spring, when consolidated snow provides excellent climbing conditions. DO NOT do this one after the snow is gone unless you are crazy/stupid- don't say I didn't warn you.
ApproachStart at Bunny Flat (~6,900') and hike up to the Sierra Club Hut (~8,000', also the standard start for Avalanche Gulch). From the hut, go north up the slope above- the start of Casaval Ridge.
Route DescriptionCasaval Ridge is a great winter or early season route. It's best climbed when there's a lot of snow pack.
Topping out above the first portion of the climb is the first crux- while easy enough, the scale of this part is misleading. It looks just a short distance to get to the rocks above, marking the conclusion of this initial section. It is actually over 1500 ft above! Trudge up this broad toe, making your way towards its crest. Once you stagger to the top of this, take a break, eat a snack, rehydrate, & recalibrate.
Here is a fairly flat portion, & some people take the opportunity to camp here (& acclimate). Be aware that it a) can get really f$%&ing windy up here (i.e. if you do camp here, it's a good idea to dig yourself in to protect yourself from the wind & also to make sure that your tent doesn't fly off like a flock of Canada geese when you're not in it), & b) if you camp here, you'll either have to descend via Casaval Ridge (which can be quite undesirable, depending on the conditions), or after descending one of the other routes, climb back up the initial portion of the ridge to retrieve your overnight gear (trust me, even if you think that is fine at the journey's start, you will NOT want to do this at the end of the day when all you can think of is being back at Bunny Flat & cracking a beer).
Above this section, there are no questions of where to go, & the route above is obvious - gain & follow the ridge. If you're feeling low on huevos, this is the time to turn around. If you're feeling it, continue. A wide slope above this flat section leads to the ridge proper, where the real fun begins. This wide slope contains arguably the only avalanche-prone section on the route- be aware of snow conditions before committing here. Once you get to the top of this, you are now on The Ridge.
Once on the ridge proper, continue on, taking the most logical line. Most traverse the west side of the true ridge on steep snow slopes (you can often simply follow in others' boot tracks). If you're feeling adventurous, you can attempt to negotiate some or all of the many rock towers on the spine of the ridge (be forewarned- it is standard Cascade volcanic rubble).
There are 2 obvious, distinct sections where you will be forced to go directly up steep, exposed terrain- probably the technical crux(es) of the route. Each section is a few hundred ft. high, and cresting each will bring one to a welcome flattish section. The upper slope has 2 or 3 variations that go between/around different rock bands. Both sections are between 45 & 55 degrees (a guess here- will confirm the next time I am there).
The route tops out to the left (north) of the Red Banks, directly west of Misery Hill. The finish is truly classic- the Catwalk is a narrow walkway, directly next to a tall wall of reddish volcanic rock, that must be crossed to proceed. During high snow years, it is a walk across ample snow; in lean years it can be across mostly rock, exposed, & 'thought-provoking.'
Once across the Catwalk, the abrupt change in scenery will surprise you- the ridge itself ends abruptly & distinctly here.
From here, get to (stay above the Whitney Glacier & don't fall into the bergschrund- usually obvious) & trudge up Misery Hill to the summit plateau. The last 100 or so ft up the summit formation can break you after a long day (especially after going all the way up from Bunny Flat after no sleep & coming from sea level). The summit will (might) totally make the whole ordeal worth it.
Most people descend Avalanche Gulch or West Face Gully/Cascade Gulch.
Essential GearCrampons and an ice axe are essential. If insecure on steep snow slopes, bring a rope & snow protection along. Avalanche gear (beacon, probe, & shovel) doesn't weigh much & could be a life saver.
EtymologyAlthough I can't remember where I picked this up (somewhere on the web, I presume), thanks to whoever summarized this- little historical nuggets like this fascinate me (& others).
A man named Matthew McCallister was a prominent figure from San Francisco who had a major role in getting the Sierra Club hut built back in the 1920s. McCallister's son married a women from Spain. 'Casa' in spanish is 'house,' while 'val' means 'valley.' The marriage location (?) and their residence was the house down in the valley- Casaval.
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