The seed for climbing Mt Shasta had been planted back in graduate school when on a winter break climbing trip to Joshua Tree I saw it from I-5. Kyle, a colleague from work had a score to settle after narrowly missing the summit due to bad weather. Together we hatched a plan to drive down from Seattle over Memorial Day weekend to climb the Casaval Ridge. We planned to make the drive on Friday, approach Saturday, and summit and descend on Sunday and drive home on Monday. For weeks we studied route descriptions, made gear lists and watched the weather and conditions. When the Memorial Day weekend rolled around we were pleased to have an excellent weather forecast and good conditions reports.
We made the long drive down and arrived in Mt Shasta city in time to secure permits and eat dinner. We anxiously headed up to find a parking space as the rangers mentioned it would be very crowded over the long weekend. We found a space not far from the main lot. A party atmosphere prevailed at Bunny Flats. Savvy folks brought lawn chairs, beer and charcoal grills.
We did not even have a book to read so we found the start of the approach, hiked a bit and took photos and chatted with other climbers and skiers. I talked with a pair of young guys who had tried Casaval only to traverse off to the West Face due to technical difficulties.
We went to bed and woke up early to take advantage of firmer snow conditons. As we were gearing up a young soloist named Eric introduced himself. He also would be attempting the Casaval Ridge. He left to start his approach as we continued making our preparations.
Hiking under clear skis and atop firm snow soon brought us to above Horse Camp. From the main trail we made a direct approach up the toe of the ridge. While taking a short break we were joined by Eric, our new friend from the parking lot. He had gotten a bit turned around and was excited to see us. We decided to make the rest of the approach together.
climbing on the lower Casaval Ridge
We hiked up the lower ridge enjoying frequent breaks and ever expanding views. The climbing became steeper as we climbed higher. At 9,500 feet we put on crampons and got our axes out for the final push to our intended bivi at 10,300.
spire at 10,900 ft
It was still quite early when we arrived at the 10,300 ft camp. Eric had researched the route extensively and suggested a higher bivi that would allow us to descend the West Face gulley to our camp without having to climb back up to the ridge and also allow us to drop down to the Avalanche Gulch route. I was skeptical we would find a flat spot but Eric seemed to know his stuff so Kyle and I agreed to push on to a series of spires that Eric pointed out. Climbing to the high camp required skirting some cool looking spires.
Bivi at 11,000 ft on Casaval Ridge
At 11,000 ft, exactly where Eric had suggested, was a nice spot for several tents. We went to work preparing platforms for our shelters and spent the rest of the afternoon melting water, napping and eating. Unfortunately the high altitude was having an effect on Kyle who vomitted his lunch and went to bed early with a bad headache. He eventually recovered but decided not to attempt the summit. In the evening a thunder storm rolled through, kicking up the wind and dropping graupel, but it passed quickly.
High on Casaval Ridge
Eric and I decided to make the summit attempt together. We awoke at 2 am, made coffee and headed out of camp at 3 am. We stayed as true to to the ridge crest as we could, winding our way around spires, up steep snow slopes, over rocky outcrops, and over scree fields. The climbing was never steeper than 45 degrees but was always interesting. I was glad we had opted not to bring a rope or protection, it was not needed and would only have weighed us down. We eventually came to the famous Catwalk just as it was getting light enough to see where we would end up if one of us fell. The traverse easily enough and soon we were traversing below a band of red rock.
Shortly we crested the ridge and were grinding our way up Misery Hill, seeing other folks for the first time since leaving camp. We passed a dozen or so other climbers and soon arrived at the summit. We signed the book, took some photos and made the descent. Heading down Misery Hill I marvelled at the various foot wear; folks wore everything from expedition plastic boots to running shoes.
Descending the West Face we were met with dozens of climbers heading up some with a full compliment of harnesses, ropes, slings, carabiners and other weight training aids. It was here on the descent that the genious of placing our camp at 11k became obvious. The descent and traverse to our camp required no extra climbing to gain the ridge, and once we packed our camp up it was a simple exercise to drop straight down to Helen Lake.
Kyle was anxious to descend so we hurriedly packed and bombed down to Helen Lake and out to the car. On the way down I met a young women making her way to Helen Lake who pleaded for a Clif Bar. She had gotten separated from her group and had no food. I gave her the rest of my trail mix and off she went, happily munching. We made the rest of the hike out in short order and changed into our happy clothes at the car. We said goodbye to the mountain and headed into down for a delious hamburger dinner at Billygoats Tavern before making the long drive back to Seattle.
Thanks to Kyle and Eric for a great trip!