Shasta - Casaval Ridge Whiteout - May 5, 2009

Shasta - Casaval Ridge Whiteout - May 5, 2009

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 5, 2009
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Spring

5/3/2009 - Travel day.

Me and a friend, Nik, attempted to climb Mt. Shasta via Casaval Ridge. I flew to Oakland today and met Nik, who had flown into San Fransisco and rented the car earlier that day. We drove straight up to Dunsmuir, CA (near Mt. Shasta city) stopping at Trader Joes along the way for provisions and at In-N-Out for burgers. The hotel was in the completely wrong place on google maps so we drove around aimlessly until we found the address.

5/4/2009 - Rain!

Woke up to gloomy skies and heavy rain today. At breakfast, Nik and I reviewed maps and tried to come up with an alternate climb, even pondering the idea of driving up to Seattle for better weather. After breakfast we went back to the hotel room and finished packing. The weather channel radar map showed a wall of storms from the Alaska panhandle all the way down to San Fransisco and as wide as the state of Washington. Given this information we decided to commit to Shasta, but delay our start. We went to the gear store and Nik rented trekking poles since he had forgotten his, and I rented a fuel bottle. We decided to scope out the lower end of the route and drove to the trail head. It started snowing hard at about 4,000' and visibility was low from there up. We climbed from the trail head to Horse Camp (7,950') and climbed up another hundred feet or so on the ridge. The snowfall was heavy and visibility near tree line was virtually nill. After checking out the cabin at Horse Camp we descended, found a cheap hotel for the night, and got beer and dinner at a local restaurant.

5/5/2009 - The gamble.

Woke up to better weather today, intermittent clouds, and little precip. The forecast calls for bad weather again tomorrow but great weather on Thursday. Nik and I decided to huff it up to ~10,000' and make camp tonight on Casaval Ridge and then wait out the storms tomorrow with our summit attempt on Thursday. We rented avy transceivers, headed up to the trail head, got our permits, and briefly practiced with the transceivers since it was a different design that we hadn't used before. We were not the only dumb-asses heading up the mountain, though, the two guys from the gear shop had arrived at the trailhead only minutes before us. Apparently our conversations and beta gathering yesterday inspired them to attempt Casaval this week too. The climb to 10k was nice with intermittent clouds creating moments of poor visibility but there was little to no precip during the climb. This ridge is steep and, despite having recently been on Aconcagua, I should have maintained my training a bit better. We got to the 10,000' flats at about 7:30pm, stomped out a tent site, pitched the tent drum-tight with bomber anchors, gathered snow to melt, and cooked dinner. As we made camp it seemed as though the Wednesday storm was already starting to move in as visibility went to zero and we started getting some light winds and snow.

5/6/2009 - The storm.

We both slept good and stayed warm. We woke up today to escalating wind and blowing snow. We had good hopes that waiting out the weather today was going to work. Only minutes after waking up, however, our tent (a Trango 2) was hit broadside with a gust we estimated near 80mph. With a BOOM sounding like a 12ga shotgun blast a tent pole joint snapped and tore a hole through the rain fly. Luckily the break was near the vent in the roof of the tent and we were able to quickly work from inside the tent to splint the pole. Somehow, both of us had forgotten duct tape, so we had to split the pole with some moleskin-like foot tape - not a good repair, but better than nothing. The real bummer was that the pole *joint* had broken, not the pole, and we had only packed an extra pole segment. After our make-shift repair, we put on all our down and went outside into the blizzard to shovel off the tent, tighten anchors, and generally assess our situation. In addition to the wind and blowing snow, there was over an inch of rime ice on the tent guy-lines and the rime had completely covered all the black ridge rocks that were our "handrail" on the way up. Nik and I spend the next few hours debating the safest choice for our next steps. Do we try and wait out another night with a broken tent knowing that the weather will be great tomorrow? Or do we try to navigate our way down the wind-loaded snowfields in this whiteout?

5/6/2009 Continued - The descent.

The winds continued to be incredibly strong and ultimately we decided we didn't want to become a statistic in "Accidents in North American Mountaineering." Our main fear was that the broken and loose 'sail' of a tent would blow out our anchors and carry us off the side of the ridge. We continued to wait another hour or two hoping for a break in the whiteout and better visibility but it never came. The other team that had gone up with us yesterday also was hightailing it down the mountain by about noon so we finally pulled the trigger, crudely packed up our gear, and started down. The hike down was uneventful and the visibility was terrible. There were a few scary moments were we wandered within feet of steep drop offs. Another moment we started seeing unfamiliar vegetation poking through the snow and we started questioning our perceived vs. true location. As we debated and reviewed our steps the clouds suddenly cleared and we realized we had somehow gotten on the wrong ridge. The brief clearing was a blessing, though, and with our new bearings we were able to traverse the snow slope back to the proper ridge. Finally we started seeing tree-line in the distance but as the temperature increased with lower elevation the snow became wet and unstable. Nik and I both took some decent falls as the snow gave way under our feet and made a point to stay as high as possible on the ridge near rocks or exposed shrubs to mitigate the avy risk. At last we reached the fringes of timberline and lower angle slopes where the snow became more stable again. Continuing on past Horse camp we finally arrived at the car, exhausted, at around 4pm.

5/7/2009 - Go figure...

Woke up to beautiful weather today as forecasted - go figure. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the mountain was fully visible. This would have been a great summit day had any one of a few different factors fallen into place:

1. If we had pitched the tent at a slightly different angle, it likely would have survived the gust.
2. If we had brought duct tape, we could have securely splinted the break.
3. If we had brought a pole joint piece, we could have fully repaired the break.
4. If we had planned our trip only 1 or 2 days later we would have had better weather.

Whatever the case, we were both glad to have gotten off the mountain safely. We drove back to Oakland today where I enjoyed the warm weather and packed for my flight home on Friday. The hotel, an Econo-lodge, was extremely nice for the price.

5/8/09 - Travel back to NM.

Walked about 2 miles (one way) to Denny's for breakfast, in flip flops (bad idea.) Returned to the hotel (Econo-lodge near Oakland airport) and asked the front desk to call me a cab but learned that they have a free airport shuttle. What a bonus for an ultra-cheap ultra-nice hotel. Checked in for my flight and got bumped to an earlier flight - extra bonus! Overall, a fun trip, with some tense moments, but overall a great adventure.


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