Avalanche Gulch 4/29/07
This trip was an epic. Mt. Shasta is a big mountain, Mt Rainier big. Normally people take two days to gain 7,200+ft of elevation, walk 12 miles, and allow the body to acclimate to high altitude. For myself and two friends Ryan and Kip, there would be no such laziness, we would make a single day push towards the 14,162ft summit
In typical fashion I partied hard the night before. Hey 5 hours of sleep is plenty of preparation for 41 hours of continuous activity right? Well apparently that was my thinking.
We left Bend at 9:30pm Saturday April 28th. The drive went smoothly until the town of Mt. Shasta, where it seems useful signs have been banned by law. Eventually we found the trailhead and got moving at 3:00am Sunday. Kip and Ryan were able to sleep on the drive, I figured sleeping while driving was a bad idea and so abstained.
After 4 hours we stood at 10,500ft, just under halfway. I was approaching the "awake for 24 hrs" mark and was in need of some good shut-eye. We layed down for a little over an hour, sleep teased me but eluded my efforts, but I felt refreshed and ready to continue. The break had the opposite effect on Kip, who was unable to re-motivate and so bid us farewell and tele-skied back to the car at about 9:00am.
Mountains are normally deceiving, things look a lot closer than they actually are. This is never more true than on Shasta where what looks like a fifteen minute stroll is in fact 2.5 hours and false summits jest the poor climber wanting to celebrate early. Ryan held up like a champion, once we got above 12,500ft I figured at some point I'd look back and he'd be collapsed in a heap, but that moment never came.
At ~13,000ft Thumb Rock was nice enough to offer us respite from the wind and we gladly indulged in a half hour break (actually Ryan was a half hour back so I got to splurge for an hour). After Thumb Rock was a short rock ridge leading to the infamous "Misery Hill". Upon reaching Misery Hill we dropped our packs, I made the very stupid mistake of leaving the GPS and my compass in my pack, and we headed off towards the summit.
Our great weather continued and we laid foot upon summit at 2:30pm. We stayed for approximately 3 minutes, long enough to sign the summit register, take pictures, and leave. The summit block is a few hundred foot complex of it's own. Apparently it was very unhappy with our decision to leave the party because within minutes visibility dropped to zero, the horizon disappeared, the ambient temperature dropped 20°, and the winds picked up.
We followed the bootpack down to the top of Misery Hill where I intentionally skewed us right to take advantage of softer snow. Snow conditions had allowed us to summit without crampons or ice axes, but on the descent we had to follow deeper snow. Visibility became bad enough I had trouble seeing the end of my trekking pole as I probed ahead of every step. In these conditions, where snow and sky become one, there is a real danger of walking off a cliff or becoming dangerously disoriented. We carefully watched for bootprints and I kept a close eye on my altimeter. Eventually we heard shouting directly ahead of our trajectory, so we dropped elevation with confidence and walked straight to our packs.
David, a guide on Shasta, and his friend Mat were happy to see us. We'd run into them as we were leaving the summit, they were headed up. They arrived back at our packs to find us not there (they skied), they found two other climbers who took shelter at a nearby rock above a bad fall line. Once we arrived we had to re-find them and by the time we got moving it was nearly 5:30
Getting to the packs meant safety, from there we simply had to follow an exposed rock ridge to the Red Banks and then follow the fall line all the way to the car. We dawned our crampons and began descending towards the Red Banks, the wind howled, and we slowly began untangling ourselves from the mess we were in.
Just bellow the Red Banks we began our ski descent. 6,000ft of skiing is a workout all by itself, but it's deeply challenging after 15 hours of continuous physical effort. I could only ski in 3-4 minute bursts, dropping 500ft, resting for two to five minutes and repeating. It took just over an hour to drop from 13,000ft to the car... which would have been a beautiful sight, had it actually been in the parking lot.
THE RETURN TRIP ORDEAL
When you've labored all day, slept like a fugitive, and had an epic descent you just want to relax and get home. Kip had been waiting at the car all day, and at the last minute he decided Ryan and I would like refreshments. Halfway back to town he realized that we'd probably much rather just have the car so he headed back. He pulled up about twenty minutes after I had arrived. He had a strange look on his face as he came to a stop... the brakes on my car had gone out. FUCK!
Thanks to AAA we were towed to Medford, OR where we rented a car and drove 3 hours back to Bend at 3:00am. Despite a little bit of sleep after Medford I'd been awake for 48 hours. After returning there yesterday I now have my car and can officially call this wonderful/horrible trip... over
-Snowshoes (for Ryan, he snowboarded)
I was very glad to have my synthetic belay jacket with me, it ended up soaked so down would have been a bad choice. I wore shorts the entire day except for the ski descent.
Current Route Beta (4/29/07)
The route is in great shape and very straightforward. There is good enough snow cover to ski from the summit to the car. We did not need to use our skins or snowshoes but it was very soft for Ryan when he lost his momentum on his snowboard near the car. It took us nearly 12 hours to reach the summit but we took over 3 hours of breaks and didn't push it at all.
The weather can obviously change in minutes on this mountain so be diligent about taking waypoints with you GPS, make sure you have a compass and map and over-engineer your clothing system.