Mountain #11: Mount Shasta

May 24, 2015

Corie: A point I forgot to mention in the previous post on Shastina is that I had a major AMATEUR HOUR moment during the climb in that not only did I forget to apply sunscreen to my neck, I also drank significantly less water than any person should when climbing from 6,800′ to 12,330′.  The result? Massive dehydration migraine and a rather overwhelming feeling of nausea.  Andy helped me triage my weakened state and by Sunday morning, I felt ravenous and revitalized.  After taking inventory of both of our physical/mental beings, we readied ourselves for the climb up Shasta.  The morning started off cool- the benefit of being in a valley away from the rising sun but eventually, the sun became so intense that we were climbing in our base layers at 11,000’ and up… only stopping for puffies when we took breaks and keeping our necks and faces protected with an extra layer to prevent furthering the skin damage from the previous day.  


I was more intelligent today: every 50 steps I made myself take a sip of water.  I was not going to fall victim to another headache brought on by the previous day’s poor planning and amateur-hour maneuvering. Eventually, amazingly, we passed the summit of Shastina in the distance and I knew that I was at the highest elevation I had ever been at…. Shortly after that, we crowned the top of the West Face and saw the summit of Mount Shasta looming in the distance.  That was when I suddenly started to bonk.  I was hydrated and I was fueled but the previous hours spent climbing steadily in the hot sun at elevation had zapped my energy.  The counting game became useless.  I found myself at ease sitting on the top of the West Face, 13,000’+ above sea level.  


This was when Andy began to really get motivated and he inspired me to finish the climb.  We reached the final pitch to the summit with a slight amount of energy to spare and joined an extremelyhappy party up top who were excitedly snapping photos of each other at 14,150’. 


We climbed the third and the second tallest peaks in the Cascades in two days. In my wildest dreams I never would have guessed that not only were we actually able to climb one mountain every month but also that we would be able to climb #2 and #3 over the course of two days.  Happiness and satisfaction filled every fiber of my being on that last evening and I relished in it.  Between my supreme adventure partner and myself, we were able to motivate and encourage and inspire one another to reach the tallest peak either of us had ever reached and we did so in style, with smiles, and with encouragement and laughter with the people we passed.  I couldn’t have imagined a more challenging and fulfilling weekend.


Andy: I’m always intrigued by Native American legends and pseudo-mystical suspicions about different peaks and mountain ranges. This damn-scientific-method way of thinking leaves me with no solid conclusions, but when I read that Shasta is the root chakra of the world, symbolizing the base of the spine, there was a certain allure to it. Purposefully or not, these thoughts stayed in the annex of my mind, waiting to be realized or to fade. Our trip tied together other meaningful facets: the ability to spend three days in the backcountry, and also an attempt at the tallest peak we’ve climbed so far. While Shasta was not technically difficult via the West Face (I never even pulled my ice axe out), it was physically challenging. Touting the blue ribbon for most voluminous mountain in the cascades, I can personally attest that Shasta is fucking huge. It’s a LONG walk.


During the climb I had plenty of time to reflect on our project and my history of mountaineering. Five years ago I wasn’t too interested in climbing mountains. I would climb one or two each year, mostly as a reminder of why I didn’t climb them more often. It was hard and uncomfortable. It exhausted my body, but moreover, my mind. Shasta tested my endurance with never-ending slopes and thinner air. I’m a little embarrassed so say that this technically mundane peak really challenged me. I’ll take hard, scary free climbing above bad pro over a 10 hour slog up a glacier any day. However, despite the challenge and accompanying fatigue, mountaineering is the most life-giving pursuit I’ve ever participated in. These bigger, longer peaks present a different mental challenge – a test of grit – but of course, come with a greater reward of renewed mental clarity. Maybe something about those chakras is right.


Due to our trip up Shastina the day prior, we got a late start and didn’t end up on the summit until mid-afternoon.  We celebrated with a few other folks, took the requisite selfies, and headed down. I skied from about 13,000’ down to our tent at 9,000’. Exhaustion and bliss blurred together as I collapsed every 1,000’ or so. I’d sit in the snow panting like a dog and wait for Corie to catch up. So tired, so happy. This was a milestone for us, as our first 14er, but also capped our tenth month of this project with our eleventh summit. Life is sweet.


In Summary….

Our climb up Shasta began even later than our climb up Shastina- we had the advantage of being up 2,500′ higher than we had for the Shastina climb but were equally at the disadvantage of needing to climb nearly another 2,000′ to make it to the summit.  And this climb ended up pushing both of our physical limits to the maximum.


The first pitch of climbing out of Hidden Valley was fairly steep- likely the steepest section of the entire day.  There are several options, but we opted for a ~200′ tall shoot between two rock outcroppings. Luckily, once again, we were blessed with beautiful weather and the snow was primo for crampon’ing.  The angle was too steep and snow too hard for efficent skinning without ski crampons so Andy packed his skis up to the top of the West Face and left them there for the final summit push. 


The slog up to the top of the West Face of Shasta is nothing more than a steep, steep hike (we gained 2,000’ in the first 1.25 miles- it was nuts) with nothing to look at besides the guided parties struggling up the face with their ropes and harnesses, and the occasional glance up from the blindingly white snow to admire the landscape around us. From the top of the West Face (~13,000′), we traversed east, to meet the Avalanche Gully and Casaval Ridge routes for the climb up Misery Hill (500′ of gain). Once atop Misery, its another quarter mile and a few hundred feet of gain to the summit pinnacle. We reversed the route for descent. 


We elected to stay an additional night in Hidden Valley.  This decision was in part due to convenience and in part due to wanting to wait until daylight to hike the four miles back to the car.  The decision was also influenced by a burning desire to sleep off the two summits that we’d put our bodies through and to feed and hydrate to the maximum level.  So, we melted snow, ate dinner, and slept an extra night.

As with all mountains, Shasta should be researched prior to planning your trip.  We had initially planned on doing a route that, in the last year or so, has developed a relatively spicy Bergschrund- a fact that we were not aware of until we had already traveled 2 hours south of Portland.  We did not have the necessary gear to deal with the Bergschrund so we changed our plans at the last minute to accommodate what we had prepared for.  Point being, research, research, research: conditions, trip reports, and necessary gear.  Shasta is not technically difficult, but being at 14,000′ puts it in a class of its own.  Respect the mountains and they will be good to you.


Equipment List- West Face Gully

Identical to Shastina.


GPS track and data can be found here.


The Stats:
The GPS died a few hundred vertical feet shy of the summit so the distance is estimated. Times are approximate but fairly accurate.

Total Distance: 5.6 miles
Time: Hidden Valley to Summit: 8:05, Summit to Hidden Valley: 3:00, Hidden Valley to Car: 2:00. 

Starting Elevation: 9,297′
Summit Elevation: 14,150′
Elevation Gain:4,853′


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