Whitney Glacier Icefalls
Whitney Glacier is one of my favorite routes on Mt Shasta. In fact it's the longest glacier in California, about 2 miles. However, I've climbed the entire route only once in the middle of summer starting from Bolam (or Whitney Falls) TH at 5,600, which was buried with rock/mud slide, and due to a very long approach through various cross country terrain in a very hot weather never desired to do it again. (I destroyed two pairs of boots during that trip.) Because I like that route I've been climbing it (practically) every year since but through Hidden Valley entering the glacier just above the middle bergshrund. Well, that bergshrund itself may be quite a critical obstacle if not bridged due to its tall and overhung wall, especially later in the season. The various seasonal route conditions make this route from an easy walk over the long snowfield to coping with open and hidden crevasses and icy blocks and walls clicking and breaking occasionally to sculpture the glacier. In addition to that constant rock falls may assist climbers during their travel as well, especially through the lower and middle part of the glacier.
This year snow on south side of Shasta has disappeared quicker than I anticipated, so I decided to approach Whitney Glacier from my favorite TH on north side, North Gate. I've read somewhere that traversing to the Bolam/Whitney ridge and access the glacier takes only an hour from the base camp on Hotlum/Bolam ridge (perhaps in a perfect snowy conditions and/or if someone runs). Unfortunately, in the middle of this summer the only snow left was in glaciers and some gullies and getting there was a pain going up and down and crossing four or so icy snowfields which took us a few hours. The snowfields were easy and fast to cross but the slopes with lose rocks provided slow and frustrating scrambling. Well, I did not like it.
Finally on the glacier we moved up to the middle bergshrund which monopolized the whole width between Shastina and B/W ridge without promising any prominent bridge, or perhaps I did not look carefully enough after noticing intimidating but very attractive icefalls on its very left which seemed to provide interesting passages to its top. When we got closer it appeared that the passages were more complicated with various fractured ice walls and bridges, and sounds of running water and clicks of breaking ice. Sometimes we could see collapsing icy pieces in the distance.
Some of our teammates had no previous ice climbing experience and we had only two ice screws. Nevertheless everyone was excited to proceed in to an unknown adventure. At three o'clock afternoon, before attempting another ice-wall by crossing a questionable bridge without being able to provide secure protection I calculated chances of getting to the top and back to the camp before dark and we made the decision to retreat. It still took us six hours back to the camp.
This bridge was not the only questionable factor but also if crossing it would finally provide access to the "flat" glacier or, perhaps, to other ice walls which were taking much time to belay one person at the time. It looked like it would have but I was not sure and preferred to play safe. The final part of the glacier leading to the plateau was another concern of mine. Even though one of my favorite parts of this route with an icy slope around 40 degrees provided a nice and easy ice climbing I was not sure if all other teammates would have been comfortable on it without at least running belays (I had only 2 ice screws). However, all of us had a good time and got a desire to do it again.
Not just I but my friend I climbed this route with a long time ago could not recognize these icefall at this place in the video (see below). At that time we attempted to cross the bergshrund around the same place but finally decided to climb bridged icy wall on its right part, so perhaps that was the reason we missed it. However, we descended the H/B slope (because we wanted to check out something shiny on its upper part we noticed on the way up, which we found out later it was a small airplane) which now did not appear to have a reasonable passage, never mind rock falls; or, perhaps, I have become more conservative. Or, perhaps, this summer with much less snow and long high temperatures caused the glacier to be so much melted out and broken up. In any case just climbing these icefalls was worth the trip. I wish we have camped closer and spent more time in so beautiful play grand. Hope you would enjoy the video: http://youtu.be/RqQNQi6yIaY