What a difference a week makes.
I wanted to climb Shastina as a tune-up for my upcoming trip to Denali. I headed down I-5 from my home in Medford, Oregon on May 4th, 2007 to Shastina and a couple of days camping in the snow. It was a beautiful day and I could see Shasta and Shastina from 50 miles away. It looked like it was going to be a wonderful weekend. The previous week it had been cloudy and rainy at home, but in the springtime these things blow over quickly.
I was soon in Mt. Shasta City and I stopped by the Ranger Station to get my Summit Pass. A helpful young lady sold me the Summit Pass and also had a Wilderness Permit available for me to complete. She did indicate it was supposed to be a little windy this weekend.
I drove up the highway and was soon at the Bunny Flat Trailhead. It had snowed the previous day and week and there were a couple inches of new snow on the ground. The snow level though was surprisingly low. There was less than a foot at the trailhead and last year at this time there was 10 ft of snow here.
I put on my mountaineering boots and filled my backpack with everything I could even imagine needing. I had weighed my pack before leaving home and it was 65+ lbs. I told myself, I need the conditioning for Denali. I hefted the pack and staggered up the trail. It was only about 10:00AM, so I knew I had all day to get to Hidden Valley where I planned to camp for the night.
In a little over an hour I was at Horse Camp and I rested there for a few minutes and had a snack. This was the easy part. Now it was going to be crosscountry to Hidden Valley. After catching my breath I hoisted the pack into place and moved off to the north.
There were a few footprints to follow to get up on top of the first ridge and I was still feeling good. I could hear a group of 4 hikers and 2 dogs above me and I could see them just below a small cloud layer too. I traversed across this first valley while slowly climbing too. The climbing was really uneventful as I passed over Casaval Ridge and then over to the next ridge. I was trying to follow the summer time route, but soon I was stymied by small trees and thigh deep snow on the ridge that leads up to point 9,487. The loose snow was on top of a hard icy packed snow pack and I wasn’t having any fun. I had to put on my crampons to keep from sliding back down the slope. No real danger here because the small trees would stop my slide after about 10 ft.
I struggled up the ridge and soon topped the 9487 point. I could see Hidden Valley down below and Shastina rising to the north. I decided the ridgeline looked like a good place to camp for the night because I was tired from lugging the big pack in the ever deepening snow.
I found a fairly level place that I could shovel out and set up my tent. It didn’t take long to get comfortable and it was only about 4:00PM. I laid down and took a nap. I woke up about 7:00PM when I heard some other climbers come up to the ridge. 4 guys set up camp just below me in a little clear area. The wind started picking up, but it was still pleasant in the tent.
After the sun dropped below the horizon, the wind started blowing a little harder. In fact it continued to blow more and more intensely all night long. At 3:00AM I heard some voices from my neighbors and thought they must be getting ready for a summit attempt. I didn’t think it wise for me to head up solo at this time, so I decided to wait until sunrise and then get ready to move up. I wanted to camp on top of Shastina the next night.
By 6:00AM I was in the middle of hurricane force winds. It was really howling outside. The stakes on the north or upwind side of my tent failed and the tent started to roll over with me in it. I quickly grabbed the poles from the inside and hung on. I had a bit of a dilemma now. How was I going to get everything back into my pack without the tent rolling over in the wind. I ended up sitting in the north corner of the tent to hold it down while I stuffed everything into my pack. When my pack was sufficiently weighted, I put it in my place while I dove for the door of the tent, got out, and pulled the tent poles to collapse the tent.
I didn’t know if I was making progress or not. The wind quickly sucked my pile hat off my head and I saw it disappearing to the south. Oops, there goes the bag for the tent poles too. What happened to my left glove? Gone too. My 4 fellow campers had not left afterall, and they were trying to stuff what was left of their tents into their packs. Somehow I managed to get everything I could find into my pack. My hands were freezing. I had put on my ski goggles because the wind was blowing the loose snow horizontally and it stung when it hit my face. I could see the moon in the sky through the blowing snow, so I was hoping I could get down the mountain a little and get out of the wind.
My 4 fellow campers were ready to head down at the same time I was. 3 of them were going to ski, and one wanted to follow me because he couldn’t ski very well. He also thought he had frost bite in his fingers and toes. He had his glacier glasses blow right off his face and were lost. The wind blew us around and we were sent sprawling a few times by the wind before we got off the ridge. Once we lost about 500 ft of elevation, the wind was manageable and our fingers and toes began to warm up. It was a long slog back to Horse Camp where I left my companion to wait for his buddies. I hiked back to Bunny Flat and drove home. Someone at Helen Lake measured the wind at 102 mph that day.
I still needed to get some conditioning for Denali, so the next Friday, May 11th I went back to try again. Wow !!! What a difference a week makes. The weather was much warmer, more snow had melted at Bunny Flat, there were not snow plumes blowing off Casaval Ridge all the way over to Sargents Ridge. The weather looked perfect.
About a foot of snow had melted since the previous week. I made much better progress up to Hidden Valley this time and instead of camping on the ridge I descended into the valley and set up camp in the middle away from any potential rock fall or avalanche.
It was a beautiful evening and a couple on skiers came into the valley late and set up camp several hundred yards southwest of my position. I slept well, got up early the next morning and headed directly towards Shastina. Another climber was a few hundred yards ahead of me and I just followed him. He looked like he was dayhiking and heading to Shastina too. The snow was great for crampons and the elevation was coming easily even with a big pack. It only took about 4 hours to reach the summit. On the summit I finally caught up with the other hiker who was ahead of me and also a third hiker who caught us. It was a busy day on Shastina.
I descended about 30 feet from the summit to the east where there was a flat spot and set up camp again. It was just a glorious afternoon and evening with hardly a breath of wind all night long. I think it was about 15 degrees the next morning when I packed my stuff and headed back to the trailhead. The only slow part was climbing out of Hidden Valley to the ridge. I did stop at least 3 times to shed clothing during the descent.
I head to Denali on May 24th and I think this was a good tune-up for that effort.