Mt Shasta - Avy Gulch

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Trip Report
California, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Aug 6, 2011
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Created On: Aug 9, 2011
Last Edited On: Aug 17, 2011

Mt. Shasta 14,179 ft - One Day Assault on August 06, 2011 (Trip Report) comparing from the previous trip

Mt. Shasta 14,179 ft - One Day Assault on August 06, 2011 (Trip Report)

This second attempt to Shasta, I feel confident, not just after bagging many peaks in the Sierras, but I did Tyndall (solo) and Whitney - all for one day assault. If I compare last year, I tried bagging Shasta with only two months of hiking experience.


We drove from Sacramento around 5pm on Aug 05, change car at Greg's residence in Marysville and then proceeded to Mt. Shasta trailhead, Bunny Flat. We arrived passed 10:30pm. Signed the permits and paid fees and then chatted for a bit, make jokes whilst unpacking and repacking our gears.

I was totally worried of the backpack weight, after all, this mountain is all work and no joke. Then came 11:45 pm and its time to get ready. Surprisingly I was not sleepy at all. I had my gears all packed with only 1 liter of water, headlamp on my head and hopped off the car.


The water provided here (run by Sierra Club) is the best water you can get in the whole country. Refilled my water bladder up to 2 liters and readjusting equipment. Its all dark in this area but you can see spots of lights if you look at the trail to Shasta. Usually climbers start at this time of the night.


We left Horsecamp and followed the trail that would take us to the switchbacks. You can easily spot the trail because its clearly marked with "flags". The switchbacks may not be so steep here but the ground is too sandy and mixed with loose rocks. Climbing up is doubling the effort and is definitely not for beginners and is incomparable to Whitney's trail.

Climbers' Gully

We were almost in the climbers' gully when the wind started to pound us. The temperature changed dramatically the higher the elevation you go. At this point, we were above 9000 ft. I had to relayer and even with 3 layers, I could still feel the cold. Normally when trekking, once you start moving you warmed up and had to take layers off. Not in this trail, I had to put layers on as much as I can carry. The mountains sheer size and the lack of mountains with similar altitude makes Shasta able to create its own weather. I was loaned a Down rated to 0 degrees but I did not have to use this gear yet.

The trail is now covered with ice just 500 ft below Helen Lake. We had to scout for used steps trail. The ground was frozen, sun capped and steeper (can make a grown man cry) which sometimes caused me off balance. At this point, we had to wear our crampons as the hills were getting slippery. Few climbers past us and seemed like a pro. The two gentleman were not wearing crampons at all but they did have an ice axe in hand. Then off we continued to Helen Lake. After few hundred feet up, we bumped into the two guys who passed us and now had to put their crampons. As soon as we were approaching Helen Lake, the temperature dropped in the 20s.

Helen Lake

We reached around 4:30AM and just right on our target. We stopped for chowing food and rest stop for 10 minutes. Its still dark. We are supposed to be meeting Brian Rothery here, who camped somewhere but I couldn't yell out his name so as not to disturb the sleeping campers. The leader is strict with time but hey we have a long way to go.

And then the real work begins. Anyone who has been to Shasta knows what its like after Helen Lake. Whitney may have the altitude but its nowhere near as strenuous as Shasta.

Avalanche Lake and The Heart

I saw a lot of headlamps above. Few headlamps are located near the Heart. Those climbers must have started 2AM.

Since we did not have acclimation done, we had to trek slowly. The weather was not so bad. I had an amazing climb. I think I liked it this way, it may be a lot of work but I did not sweat at all.

We had to do 20 steps at a time and breathe hard then continue. By the time we reached near the Heart, our steps were going slower and the ground was getting steeper, doing 5 steps at a time and breathe hard. By this time, it was almost on a 45 to 50 degree slope. Some of the climbers that were above us were now behind us. The leader had applied his technique on this particular trek. Switchbacking the Avy Gulch did helped us ascent faster. It is something that in my previous trip had not been done.

After the Heart is the Red Banks. If you look back what you just did, you would be surprized how steep the slope was and that climbers who were behind you now looked like a speck in the wide Avalanche Gulch.

Red Banks

This part of our adventure was the most difficult. Its so steep that even the most experienced climbers take an average of 2 hours to cross half a mile slope. This time though I felt good that I just want to pass Red Banks. It was much easier looking at it than doing it. By the time I approached the chute, I was cussing for just doing few steps at a time. I normally dont cuss but with the Red Banks chute, I did. In fact the climber who was near me asked if I was ok and if I was enjoying it. I only smiled at him back. I was too tired even to breathe let alone respond. Then I finally reach the part of Red Bank where it is safe to rest.

Some climbers told me that slope is close to 60% degree but others thought its just 50%. Regardless of the degree of the slope, the term dangerous" is enough description. So many climbers fall here and only two kinds of results that you would hear, either the climber is dead or received severe injuries.

We took readjustment of our gear here, applied sunblock, took off my headlamp, wear sunglasses and amazingly I finally see the glaring sunlight. Some climbers who were in the same pace with us also took their rest stop here.

Misery Hill

Yes this hill earned its name. After you survived the most dangerous part of the trek, you will be greeted with a series of switchbacks with 1000 ft to go. You could not see this hill if you were in Helen Lake. Trekking this hill was not so bad but our leader mentioned that this hill is best when there is no snow.

The Summit

After the big hill, you would think that the summit is just behind it. It will be another half a mile or more trek before you reach the summit. But not without another switchbacks. Before reaching the summit, you can smell the sulfur emits by this volcano. I heard spring water running underneath the ground just over 50 feet from the summit.

Before we reached the summit, few climbers were leaving the area. Surprisingly, one climber told me that I was the 4th lady to ever made it to the peak. So I said, "so only 4 women brave enough to cross the Red Banks ? ". He and the other lady laughed. I want to brag also that I did a day-hike but I prefer to keep the low profile.

The summit was breathtaking. As Mike Brinkley mentioned, "Shasta has the views bar none".


Doing the sitting glissade is the best part of this adventure. Im not an experienced glissader and virtually had no experience doing self arrest but I have to glissade or else walk down the very steep slope. I was told how to do self arrest but I have not yet had to do it. I did not want to take the risk of hurting my knees so the only choice really was to glissade.

We glissaded just below Misery Hill and all the way to Climbers' Gully (3500 ft++). Aint that a fun thing to do? Its the longest glissade Ive done ever. It took many hours to climb uphill but took only less than an hour to get downhill.

Finally, our trek was over and its time to go home. By this time, I had not have sleep for 32 hours.

2010 Overnight in Helen Lake

Last year trip to Shasta did not go well as per our planning. We had fast climbers, the slower and I am just in between. It was my first time to climb on ice and using crampons. We asked the Ranger how to do self arrest and he was happy to comply but it was short to even remember.

We did not have an early start from Helen Lake. By 9AM some of the climbers were still melting snow. It was almost 10AM and the weather was not cooperating. Every 5 minutes the clouds move in and it gets really cold then it moves and we then have sun exposure. It was no point to delayer.

By the time we reached the Heart, all the fast climbers had already crossed the Chute and I had to wait for the rest the group. I was not only a novice but stupid as well. I have no clue where to next go and no idea where is the trail. When I crossed the chute, a lot of climbers were already preparing for the glissade and had to stop because I was in the way.

By noon time I was at the top the Red Banks and again waited for the rest of the group. I always call the leader what to do next and always been told to just wait there. Then came the 40mph gusty wind. It was very breezy at the top of Red Banks. My fingers started to get purplish and my gloves were really wet as a result of swinging ice axe to the slushy snow. I estimated the temp to be in the high 30s. By the time the group reached me, almost everyone was exhausted and then the plan was changed to just return by glissading.

I had not done glissading ever and I had to do it. The slushiness of the snow made me scared to glissade. If I remember the time it was already 2PM. I opted for climbing down facing the ground without my crampons. I was wearing the same wet gloves. Whilst in the middle of doing it, I noticed that I couldn't move my legs anymore. It was almost frozen! My entire body was shaken. Luckily there were volunteers that day and were doing their training.

The volunteers stabilized me and I was given a down. Three volunteers sat next to me to keep me warm. As soon as I warmed up, the volunteer guided me to glissade but he opted to downclimb the chute until we reached the safer slope. We started glissading just after the Red Bank chute. Then there was a climber who glissaded the Chute at a speed, lost the ice axe and hit my back. The other two volunteers had to assist the man and had to retrieve his ice axe.

By this time two of us were getting assited by the mountain volunteers. It took less than 30 minutes to reach Helen Lake. I was very thankful to the volunteers and apparently their tents were camped next to my tent. Anyway, I told myself that next year, I'll be coming back since I already know the route and I wont be novice and stupid.

I learned a very big lesson, that climbing a major mountain, one should not come ill-equipped. It may not be costly to bring cheap gloves but its not worth risking a life over an inexpensive gear.

And the volunteers told me, if they had to call a rescue, there was a minimum charge of $5K. Thankfully I forced myself to glissade.


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Mt Shasta - Avy Gulch

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