OverviewRemote… secluded… isolated… solitary.
On top of all the fantastic features and scenery surrounding the Wintun Glacier on the east side of Mount Shasta, these words persist when reflecting on a visit to the area. Often overlooked for more frequented routes, the Wintun Glacier is perhaps the least climbed of Shasta’s major routes, and easily the least visited of Shasta’s four largest glaciers. Visitors are unlikely to see any other parties until approaching the summit where the route closes in on the Wintun Ridge to the south and Hotlum-Wintun Ridge to the north. Most phones will lack reception at the trailhead, camp, and likely all the way to the summit. The most efficient starting point, Cold Creek, is not even an official Shasta-Trinity National Forest trailhead. Like your visit to the glacier, your car will sit alone waiting for your return with no one driving by to take note of your departure point. You are on your own.
For these reasons, the Wintun Glacier provides a bit of a wilderness experience that escapes many other routes on Mount Shasta. Sure… it’s a big mountain, and you can find solitude and have many other places and routes to yourself. But it is just a bit different here. To preserve a bit of this experience I have deviated from the norm and provided only the most necessary or helpful information.
I have purposefully excluded any pictures showing the complete route from the main page. If you only need driving directions, or gear information, then look no further than those sections, otherwise feel free to utilize additional details provided, and find your own way for the rest!
The best and simplest approach to the Wintun Glacier leaves from unmarked forest service roads in the Cold Creek vicinity on the eastern slopes of Mount Shasta and south of Ash Creek. This option is just a bit better than those from the north as the entry into the Wintun Glacier draining (Ash Creek) is somewhat easier from the south and navigation tends to be simpler (going up, not down… see Essential Gear below!!!) Existing literature often lists Clear Creek or more frequently Brewer Creek as the preferred Wintun Glacier trailheads, but these really offer no benefits at all beyond a short trail at the start and the existence of an outhouse in the parking lot.
The roads to Cold Creek are generally well maintained, but extremely dusty (not unlike those to nearby Clear Creek). The road is easily passible to low clearance vehicles, but it is a little rough and has a few ruts nearing the end and high clearance vehicle can make the trip a bit faster. Since Cold Creek is not an official trailhead, don’t expect any road signs helping you out on the drive in, or any facilities of any kind at your destination.
If it is early in the season check the USFS Mount Shasta Climbing Advisory for information on the nearby Clear Creek trailhead access (which should be very similar) or call the Mount Shasta Ranger Station directly. The roads are not open in winter or early spring.
Cold Creek (41.39204° N, 122.13229° W)
To reach Cold Creek take the McCloud exit off Interstate 5 onto Highway 89 just south of Mount Shasta City. Head east on Highway 89 for 13 miles and turn left onto Pilgrim Creek Road (3 miles past McCloud). Follow Pilgrim Creek Road north for 5 miles and turn left onto Widow Springs Road (Forest Road 41N15) and initially follow signs for the Clear Creek trailhead which lies just a bit to the south. After another 5 miles or so on Widow Springs Road you will reach a T intersection with a large sign indicating to turn left for Clear Creek. Instead of turning left, head right to make your way towards Cold Creek (a good map or GPS helps). From the T intersection, keep right at a fork after 0.6 miles and turn left after 0.9 miles. Continue on the more well graded option until reaching a fork in the road about 2.2 miles from the T intersection. Here the road forms a loop with both sides being about 1.5 miles long and coming together just a short distance before the road ends. Either route will work, but the right fork is a little smoother. If you take the right fork stay left at about 3.3 miles from the T intersection and right at 3.9 miles (where the other side of the loop joins) and continue to the end of the road. Note that the road ends a short distance, perhaps a third of a mile, beyond what is shown on the 1982 USGS Mount Shasta Topo map.
Since there is no official trailhead at the end of the road, remember to pick up your wilderness permit, summit pass, and wag bags before you arrive! See Essential Gear below for locations.
Cold Creek (Aproximately 4 miles and 7000 feet elevation gain one way)
OK… After lengthy driving directions, here I am going to begin to deviate from many other route descriptions (as mentioned in the overview) and provide more limited details in hopes of leaving the Wintun Glacier with more of an ‘unexplored’ feeling for future visitors.
From the end of the road at Cold Creek the forest is generally pretty open and easy to travel through. Mark your vehicle location with a GPS if you have one and pick your own way northeast towards the base of the Wintun Glacier. Depending on your line, you may have small gullies to cross and encounter the ice cold waters at Cold Creek Springs. Soon enough arrive on the ridge south of Ash Creek. The ridge narrows considerably at 9000 feet, but it is possible to make your way safely into the drainage to the north from either shortly above or below this location. That’s it!!!
Wintun Glacier is distinct not only for being less traveled than Mount Shasta’s other major glaciers, but it also hosts the highest elevation waterfall on the mountain and introduces its interesting features at lower elevations than its comparable counterparts. Note that the east side of the mountain typically receives the most snowfall, consequently I would recommend the Wintun Glacier as a good option later in the season when some of the snow has melted off and more of the crevasses and icefalls become visible.
The glacier is best ascended right from its base at around 9500 feet. Otherwise essentially all of the glacial features are bypassed from above (cliffs to both the north and the south prevent obtaining the glacier again until approximately 11600 feet). As is obvious… characteristics on the glacier are always changing, but between these two elevations there are four main sets of features (at least this is how it went on our initial visit). Very early in the season the glacier could be comprised of what appears to be a steep, broken snowfield, whereas in early fall of low snow years a continuous field of crevasses might span the glacier for several hundred feet or more.
The lower feature consists of ice and small cracks, and this area down to the toe of the glacier is subject to large amounts of rockfall from the cliffs to the left and right. Take care in this zone and watch conditions, these rocks can move much faster than you and they cover a huge area.
Above this location there are three main icefalls, with the highest serving as a sort of bergschrund. Technically not a bergshrund, as the glacier continues on above, but any glacial attributes above this point are much less substantial than what is encountered below. Crevasses remain between the icefalls too… we encountered a couple of bottomless fissures that spanned over half the width of the glacier. Pick your route as you choose around or through these icefalls, but note that as the season progresses these can potentially span the glacier’s full width.
After working your way through the lower glacier, the route typically becomes more of a snow climb from about 11,800 feet to the summit. Work your way up and to the right staying below the ridge crest unless wishing to join Wintun Ridge. Eventually you have the option to gain either the summit plateau just south of the summit, or turn right through short chutes to join the final bit of the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge which deposits you almost directly onto the summit.
For the descent there is usually good glissading down the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge, and it is easy enough to deviate right from the route (in reality you stay straight, as the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge route turns left). Snowfields here spill you right back onto the glacier well below the lowest features.
Mount Shasta Avalanche Center Online Avalanche Advisory
USFS Mount Shasta Climbing Advisory
Current NOAA / National Weather Service Forecast for the Summit Plateau
Current NOAA / National Weather Service Forecast for Mount Shasta City
Plenty of good options on various terrain below the glacier, but don’t expect any large ‘Marine Camp’ type locations here. Wintun Glacier is best suited for small parties. Have a look around!
GPS!!! As the departure point is from an unofficial trailhead, really just the end of forest service road, there is no real trail to run across when heading back to your vehicle. Since your car remains almost a mile below treeline it is impossible to identify from above and may be difficult to run in to after a long day on the glacier. A GPS isn’t necessary for ascending but we found it very helpful on the return. Still, if it fails all is not lost. At worst if you miss your starting point you should run into the forest service roads below. Simply follow the roads back uphill as needed (up to an additional 2 miles and 600 feet uphill).
Along with the GPS, standard glacier travel fare is necessary including harness, rope, ice axe, crampons, and crevasse rescue equipment. Depending on your chosen variation and the season a few pickets and/or ice screws will be helpful.
And don’t forget your helmet! Above 9000 feet and until the glacier slope eases up around 11,600 feet the route can be prone to a lot of serious rockfall. This isn’t small little bits of shrapnel either. Keep an eye out and climb early to avoid the worst of it.
If departing from Cold Creek, remember that this is not an official trailhead location. Pick up your wilderness permit, summit pass, and wag bags at the ranger station in Mount Shasta or McCloud, or at the somewhat nearby Clear Creek trailhead if you forget them.
Western explorer Major John Wesley Powell named several of Shasta’s 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)
Similarly to nearby Mud Creek and Clear Creek, Cold Creek takes its name directly from the conditions of the waters within it. While Mud Creek is filled with silt and glacial flour, and Clear Creek boasts pristine, clear spring water (ok… Cold Creek’s water is just as pristine and clear), Cold Creek is noteworthy primarily for the ice cold temperatures of the waters when taken near the spring source.