OverviewAlthough the Whitney-Bolam Ridge on Mount Shasta is infrequently climbed (more often than not being passed over for nearby glacier routes on the Whitney and Bolam Glaciers), the Whitney-Bolam Ridge is ideally situated as a descent route for the previously noted glacier climbs and offers some of the most spectacular views on the entire mountain. The route itself generally goes as straightforward class 2 depending on the snow and rock conditions at the time. The rock, like much of the rock on Shasta, is loose talus but not prohibitive to climbing when bare (unlike some other routes such as Clear Creek). Even so, the ridge is more ideally done when snow covers most of the route. If nothing else the snow makes for a much more comfortable descent as there is no scree sliding anywhere around the ridge.
There are several excellent reasons to consider a climb on this more remote area of Mount Shasta. Firstly, as noted, the area is infrequently climbed and far removed from the more crowded southern routes… you are likely to have the place all to yourself. The most logical trailhead, Coquette Falls, is a rough drive (see below), but deposits you high on the mountain and not far from the nearby glacial moraines. The route is short, steep, and easy to follow. It also has the bonus of depositing you directly onto the highpoint of the summit plateau… no Misery Hill to deal with, just a short walk up the final summit pinnacle. Even if not climbing the ridge it is worth utilizing as a descent route following a climb of one of the surrounding glaciers. The views are terrific! To the east the Bolam Glacier and features at the top of the Hotlum-Bolam Ridge offer a quick taste of the even more remarkable view to the southwest. Throughout the route the entire Whitney Glacier spreads below you with Shastina rising as the magnificent backdrop.
Though the climbing here doesn’t make this the premier route on Mount Shasta (that title arguably belongs to the Hotlum Glacier), the solitude and views of this area rival those anywhere else on the mountain.
The quickest and easiest approach to the Whitney-Bolam Ridge is from the Coquette Falls Trailhead. Coquette Falls is infrequently used, however, due to the rough and somewhat overgrown road leading to the trailhead. Although any moderately high clearance vehicle should be able to make it, the drive is a bit easier with 4WD due to the dusty road surface. Expect to get a few scratches from roadside brush as well. Negatives aside, Coquette Falls makes for a simple approach to both the Whitney-Bolam Ridge and the Bolam Glacier and is one of my favorite trailheads on the mountain.
Alternatively the ridge can be reached from either the Whitney Falls or North Gate Trailheads, the latter being the most frequented option and highly recommended over Whitney Falls (which has a nasty approach from the trailhead to pretty much any route you might want to reach on Mount Shasta). The drive in to North Gate is still a bit rough, but far more well-traveled than that to Coquette Falls.
Coquette Falls (41.45841° N, 122.21615° W)
From Interstate 5 in Weed head northeast on Highway 97 for 12 miles until reaching Bolam Road (aka Forest Service Road 4321). On Bolam Road keep right at 0.3 miles and cross over railroad tracks 1.7 miles from Highway 97. Turn left 2.3 miles from Highway 97 onto Bolam Logging Road. Follow the main road here as various spurs are passed. The road splits into 2-3 forks after about 4 miles, soon coming back together (none of choices are very good… quite brushy here). Keep right at junctions 4.8 and 5.1 miles from Highway 97. Continue on the sometimes rough, sometimes not, logging road keeping left at 6.7 miles, right at 7.1 miles, left at 7.5 miles, and right at 7.7 miles from the highway. The end of the road is reached at the trailhead about 8.5 miles in.
If accessing the route via one of the other trailheads see the excellent pages by Bubba Suess on the Whitney Falls Trail or the North Gate Trail for driving directions and a description of the trail approaches.
Coquette Falls (Aproximately 4 miles and 6800 feet elevation gain one way)
Most of the approach from Coquette Falls is over easy volcanic terrain, just ascend the east rim of the Bolam Creek drainage, soon arriving at Coquette Falls. Depending on the season the falls may or may not be visible, the runoff from Bolam Glacier is not extreme and there is a lot of porous ground in the vicinity. Shortly after passing the falls well to your right a small bit of routefinding is involved to minimize interaction with the brush surrounding you, though it should never get too bad. Additional falls are encountered at around 9200 feet. Pass these falls through a break in the cliffs to the left and as easier ground is reached work your way to a flat area around 9600 feet just a short distance below the ridge and the Bolam Glacier. There are several camping opportunities in the vicinity, or ascend the steep slopes to the southwest to a more exposed but scenic location at 10,400 feet where the ridge proper begins. If climbing Bolam Glacier, the former location makes the more logical stopping point. Take care on the return to note the use trails at the final decent so you don’t pass your vehicle!
North Gate (Aproximately 5 miles and 7200 feet elevation gain one way)
Though about a mile longer, the route from North Gate is a common trailhead to use for the Bolam Glacier and/or the Whitney-Bolam Ridge. Follow the trail until it reaches the open area south of the North Gate Plug at 8500 feet. From here ascend very gradually and traverse to the west around (and below) the steep slopes to the southwest until Bolam Creek and the unnamed falls are visible to the south. Follow the description above from the falls at 9200 feet.
The route up (or down as more often than not this is used as a decent route) is very straightforward and does not take much if any routefinding. From camp ascend the ridge to the south wherever you see fit if not already camping on the ridge. Follow the crest of the ridge south and then southeast as it narrows slightly and turns towards the summit plateau. That’s about it. The route is generally class 2 and doesn’t require any special skills beyond what would be required anywhere else on Mount Shasta. Near the top of the ridge The Sharktooth (a towering blade of rock at around 13,800 feet) is within view for pretty much the entire climb. Head right of this landmark to the saddle between the east and west summit of Shasta visible at the very top of the route (this saddle is also within view for nearly the entire climb). Upon reaching the saddle you arrive directly at the summit plateau near the sulfur vents below the final, short climb up the summit pinnacle.
Keeping further east offers great views of the Bolam Glacier, while keeping west results in excellent views of the Whitney Glacier and Shastina behind it. Though a simple climb the route offers some of the best views on the mountain and is worth a visit for this alone. The rock is generally solid (or a least as solid as a pile of talus can be). When taking the route as a decent following a climb of one of the glaciers, simply head northwest down from the sulfur vents as breathtaking views of the Whitney Glacier appear below you.
As noted in the route descriptions above there are several options for setting up camp near the Whitney-Bolam Ridge. An obvious choice from either Coquette Falls or North Gate trailheads is the flat area below Bolam Glacier at 9500 feet. This location has excellent access to both the ridge and the Bolam Glacier. Flat areas exist on the ridge at 10,400 feet and would be accessible from either of the aforementioned trailheads or the Whitney Falls trailhead (not recommended… see trailhead description). Though you may have running water, we didn’t in late October. The volcanic rock in this area is extremely porous and despite the appearance of small lakes on the topo maps it would be wise to be prepared to melt drinking water.
Essential GearNo special gear is needed for the Whitney-Bolam ridge, just the standard Shasta fare of crampons, ice axe, and helmet... and take your wag bag too! Glacier travel gear will likely accompany you if using the Whitney-Bolam ridge as a decent following a climb via the Whitney or Bolam glaciers.
EtymologyThe Whitney-Bolam ridge is obviously named for the Whitney and Bolam Glaciers running on either side of the route.
“When [Clarence] King and his assistants climbed Mt. Shasta in September, 1870, they ascended via the huge saddle between Shasta and Shastina, and were rewarded with their first views of an active glacier in the United States. Shasta’s great northside ‘ice river’ was later named for King’s mentor, Josiah Whitney. King later told Brewer, ‘That stream haunted me for years, until I got on Mt. Shasta and found the glaciers.’ The discovery was considered one of the most important geologic events of the decade.” – Andy Selters, Michael Zanger, The Mt. Shasta Book: A Guide to Hiking, Climbing, Skiing, and Exploring the Mountain and Surrounding Area (2006)
Western explorer Major John Wesley Powell named Shasta’s other glaciers. “Powell was a brilliant scholar who collected over two dozen dictionaries of Native American languages and dialects. During 1879 he came to northern California to study the Wintun tribe, and climbed Mt. Shasta on November 1, 1879. Afterward, he named Shasta’s four other major glaciers with Wintun words in honor of the tribe: Hotlum (‘steep’), Bolam (‘big’ or ‘great’), Konwakiton (‘muddy’), and Wintun (the tribal name). The names were inscribed in official records maintained by the US Geographic Board in 1897.” – Andy Selters, Michael Zanger, The Mt. Shasta Book: A Guide to Hiking, Climbing, Skiing, and Exploring the Mountain and Surrounding Area (2006)