I'd wanted to do Shasta's Casaval Ridge (and my first California 14er) all year but every time I checked the forecast it seemed likely to rain before I could get up from San Francisco.
Finally, in early May, Adam and I drove up to Shasta late on a Thursday after seeing a brief weather window for a Saturday summit attempt. We slept in the back of his truck at Bunny Flat (three Euro climbers were bivying in front of the bathrooms at the wilderness permit station). There were at least half a dozen cars parked on the road.
Friday we didn't hit the trail until 11. Adam had camped on Casaval Ridge a year before but was sick and turned around on summit day. We put on snowshoes and Adam led us up a ridge just north of Bunny Flat.
When we cleared the trees and came out in the open we had a great view of a sharp ridge to the east that looked familiar from photos. We were on the wrong ridge: Green Butte, not Casaval.
As long as it goes to the top, Adam said, I don't care which ridge we take.
After six hours of traveling on one side or the other of a knife edge of snow we were above 11k and decided to stop and clear off a platform for a tent.
We tried to get some rest for a few hours in cold sleeping bags (temp inside the tent was 34f) before we set off for the summit with crampons and axes around 3:30 am. The sky was clear and filled with stars, Venus and Mars glowing red on opposite sides of the heavens.
The snow was firm and the climbing fun until we came to a break in the ridge. A sketchy snow cornice bridged the rocky gap. We decided not to cross it unprotected and retraced our steps until we could descend into Avalanche Gulch and climb snow slopes past the Red Banks. The detour cost us at least an hour.
By the time we reached the shoulder where the ridges connected, clouds were moving up from below and gusting winds were pelting us with snow. We slogged up toward Misery Hill, took a break and talked about the deteriorating weather. It was 10 am. We decided to retreat.
In two hours we were back at camp, the weather seemed fine, and we second guessed our decision. Then as we took down the tent the wind kicked up and by the time we started downhill we were engulfed in a total white out. Dropping to the east of the ridge we navigated by compass, dead reckoning toward the Old Ski Bowl.
Occasionally, a few rocks would emerge from the haze and then disappear again. We had to descend the final 4,000 feet in a total white out, snowshoeing downhill with nothing visible except for dislodged snow rolling away in front of us into infinite whiteness.
At 6:30 pm we reached the car. It started to rain. We drove to a bar.