On my only summit of Shasta with three friends, we came upon a most unusual natural phenomenon after climbing past Red Banks. They have the names in the above title in addition to “snow penitents.” They were in a huge snowfield (or glacier) that took about an hour to cross before the final push to the summit.
There were thousands of little “penitent” white head-shrouded “monks” with heads bowed to the ground. They were from about 15 centimeters to 1.5 meters tall. Between them were narrow and deep snow cups where you had to place your feet, making it quite an unsteady hiking surface. Charles Darwin was the first to describe these in 1839.
The current information on Snow Penitents indicates they are caused by ice-melt when an ice field is at a particular angle to the sun in warmer seasons. The combination of dry winds and a dew point below freezing produce this quirk of nature (Article in Wiki: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penitente_(snow_formation)
For years, on the internet, only Shasta and certain peaks in the Andes were known to have these. In the last decade or two, all references to these on Shasta have disappeared. At the time (1980s), printed materials on Shasta also made reference to this phenomenon.
I’m wondering if these have indeed disappeared on Shasta? I know that Shasta is one of the few locations in the world where glaciers are growing. This, I’m thinking possibly that in the last 40 years, these have been obliterated by increasing glacial size and depth.
Anyone else have knowledge of this? Either by experience in climbing Shasta or by historical reference over the last 40-50 years?
Backpacked in from trailhead and spent the night at about 8,000 ft. The next morning Heidi Hill and I did the long slog pretty much straight up to the summit.
The forecast up and down the North Cascades was lousy, and I wanted a bit of redemption so Shasta would not rattle around in my brain all winter long. So although the conditions on Avy Gulch were less than optimal, as I had no time to find partners for the other routes and with a bomber weather outlook for the Shasta, I chose to make the drive.
I started walking at Bunny Flat @ 1:00, having left home at an obscene hour of the morning. I got to Horse Camp in 45 min and spent 25 min talking to climbers who had summited earlier in the day; they said they’d observed no rockfall so that was a good sign. I arrived at Helen Lake at 4:45; the pace was quite leisurely from Horse Camp. Likely 10-20 folks were already set up at Helen Lake when I arrived, which was delightfully sparse. I was able to find a site well apart from the crowd. A couple folks showed me a hole dug for snowmelt to filter water, but as I set up my bivy bag I heard running water down in the gully to the east After tromping across a small snowfield and a little looking, sure enough I found a tiny little stream — just enough to dip my BeFree into. I felt far more comfortable with this than with the standing water in the hole right in the midst of camp, no matter how freshly dug.
On my walk up from Horse Camp, dark clouds had rolled in obscuring the summit. I took advantage of my signal to check the forecast, and it still looked great by the 3 sources I consulted. As I crawled into the bivy bag at 7, I observed a rockfall coming down the ridge line that extends to the south of Thumb Rock, though it was not near the route. Up until midnight I heard several others which did give me pause.
I started moving a little after 3 a.m. Several parties had started before me, though I passed all of them except for one within the first hour. For this first hour or so I was able to walk without crampons and ice axe; however once the snow hardened I took the time to transition. The last party ahead of me was a young couple. I noted that their headlamps were persisting up the gully between Red Banks. Although I'd heard from other climbers some concern over the crevasse behind Thumb Rock, given all the rockfall I'd heard the night prior and the couple on the route ahead of me, I elected to take the route off to the right of Red Banks. The crevasse on this back side was very easily avoided, and I only had to take a few steps on the glacier there and bypass a moat before I was on the ridgeline leading toward Misery Hill.
I caught up to the young couple at the base of Misery Hill. They'd expressed surprise that I was still only in my baselayer, as the temperatures had dropped considerably above Red Banks, but I tend to run warm. As I took a break they continued on. I believe they summited about 5 minutes before me. The three of us savored the views to ourselves for about 30 minutes with no other parties in sight. Only once I was descending did I see the first of several parties crest Misery Hill.
Nearly every party I encountered seemed ill-equipped and unprepared for the route and conditions. One man told me he was averaging about 500 vertical feet an hour. Several had asked about glissading. A number of folks with trekking poles and tennis shoes. It is no surprise that this area of the mountain sees the most incidents.
Descending back to Helen Lake was ssllooww & miserable due to the icy snow. Neither plunge-stepping nor glissading were possible given the conditions, and it was a matter of negotiating deep sun cups and postholes left from climbers from earlier in the season. I was back to Helen Lake at 11. From there I took an hour to eat, rehydrate, pack, and savor the last of my time on Shasta.
I knew going in that it would be late in the season for this route, and I certainly would not consider it any later in the year than this (depending upon the conditions and the year).
Made it to near the top of misery hill where the wind turned all parties on the mountain around. Probably 80 miles per hour. The wind was also bitterly cold with nice ice shards in it.
Besides that, great conditions. There was snow all the way to the parking lot.
with Wasatch Mountain Club group. We had fine weather! Via Avalanche Gulch route.
This was part of a trip pursuing county high points for an itinerary that ended up (adaptability and all that) including Modoc, Lassen, Siskiyou, Lake/Colusa, Glenn, Mendocino, Butte, Tehama, Humboldt, & Trinity counties. (As it happens, Siskiyou -- Mt. Shasta -- was the primary objective on this tour, and it was the only unsuccessful summit attempt.)
Ben C. joined me for this objective. Our plan was to do a 2-day trip camping at Helen Lake. We slept at Bunny Flat the night prior to trekking up to Helen Lake. I am learning this is perhaps not the best idea, at least not unless you are planning on getting up at midnight. The year prior I slept at Bunny Flat and was constantly disrupted by d-bag snowmobilers. This year it was climbers who did not know how to prepare without shouting across the parking lot. Seriously -- do not be that group.
So it was in the morning we got a slow start, but we were in no particular hurry with plenty of time to get to Helen Lake. We did not start walking until 11 a.m.
While there we made a final check of the forecast. The very favorable forecast that had presented itself for our window -- and the reason we coordinated our attempt to land on those dates -- had regressed some. 35-45 mph winds were now forecast to start around 2-5 a.m. As we were already there, we headed up to Helen Lake and hoped for the best.
The snow started at about 9200', and it was pretty slushy, but not so much that it slowed progress. As we headed up we met a couple rangers who advised that camping at Cleavage Point (as they called it, about 200' below Helen Lake) would provide slightly better protection against the wind, and it would also be much quieter. Here there were several spots, and we selected one with a higher berm and minimal snow shoveling. We made it up from Bunny Flat in 3:40, but that included 30 minutes hanging out at Horse Camp talking to others and another 10 minute break at 9200'.
While setting up camp we watched as a helicopter made several attempts to land above Helen Lake for an evacuation. They eventually managed it. We never did hear the full story on that, but it is the most common area on the mountain for injuries etc.
We awoke to our 11 p.m. alarm with wind shaking the tent. It did not seem too bad, but once we stepped out it was quite cold, well below freezing -- and slightly concerning given the freezing level was forecast for 12,500'. We elected to set another alarm for midnight to see if things would improve. They didn't. We set one final alarm for 1 a.m. in one last-ditch hope for an improvement in conditions. In this time the wind started to batter the tent such that we were using all our appendages to hold it up from compressing atop us and to hold down the corners as we took turns tightening the guy lines. At 1 a.m. we did see 3-4 headlamps heading up which seemed unwise.
From 1-4:30 we did not sleep as we braced against the wind. By 4:30 we were done waiting for first light and started packing. As we started descending we saw one individual climber at the far end of the snowfield ascending toward Helen Lake. Every few steps (s)he would keel over and brace for a few seconds before continuing. I tried racing over but could not reach them in time before they ascended above me, and it was impossible shouting over the wind. Around 9200' we met a man and two teenage boys, each clad in cotton hoodies and with one daypack with enough space to hold a 100-ounce bladder between them. They were hellbent on summiting.
From Horse Camp we met several pairs of skiers on their way up, but none of them were looking to summit. We were back at the parking lot by 8 a.m., where we learned gusts at Helen Lake were in excess of 60 mph -- 80-90 mph at the summit.
Great climb if snow conditions are good.
A bit windy after passing The Thumb, but we made it work.
Prior to our climb, the weather was cold and damp. Climbers were returning chilled and soaked to town. We got so lucky on weather! Sunny and “warm”, with only high winds to contend with above the notch between The Thumb and Red Banks.
Gorgeous, burly mountain. I really enjoyed this one!
Long hike up from Clear Creek as an extended "pit stop" on the drive north to the eclipse. Watched the sunset from the top through thick wildfire smoke, and descended in the dark. Otherwise, perfectly clear weather all through the afternoon and night. Lots of bats out and about at night on the final stretch of trail by the trailhead.
One very long day with some steep snow/ice climbs.
Took Avalanche Gulch up, spectacular glissade from Red Banks down to camp
was a great day for a tough climb!
This was a tough solo climb in a snowy year, though I was rewarded with spectacular views. Started from the car park (where there was still snow) at midnight and climbed via Avalanche Gulch, reaching the summit just after 10am.
Two-day climb of the Avalanche Gulch Route with my good friend Boris. Really couldn’t have asked for better conditions, either in terms of weather or snow conditions. Camped at Lake Helen before starting for the summit around 3 AM the following day. On the summit at 8 AM. Absolutely fantastic climb!
2 night trip with Shasha Mtn guides up AG with dad. Dad made it to the top of Red Banks. Summited. Lots of rock fall on the way back down in the PM. Great conditions overall.
led a group of friends up AG. Deep snow slowed our progress and some other factors led to stopping at Helen.
led a group of service members from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA (we were all studying Arabic) up the West face. Altitude sickness hit a few members of the group and we turned back at the base of misery hill.