Couple months back, Ken (Elwood on SP) invited me to join him and his friends for a Mount Shasta climb via Casaval Ridge. Last year, I climbed this mountain via Casaval/West Face variation, but not the entire ridge route, so I jumped on the idea.
Ken, Sam (Sam Mills on SP), Jim, and Kevin arrived in Shasta City on Thursday 5/6. Unfortunately, I was not able to join them for good food and brew that night because I could not get there until Friday. As a matter of fact, the Horizon Air flight out of Seattle was not scheduled to arrive in Redding until 10:30am on Friday. So the plan was for them to start out ahead of me and I was to meet them at high camp.
The weather forecast was not great. It called for rain/snow showers and wind Friday night but I was hopeful as I jumped into my rental car at Redding airport. I was able to catch up with my team just a short distance out of horse camp. This was good because the weather was getting worse and I was not looking forward to finding their tent sites in bad weather! After pleasantries, we continued on and found good tent sites at 9600 ft or so. The clouds socked in and it started snowing almost as soon as we pitched our tents. We hit the sack still hopeful that we can get a break in the weather.
When we woke up, the weather hadn't really improved. It wasn't snowing anymore but the visibility was down to 10 feet or so. We really didn't talk about aborting our summit attempt, just that we'll start climbing and assess our situation later on. We headed out of camp at 3:40 am.
Because of approx. 3-6" of new snow on the ground, there were no boot tracks to follow. We had to rely on our wits (ok, not really, we followed Sam - he had done the entire ridge route before). It was little nerve-racking in the near whiteout but I concentrated on not making any mistakes (and keep up with Sam!). Soon, Jim and Kevin lagged behind and we lost them (they had turned around and returned safely to camp - throughout this trip, we operated as two separate teams making our own decisions). Soon, I took the lead of breaking new trail and we continued, hoping the weather will break and give us a little window!
At around 6:30 am (little below the catwalk) at around 12,400 ft, we got our break! The clouds lifted and our enthusiasm went sky high! We had clear blue sky!! After negotiating through steep culoirs and the famous "catwalk" (more like "cakewalk"), we were at the bottom of Misery Hill. Now, for all of you who have climbed Shasta via southside routes, you know the name says it all!!
Near the top of Misery Hill, we started getting blasted by strong, steady wind. It got worse as we crested the hill and moved onto the summit plateau. The wind was steady at 50-60 mph and the fresh snow was blasting into our face. Man, this part of the climb was tough and cold! At this point, I was really getting tired...... but somehow I kept my feet moving. I think I can..I think I can..I think I can..I think I can. After 5hrs and 45 minutes of tough climbing, we were standing on top of Mt. Shasta (again).
The wind was just as strong at the summit and we all ducked behind some rocks to rehydrate and eat. We didn't spend but 5 minutes on the summit and we hurried down, hoping to soon get out of this nasty wind. We descended down the Avalanche Gulch route and returned to our camp at 12:15pm. By this time, I was totally worn out but no time to rest because I had to be at the airport by 4pm!!!
This climb had everything and the reward was well worth it. My first time climbing with Ken and Sam but we all jelled pretty quickly and made a pretty good team. I have been going down to Shasta for 6 straight years and this was my 5th summit. I'm sure I'll be heading back down again next year!
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