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Ripping Ass on Avalanche Gulch, Mt Shasta
Trip Report

Ripping Ass on Avalanche Gulch, Mt Shasta

 
Ripping Ass on Avalanche Gulch, Mt Shasta

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: California, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 41.38872°N / 122.20965°W

Object Title: Ripping Ass on Avalanche Gulch, Mt Shasta

Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 19, 2014

Activities: Mountaineering

Season: Summer

 

Page By: iceaxe5

Created/Edited: Jun 21, 2014 / Jun 22, 2014

Object ID: 901481

Hits: 243 

Page Score: 72.08%  - 2 Votes 

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Ripping Ass on Avalanche Gulch, Mt Shasta


Introduction.  This is my first post here on SummitPost, having used the website multiple times to help me with beta on more than a few hikes and climbs.  So, I hope this trip report is helpful to someone out there in the spirit of "paying it forward".  I thought I might write this from a few different points of view, again hoping the information may be helpful for someone out there.

Background.  I am a decent, intermediate level climber with experience summiting many 14ers in Colorado, a couple of peaks like Monch in the Alps, and a few of the lesser peaks in the Seattle area.  Nothing too extreme.  I'm a classic new school rock climber- far more comfortable on "gym rock" than natural rock, thus preferring bolted routes over trad.  On the other hand, I routinely self-belay / solo lead climbs on rock up to 5.9 and ice to WI5.  Most of the peaks I've summited were solo due to the hassles of finding partners.  In summary, a profile of conservative risk taking.  

As it pertains to Mt Shasta and the relatively non-technical Avalanche Gulch route, I was totally comfortable and not concerned about the climb itself.  I was far more concerned about the well-described weather on Mt Shasta- particularly the wind sheer.  But this weekend, as many here have already said, was "perfect" (for Mt Shasta).  So, I opted to solo the route. 

Equipment.  I believe one of the most helpful things to write about here on SummitPost is to talk about equipment- what worked, what didn't, etc.  Here was my list of equipment, with reviews followed later in the post:
  • NorthFace Tadpole NHP tent (ca. 1998)
  • Gregory Dru 4000 cubic inch pack (ca. 1998)
  • Marmot Sawtooth -15 deg down bag
  • Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol sleeping pad
  • Ridgerest square (for sitting on)
  • REI collapsable snow shovel
  • MSR XGK II stove
  • one GSK Halulite 1.5 L boiler with orange drinking cup
  • one canister of fuel
  • three Nalgene bottles
  • Katadyn Hiker water filter
  • Gatorade
  • steel cut oatmeal 
  • Mountain House backpacking food- one chicken / noodle, one beef stew
  • Cliff bars and gels
  • REI long pants with the zippered bottoms (for conversion to shorts)
  • cotton t-shirt (for the hike up to Helen Lake)
  • long sleeved caprene top and bottoms
  • 100 wt fleece shirt
  • Marmot summer rain shell and pants
  • North Face 700 wt down jacket (ca. 2000-ish)- for standing around at camp... and if I ever need to bivy
  • Patagonia Nanopuff hoodie jacket
  • Outdoor Research gloves and liners
  • Mountain Gear full face balaclava
  • Scott ski goggles (with maximal tinting)
  • x2 pairs of heavy wool socks
  • Scarpa Inverno plastic boots
  • Black Diamond Raven ice axe
  • Grivel G14 crampons
  • and of course, the remainder of the Ten Essentials
Forecasted Conditions on Mt Shasta.  Unfortunately there were no more recent trip reports that I was able to find except 10 days prior, which indicated climbing conditions were optimizing.  At Helen Lake, there were reports that you may need to dig out a tent site (hence my rationale for bringing the shovel), and the reason why I brought a full canister of fuel as opposed to a half canister (for melting snow for water).  The top risk concern was report of decreased snow cover due to a very dry year, where now rockfall was a concern.  This also influenced finer adjustment to the route, which meant I would be climbing completely left of the Heart and the Red Banks.

Route.  As noted above, I was doing the basic Avalanche Gulch route, going left of the Heart and Red Banks, which implied a steeper angle to the climb (and I thought, more interesting).  The down climb was therefore... interesting... coming over the lip far left of the Red Banks, as I will relate below.  I climbed the Gulch from Bunny Flat to Helen Lake on the first day and summited the second.  I of course did an alpine start at 0230 to mitigate risk of poor weather.

Preparation.  I decanted my pack of about half its weight (e.g. obviously the tent, sleeping bag, etc), keeping / wearing the 700 wt down jacket, three Nalgene bottles of water, several Cliff gels and bars, rain shell and pants, Caprolene upper / lowers, 100 wt fleece shirt, and Nanopuff jacket, gloves, glove liners, ski goggles, shovel, Ridgerest square, cell phone, and other misc stuff like my wallet.  As you can tell, I like to mitigate for a possible overnight up there +/- poor weather conditions... and I was willing to carry extra weight to mitigate the risk.

Most importantly (and I cannot say this enough), is I prepped myself against altitude sickness by constant and continual hydration from Bunny Flat to Helen Lake and onward with liter after liter of Gatorade.  I prefer using Gatorade for hydration on the up climb is because electrolyte solutions simply work.  I won't go into the physiology here, but you tend to absorb water more efficiently using electrolyte solutions and therefore help your heart pump blood more efficiently... and mitigate the chances of slipping into Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).  For me, my thirst drive decreases the higher I go, so I have to force myself to continue sipping- and never forget to sip.  I ate a standard dinner of chicken and noodles.  I did not overeat.  Caffeine is also helpful in mitigating AMS, so when I awoke at 0200, I prepared one cup of coffee and a small bowl of steel cut oats.  Gotta be careful with the breakfast- eat too much, and you actually will perform poorly for a few hours until your meal transits your gut.  I personally swear by steel cut oats because it seems to help keep my energy for a longer period of time than regular oats or other breakfast meals.  Then I had a half liter of Gatorade.  So, I was urinating like a race horse the entire trip, but I did not have a hint of AMS- no headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, irritability, etc.  This to me is crucial- I truly wonder how much AMS has contributed to so many negative outcomes here on SummitPost, in terms of poor decisions, accidents, and so on.  So important to have a fully functional brain at high altitude- particularly when soloing.  I am so anal about preventing AMS that I will constantly assess myself before and during the climb for nausea, dizziness, irritability, etc.

The Climb.  The only semi-technical portion of the climb, to me, was the steep section left of the Red Banks.  And it was semi-technical because you had to pay attention to your foot and axe placements, and be constantly vigilant for the possibility of the need to self arrest.  I noted a form of penitente ice that, because I had never climbed on this kind of snow before, made me pay extra attention.  Once cresting the lip and onward to Misery Hill was where I encountered the first of many gusts of wind significant enough to make me stumble and even have to pause on three points (both feet and axe) to lean into the wind.  And these gusts loved to come when standing on a ridge.  Adjustment to a wider stance, leaning to, and good axe placement helped.  Once I was almost blown off my feet entirely.  So, wind turned out to be a little more than I expected, but manageable.  The summit was spectacular and well worth the trip.  Mt Shasta is an absolutely gorgeous mountain, and one I will return to several times in the future for more technical routes.

The down climb was, for me, the trickiest part.  This was due to decision making, which I wish I could have blamed on AMS, but I really wanted to glissade the entirety of the the slope- from the lip left of Red Banks all the way to Helen.  Glissading in general is risky, but I tend to use the experience for practice in arresting.  However this is where I learned something (you always do!) on this trip: I shouldn't have glissaded the higher 2/3 of the slope.  The reasons were 1) the snow was too icy coming down at ~0900, 2) the snow texture was penitente-like with several centimeters of ridges and spikes, 3) snowmelt had left a few rocks in depressions that made for a very bouncy ride, 4) the runout was too steep / long.  So, I was taking a risk here.  

Consequences.  Well, the biggest injury I have is the reason why I'm sitting on a pillow typing this: my ass.  It is black and blue, with two 4-5 cm X 2 cm oozing superficial wounds over my ischial tuberosities (no, I will not upload a picture of it for you).  My brand new Marmot summer rain shell and Caprolene bottom looks like an Alien chest-burster popped through them.  Thank God I had my other pants to hike down in.  Curiously, because the glissade was so long, my ass was numbed to the point of me not even noticing the damage.  Enough damage that I'll be soaking in Epson salts tonight and taping gauze to my butt.  My wife's thrilled that our relationship has gone to such heights that she's offered to help with the gauze.

Other Consequences.  Because I chose to wear summer rain pants instead of a more breathable option, I perspired.  More than my heavy wool socks could handle, especially when wrapped in plastic boots.  The long snow climb resulted in x4 linear blisters below both sides of my ankles on both feet, plus wounds and bruises on my shins because I had to tighten the boots as tight as I could get them because of the pain on the way down.  First time I've ever had issues with plastic boots, and I think it relates to hiking in them when it was too warm out (despite the subzero wind chill during windy periods above the Banks).

foot damage 1
foot damage 2
foot damage 3
foot damage 3

foot damage 2

foot damage 1


Equipment Review.  Here is the itemized review of my gear:
  • NorthFace Tadpole NHP tent (ca. 1998)
    • Perfect for the anticipated conditions.  This little tent has never failed me and has survived 50 mile an hour winds.  So long as you've staked it appropriately, and especially if the low end is aimed into the wind, it is extremely stable.  
  • Gregory Dru 4000 cubic inch pack (ca. 1998)
    • A dated pack, and I'm sure there are far lighter packs out there now, but it too has never failed me.  No broken straps, no tears, no thread failure, nothing.  I truly believe it will last another decade at least.
  • Marmot Sawtooth -15 deg down bag
    • Perfect for the anticipated conditions.  Great bag.
  • Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol sleeping pad
    • Perfect for the anticipated conditions.
  • Ridgerest square (for sitting on)
    • Didn't need this on the trip, thank heavens.
  • REI collapsable snow shovel
    • Didn't need this on the trip.
  • MSR XGK II stove
    • This stove failed me for the first time in 5 years, and it's because of me- I wasn't doing the yearly maintenance.  The O ring where the pump mates with the fuel bottle was cracked and needed replacement.  Also, the pump cup needed lubrication.  Fantastic stove.
  • one GSI Halulite 1.5 L boiler with orange drinking cup
    • The reason why I didn't have a GSI stove on this trip is because the one I bought did not come with a wind screen.  Plus, I found they do not seem to perform as well as the XGK at altitude.  Otherwise, great product.
  • one canister of fuel
    • Didn't need all of this because there was filterable water available at Helen after all.
  • three Nalgene bottles
    • Perfect volume for the anticipated conditions.  No issues with the product.  I tend to bring Nalgenes instead of Camelbacks because I seem to always have issues with line-freeze despite blowing into it.
  • Katadyn Hiker water filter
    • First trip for this product- worked perfectly, and the water tasted better than any filter I'd used in the past.
  • Gatorade
  • steel cut oatmeal 
  • Mountain House backpacking food- one chicken / noodle, one beef stew
    • This was the first trip using Mountain House, and I was blown away with how good the meal was.  Seriously.  I'm not using other products again.
  • Cliff bars and gels
    • I bring both types, bars and gels, in case the bars turn to bricks.  They didn't on this trip.
  • REI long pants with the zippered bottoms (for conversion to shorts)
    • Fantastic product.  I use these pants all the time for all my trips.
  • cotton t-shirt (for the hike up to Helen Lake)
    • Cotton is a no-no at altitude, but during the hot hike up from the car it was fine.
  • long sleeved caprene top and bottoms
    • Perfect for the anticipated conditions.  Depressed I lost my pants to the glissade.
  • 100 wt fleece shirt
    • Perfect for the anticipated conditions.
  • Marmot summer rain shell and pants
    • Perfect for the anticipated conditions, with the exception of the sweat accumulation from the legs to the boots.  They did the job for cutting the wind and keeping me warm.
  • North Face 700 wt down jacket (ca. 2000-ish)- for standing around at camp... and if I ever need to bivy
    • Great during the first night while warming up after the sun went down.
  • Patagonia Nanopuff hoodie jacket
    • Perfect for the anticipated conditions.  I love this jacket and use it more than any other product on this list.  Kept me warm during the climb up.
  • Outdoor Research gloves and liners
    • Perfect for the anticipated conditions.
  • Mountain Gear full face balaclava
    • Perfect for the anticipated conditions, and was used a couple of times when climbing in shadow or in wind sheer.  Very glad I had it.
  • Scott ski goggles (with maximal tinting)
    • These have become must haves for me because I wear contact lens and have dry eyes.  The maximal tint was perfect for conditions.
  • x2 pairs of heavy wool socks
    • Turned out to overheat my feet, so poor choice.
  • Scarpa Inverno plastic boots
    • Overheated my feet.  But I love their performance.  Hiking in them is tough, of course.  But that is the trade off.
  • Black Diamond Raven ice axe
    • A simple, light, functional axe that has never failed me.  Worked well on this trip.
  • Grivel G14 crampons
    • These are a few years old and well used on ice climbs.  They were awesome on this trip.




Images

View From Helen Lakefoot damage 3foot damage 1foot damage 2

Comments


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iceaxe5healing wounds

iceaxe5

Hasn't voted

Ok, so it took ten days of x2 Epsom salt baths and repeated dressing changes with soap/water wound cleaning... And a surprising amount of ibuprofen... to arrive at wound granulation and true healing. Had to spend one full day on my stomach in bed to allow for air drying and no pressure. As of today, no more fluid leaking clean through my pants in an embarrassing way. It is not fun to have a huge weeping lesion on your butt, in such an awkward place!

So, fun for the whole family... a lesson in what NOT to do when glissading, to join the myriad of other warning stories.
Posted Jun 29, 2014 4:55 pm

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