Make Shasta while the Sun Shines

Route Stats:
Mountains: Mt. Shasta (14,162’ or 14,179’ depending on survey)
Route: Started at the Brewer Creek TH (~7300’) and headed South towards the Hotlum – Wintun ridge on Mt. Shasta’s E-NE aspect. Climbed a variation of the HW ridge to the summit. Skied ascent route back down to roughly 7500’.
Crew: Brian (Nordy), Pj, Jon and Prakash
Distance / Elevation Gain Unsure of RT mileage due to lack of GPS and info on the net… Google maps puts it at approx 8-10 miles. ~7000’ vert gained (approx)

Prologue:

Back in late May I fell upon one of the Dark helmut’s inspiring ski reports here over lunch at my cubicle – http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=12016&cpgm=tripmain&ski=Include and his partner-in-crime Benners’ report here – http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=12096&cpgm=tripmain&ski=Include. While I feel sorry for the asinine sense of humor these two characters share with me, I do trust their choices when it comes to skiing and climbing peaks (not to mention post-climb meals). I immediately shot their reports off to some friends (Matt, Brad and Jon). Jon took the bait and is also conveniently located in NoCal so would be able to rent a tent in the local REI. Within a couple days he’d also rounded up a couple other individuals from CA and Portland – Pj and Nordy and we set a tentative date. The original plan was to pack for bear and head up as far as possible on Friday 6/7 and camp before a Saturday 6/8 summit bid. Sunday was to be the bad-weather-backup day which seemed prudent based on Brian and Ben’s experiences in the PNW.
Thursday 6/6 finally arrived and I flew in to Sacramento. Jon and Pj picked me up and we spent the night at the Quality inn at Sacramento. At this point I heard that the new plan was to attempt to day-trip the peak via the Hotlum-Wintun “Hot Tuna” ridge route with a Friday night start from the Brewer Creek TH. While I wanted to mount a realistic attempt on the peak I decided to trust the locals in going against the original plan, and it turned out to be a great move!

On the morning of Friday 6/7 we feasted on a complimentary Quality inn breakfast of 0.2% eggs and feces disguised as sausage. The tea and OJ were somewhat palatable though. We then began the 3-hour drive to the town of Mt. Shasta. I couldn’t get over how fantastic the giant pines look in CA. Very tall (150 – 200’) and symmetric. At the town of Mt. Shasta we met Nordy at the Fifth Season where Pj rented his gear and we bought our $20 summit permits. We then talked to the store owner who had been scouting around in the past week. He backed the HW variation plan and our minds were set.

As all dirt-cheap climbers must do at some point in their lives, we then grabbed pictures of the $10 map of the route options, loaded up the summitpost page on our iPhones and headed to lunch at The Goat Tavern. While the fish tacos were delicious as was the salsa they gave me two… TWO tacos!!?? They have some fantastic garlic fries with grated garlic sprinkled on the fries and the “Best Burger in the World” looked pretty good. Jon then began a hilarious series of phonecalls attempting to buy a whippet which almost landed us a few canisters of Nitrous, courtesy the other outfitter in town.

After the meal we bought some last minute stuff at the local supermarket and headed for the Brewer Creek TH in Jon’s Mazda M3 hatchback and Nordy’s Tacoma.

Preparing to nap before the 10PM start time
Preparing to nap before the 10PM start time
The Brewer Creek Trailhead - 7300'
The Brewer Creek Trailhead – 7300′


We settled in and I cooked and ate a couple backcountry pantry meals and some nice buttery Quaker grits to supplement the two miserly tacos I was served at the Goat. We turned in at about 5PM and woke up at 9PM to cook up a healthy, balanced breakfast of ramen and more grits. By 10 PM we were on the trail.

The Approach:

The first 0.5 miles of trail were on completely dry ground with patchy snow and we kept the skis on our backs. We then continued hiking up snow with our skis on our packs since we encountered periodic dirt patches. To pass the time we made funnies about how the word Shasta sounded like poop… well, mostly me… on second thoughts, I think those sounds were mainly in my head. We encountered a few tents pitched along the way including a couple strangely perched roughly 300 feet above the TH. We heard proud snores affordable only by those courageous souls that have knocked 300 feet off the 7000 total elevation needed to summit Shasta.
Roughly at midnight we reached a spot where we felt we might be able to thread together a continuous line of snow. Here Jon and Pj stashed their hiking boots and we all transitioned.

Transitioning to skin mode at 12:10AM... approach shoe cache
Transitioning to skin mode at 12:10AM… approach shoe cache


From here the skinning began in earnest. We skinned along until almost 1AM where we stopped for a ramen break. I pulled the jetboil out and got it going with some spicy shin ramyun from KS. I threw in a good chunk of roast beef we’d bought at the supermarket to top it off. This concoction was then passed around and we all chewed on it along with all natural pepperoni, candy and other stuff. By the time we were done it was past 2AM and the skinning continued again under headlamps…

Daylight is almost here... still skinning at 4AM
Daylight is almost here… still skinning at 4AM


At about 4:20 AM Nordy and I halted to wait for Jon / Pj and to grab some pics of the sun trying to come out… Nordy’s self-portrait at first light…

Nordstorm self-portrait at first light...
Nordstorm self-portrait at first light…


First light…

The sun begins to rise...
The sun begins to rise…


We then continued on until 5:30AM where we found a level dry area at ~12200’ that would be good for another round of ramen. Here I broke out the shrimp flavored ramen with more roast beef and got that going while Jon came over and began transitioning into crampons for the couloir.

Jon, Nordy and PJ skin up towards breakfast #2 - Shrimp Ramen with chunks of Roast Beef
Jon, Nordy and PJ skin up towards breakfast #2 – Shrimp Ramen with chunks of Roast Beef


The sun began rising at that point…

The sun finally rose at 12300' and 5:30AM after almost 7.5 hours of hiking and skinning
The sun finally rose at 12300′ and 5:30AM after almost 7.5 hours of hiking and skinning


Noodle soup with roast beef was almost ready… we spent close to an hour eating and hanging out enjoying the early morning sun.

Breakfast #2 is ready!
Breakfast #2 is ready!


Looking up the rest of the Hot tuna ridge route…

Hotlum Wintun Ridge Variation
Hotlum Wintun Ridge Variation


And down at Jon gearing up for his first climb with crampons on…

Jon tries on his new crampons
Jon tries on his new crampons


Pj joined us soon and decided to stash his pack there for the remaining climb…

Reunited in daylight for the final push
Reunited in daylight for the final push

The Climb:

We began cramponing up the somewhat frozen snow. I alternated between front-pointing and French duck-walking.

Heading up the HW variation route - Nordy, Jon and PJ
Heading up the HW variation route – Nordy, Jon and PJ


The couloir was long and looked promising for a ski… nice wide open snowfield more than a couloir really…

The never ending couloir
The never ending couloir



Nordy nearing the top of the couloir…

Nordy approaches the top of the couloir with his splitboard
Nordy approaches the top of the couloir with his splitboard


Soon we were within sight of the summit and would need to traverse across a couple hundred yards on the Wintun glacier.

The summit is finally in view
The summit is finally in view


Those last couple hundred yards brought the most miserable post-holing of the day and I sunk to my thighs with each step up the moderately steep snowfield cresting the Wintun glacier within a 20 foot radius of rocks of any kind. There was not one solid step… soon I resorted to crawling up this terrain onto the first patch of scree I could find.

The final snowfield on the Wintun glacier was a postholing nightmare
The final snowfield on the Wintun glacier was a postholing nightmare


I felt wallowing up the scree would be far more efficient and it was. Pj follows on slightly better looking snow making his way towards some quality postholing.

PJ and Jon approach the summit
PJ and Jon approach the summit


The last patch of scree put me on the summit at about 9:15AM, in perfect weather.

The summit of Mt. Shasta
The summit of Mt. Shasta


Nordy approaches the summit…

Nordy reaches the summit
Nordy reaches the summit


Soon the whole gang made it up… we were 4 out of almost 50 people we saw up there… 90% of them had come up the standard avalanche gully route.

On the summit of Mt. Shasta (14,162') - L-R: PJ Quealy, Brian Nordstrom, Prakash Manley and Jon Coe
On the summit of Mt. Shasta (14,162′) – L-R: PJ Quealy, Brian Nordstrom, Prakash Manley and Jon Coe

The Ski:

After spending in excess of an hour on the summit we began gearing up at around 10:30AM and were ready for the descent. Pj and Jon began hiking down to where they’d left their skis as Nordy assembled his splitboard and I hopped on my skis

and I am ready...
and I am ready…
Brian is ready...
Brian is ready…


We ski traversed over the Wintun glacier to the top of our ascent couloir. The top part of the couloir was fairly icy…

Jon skis the icy upper couloir
Jon skis the icy upper couloir


Pj plunge-stepped down the gully…

PJ hikes down to his skis... the upper couloir held patches of blue ice that made for interesting turns
PJ hikes down to his skis… the upper couloir held patches of blue ice that made for interesting turns


At the bottom of that icy part opened up a giant field of corn… Prakash skis out to sample it…

Prakash heading to where the corn is ripe...
Prakash heading to where the corn is ripe…


The views were absolutely amazing!

Corn turns on Mt. Shasta
Corn turns on Mt. Shasta


Overlooking the Hotlum glacier north of our descent aspect…

Looking down at crevasses on the Hotlum Glacier
Looking down at crevasses on the Hotlum Glacier


Steep corn is the best kind of corn…

Steep corn is better than corn
Steep corn is better than corn
The vert is being covered fast...
The vert is being covered fast…


There was still a long way to go as PJ made his way to his ski stash at 12300′. We took a break until he could gear up and join us for the remaining ski…

There's still a long way to go... PJ makes his way to his ski stash at 12300'
There’s still a long way to go… PJ makes his way to his ski stash at 12300′


Nordy heads off again towards Pj’s stash…

Nordy getting ready for more...
Nordy getting ready for more…
On top of spectacular views...
On top of spectacular views…


And Prakash…

Prakash heads out for more...
Prakash heads out for more…
Jump...
Jump…


We just skied 3500 vert and we’re only halfway to the bottom?

We just skied 3500 vert and we're only halfway to the bottom?
We just skied 3500 vert and we’re only halfway to the bottom?


PJ heads to the approach shoe stash while Jon looks on… the snow below this point was a knotted mess of large mushy suncups that threatened to throw a knee awry. We skied fast but cautiously through here.

PJ heads to the approach shoe stash while Jon looks on...
PJ heads to the approach shoe stash while Jon looks on…


One last look at the ski monarch of the west…

Thanks, kind Shasta!
Thanks, kind Shasta!


We were really fortunate with the weather and made full use of it. We were able to find skiable snow almost until about 200 vertical feet above the trailhead. We were back to the cars by 1:15PM.

Back at the TH, Photo ©  Pj Quealy
Back at the TH, Photo © Pj Quealy


We were hot as hell and had to spend some time cooling off before we could get in the cars and drive back to Mt. Shasta city. A hot tub felt mandatory followed by a cold shower and we booked into a Best Western to spend Saturday night. After pulling Monday’s flight back to Sunday we headed back out to the Goat. This time I ordered four, not two fish tacos and it made for a much better meal. We slept ~12 hours to make up for what was lost the previous couple nights. The next morning we bid goodbye to Brian who headed off to Portland. Jon drove Pj and I back to our respective airports. It was a great time with an awesome crew. Thanks for showing me around your hood, fellas. I have a lot of respect for CA peaks. Hope to see you out in CO some time so I can reciprocate!

Notes for Next Time:

I waited and watched the weather until the weekend prior and then shelled out >$500 for a RT ticket to Sacramento. It may make more sense to buy tickets in advance but just make sure the penalties for rescheduling are not high. I did some research to find that United considers a ski bag filled with skis, clothes, poles, whippet, axe and other gear as “one checked bag” while other carriers would consider that “excess baggage” and slap on additional fees. That said, the fee for two checked bags is still $120. In hindsight, for my next trip I might lean towards renting skis, packs, axe and crampons at the location of the climb rather than lug all that over since the $120 roundtrip baggage fee might as easily be spent just renting equipment. Pj spent approx $150 for a 3-day rental of hiking boots, AT boots, skis, poles, axe, crampons and a pack at the Fifth Season in the town of Mt. Shasta. In future I might just carry on my day back and ski boots and rent the rest at the location of the climb.

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