Mt Shasta via Hotlum Bolum Ridge
We arrived at the North Gate TH at 4 pm and were packed and moving by 4:30. The trail leaves the parking lot due south up a shallow draw that flanks 7900 foot North Gate Butte to the right of you as you are headed up. At around 8200 feet the trail comes through a low gap in the ridge where we continued through timber, with obvious evidence of historic avalanches. The timber changes from pure Shasta Red fir to stunted pines. As we moved upslope through the pines, we looked back and made a mental note of the low gap in the ridge where the trail came through. In a white out or foggy conditions, the low gap could easily be missed, where you would end up on the wrong side of North Gate Butte on the decent. For safety, we used a gps to lay tracks for us if we needed them on the return. We continued on past 2 more rocky buttes and found good base camping between 9 and 9,500 feet, but were determined to make it to the next flat at 10 or 10,500, but the fog moved in and we were forced to retreat to 9,400 where we found just enough room for a tent. It was a nice place to be after 4 hours of packing.
Sunday, May 27th 430 am and we were moving up slope toward the summit. At 5:30 we found the 10,500 camp, but we needed another hour the night before to have gotten there. There was 4 to 6 inches of fresh snow, so instead of traveling up the gully, we turned east and climbed to the back bone of the Hotlum-Boulum Ridge where the route was blown free of snow. From there we could see upslope south east where the bergschrund should have been, and some evidence of it was there, but was clearly covered in snow. Without studying photos of the area before the trip, we would not have recognized it. We stayed close to the spine of the ridge to avoid the possible unseen dangers of the bergschrund. The route was easy to see from this point. We ascended the leeward side of the ridge, just out of the wind, all the way up to a nice flat called The Step at just over 13,000. At that point the Hotlum Headwall was before us and was definitely worth the gander. From there the Sharks Tooth was easy to see, the Rabbit Ears less so, but still visible none the less. We ascended up to the Rabbit Ears close to the ridge line. Once we were above the Rabbit Ears, an obvious route to the west became visible toward the Sharks Tooth. We then had a clear view to the west toward the Bolum Glacier. After a short break we very carefully picked our way across the head of the Bolum Ice Gully and up to the Sharks Tooth. One wrong move and down the ice chute you would go, however on this day the chute was covered in fresh snow and self arrest would have been easily obtained, so no safety ropes were used to get across. Later in the year when the conditions were much icier, safety ropes would definitely be a good idea here. From above the Sharks Tooth, we side hilled around to the Sulfur Springs and on to the summit pinnacle where we enjoyed a nice break at 11:30 am. After hearing reports from the climbers on the south side, we began our descent. Snow conditions were very soft, so glissading was limited, but my climbing partner had carried a sled and was able to take advantage of the steep slopes all the way down to the bergschrund… or at least where the bergschrund was supposed to be. Regardless of what it looked like, he stopped short and moved over toward the spine of the ridge to avoid any snow covered dangers and continued the glissade. I had no sled, so settled for slogging down slope instead so sliding.
What makes this route difficult is how steep it is. From about 11,500 to the summit other than The Step and Sulfur Springs, you are on very steep slopes, the kind of slopes where self arrest could be very difficult in icy conditions. On the day we climbed, the snow was just soft enough to make good footing and easy self arrest. There were some icy spots, but were easily avoidable. The hike is no less than grueling. Route finding was pretty straight forward; just remember where the crevasse hazards are for the descent. They may not be as visible when approaching them from upslope. Previously studying photos of the area helped us a lot. We also stopped a day early at the Mt Shasta Ranger Station in the city of Mt Shasta and talked to the climbing ranger there. He was very helpful and had the right information for us to make the climb. They even had slide shows of the different routes up the mountain. As it was Memorial Day Weekend, the ranger station was very busy, but the trail head was not. From the summit it was obvious that the south side trail heads were very busy, but over the course of the weekend we did not see more than a dozen other climbers coming up from the North Gate TH. The disadvantage of course was that we had to kick in our own trail in the freshly covered snow slopes.
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