Snowstorm at 14000ft

Page Type
Trip Report
California, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Aug 4, 2002
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Created On: Aug 11, 2002
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To Base Camp - August, 03 2002

The trip starts at Doug’s place in Roseville, a suburb of Sacramento. We all arrive on Friday night to get ready for the weekend climbing trip on Mount Shasta. By the time we are all packed it’s already 2am, we have to leave by 4am. Remarkably we do leave by then for the five hour drive to Mount Shasta.

Upon arrival, we get our summit passes from the ranger station in Shasta City and head on out to Bunny Flat trailhead on the slope of the volcano, at an elevation of 6900 feet. There we throw on our packs and head on out.

In about an hour and a half, you leave all the trees behind. It’s only rock and ice from here on out. Doug and I stopped briefly to take photos of us showing off our strength by picking up the lava rock that can be found everywhere on the slopes.

We make it to Helen Lake by 2:30 in the afternoon, which is no more than a frozen muddy pond. This will be our base camp for the bid to the summit. Tom and Christina arrive not long afterwards. We all end up being kind of bored for the rest of the afternoon, and turn in early since we need to be up by 3am for the long and grueling day ahead of us.

The Ascent - Morning, August, 04 2002

It’s pitch dark, the air is freezing, but the sky is shinning with stars. A good sign so we decide to go ahead and try to summit. After a small breakfast, we mount our headlamps and start the long scramble up the rocky slopes in the pitch dark until we get to the first good size snow pack. From here we mount our crampons and climb the rest of the way to the Red Banks on ice.

At about 12,000feet up and right when the sky lightens up with reds, oranges and blues from the sunrise, the Red Banks stand in our way, a large bank of red/orange rock formed by ventilation of gases from the volcano that straddles the ridge, most of the people who turn around, do it here, only about a third of the people who attempt Mount Shasta make it to the top. Since the normal route was iced over, we took the "notch" route, which required us to travel around the right side of the Red Banks to one of the “fingers” that cut through the lower ledge. From there Doug and I climb up in a narrow steep cut in the rock to get to the top of the lower ledge, from here we carefully walk up the steep slope covered with marble size rocks, think of a plank covered with ball bearings, any slip would mean sliding down the slope and going over the edge, and probably continuing on down the mountain. The strong freezing wind didn’t help it either.

We make it around the back side where we find spot shielded from the freezing wind. We sit down and rest a while absorbing the awesome view of the Konwakiton Glacier and the ocean of clouds below. After about five minutes we climb up the 6foot cliff to the top of the upper ledge, where continue our march to the summit. Right then, we both were thinking, oh shit we have to go back down the same way.

At this point the air is so thin, that you walk like you’re in slow motion. You’re lungs are so dry that they feel like there are going to bleed. We get to the very top of the Red Banks, and admire the view, then march up Misery Hill, due to its false looks of being the summit. Once on top, the true summit comes into view. From here you get an unusual view of looking down on Shastina, Mount Shasta’s smaller volcano. We continue on, crossing the summit plateau and the last of the ice fields. The pinnacle of the summit is now covered in gray clouds. As we approach the base of the pinnacle, it starts to snow. "Oh shit" as I look at Doug. "Should we continue?" I ask him "we are so close, only 200yards to go" Doug replies. Then out of nowhere a older man walks up to us and says "You’re really close, it will only be ten more minutes" evidently this guy climbed up via the east face, as the place we were standing, was the confluence of all routes, so the three of us climb the last 200 yards to the summit. Later on we found out, we were the only people who made it to the top.

The Descent - Afternoon, August, 04 2002

After spending enough time to take a photo sitting on the top and sign the summit logbook, we split. The wind is now howling and the snow is sandblasting our faces. The older guy starts heading down the other side of the mountain and says "good luck" and we take off down the Avalanche Gulch route. The lower ridges are now barely visible from the thick clouds that now engulf us. The wind-chill factor made the air so cold, that our fingers were throbbing with intense pain.

We reach the top of the Red Banks and start our descent down through them. We are now in a white-out, we can see no more than 20 feet away. We say nothing to each other, but we knew what was running through both our minds, death. We were exhausted but had to keep on moving. We though if we didn’t get back to camp soon, we would freeze to death up here. I felt ice on my face, so I scrap it away. I grab my beanie cap and try to rip open the top of it with my ice ax, with no luck, Doug gives me his knife and I was able to turn the beanie cap into a tube. I slip it over my head so it coves my nose and mouth. You don’t know how much that helped. Before that, I literally had ice forming on my facial hair.

Once we were off of the Red Banks, we felt lost, the place looked so different with all the new snow on the ground, nothing looked familiar. We blindly headed down. We tried to glisilde, but with the fresh new snow, it didn’t work all that well. I called Christina on the radio and asked her which way we should take. She described a route to us, but it didn’t help at all since we couldn’t see anything. We could barely see right in front of us with all the snow blasting in our faces.

I took out my GPS and tried to find our position on the map, the problem is the map isn’t accurate enough. We needed to know our position within 20 feet, since that was all we could see. The GPS gave out detailed location coordinates, but we had to estimate our location on the USGS map. So we just relied on the elevation the GPS gave. We just walked blindly through the thick snow blizzard until we got to the same elevation as of base camp. We could tell we were getting closer since it was getting warmer, it was still below freezing, but warmer.

Once we got to the same elevation as of base camp we radioed Christina again and asked her to yell at the top of her lungs, we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to hear her, but it was worth a shot. She yelled, and we faintly heard her voice off in the distant. After a few yells, we were able to get a bearing on which direction to walk in. Trust me, we could have gave up being only a 100 feet from base camp, it was that thick.

After another 20 minutes we found our way to the tents. We felt so relived, but we still had to pack up the camp and hike all the way out to the car. Once we were around 9000feet the afternoon sun came out, what a sight. I turn around and look back at the mountain and "holy shit!" everybody looks, the whole mountain is under sunny blue skies. A new layer of snow can easily be seen on the higher slopes. The storm lasted practically the same amount of time it took us to climb down. Why do things work that way?

We make it to the car by 10pm and get something big to eat down in Shasta City. We then realized we only ate oatmeal at 3am and a Powerbar for the rest of this grueling day.


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