3. Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta Wilderness, California

Jun 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

   Photo: Illustration by Olivier Kugler

* SUMMIT ELEVATION: 14,162 feet
* DURATION: Two Days
* SNAPSHOT: Learn the art of upward flow on snow

AT 14,162 FEET, Mount Shasta so dominates the skyline of Northern California that pilots use it for navigation, New Agers feel drawn to it, and conspiracy-minded folk allege it's a UFO base. For you, Shasta will be a thorough introduction to the world of climbing on snow—proper crampon technique (walking with soles that look like open Swiss Army knives isn't as easy as you think), using an ice ax, and learning how to self-arrest. Weather-reading skills from Longs will come in handy, since Shasta's prominence makes it a magnet for storms. In fact, John Muir, who reached the top in 1875, spent a miserable 13 hours on the summit crater's ridge, trapped by a blizzard. He survived only by lying next to a thermal fumarole, scalding one side of himself while freezing the other. Since then, thousands have made the trip to and from the top without incident. While the technical challenges are few, knocking off Shasta will open up the frosty aeries of America's fourteeners and other snowcapped volcanoes.

** The Route
Avoid the crowds parked at Horse Camp by hauling overnight gear all the way up to high camp at Lake Helen, the scenic perch and primary staging area for those gunning up AVALANCHE GULCH to the Shasta summit, some of whom take the epic ski or snowboard ride back down. Soon enough, you'll be waking up at—bring the coffee?—2 a.m. Your route grinds steadily up a steepening 2,000-foot snowfield until you pass through a prominent band of ocher-colored rocks called the Red Banks. Just above this feature, behold the dramatic views spreading out to the north, east, and south. To the northeast? Your main objective: Shasta's summit pinnacle. Provided the winds that routinely hammer the mountain aren't too stiff, you'll cross a flat shoulder then clomp up Misery Hill, a short but steep pitch and your last real hurdle. By the time you see the steam from Muir's life-saving fumarole, you're as good as on top.

GUIDE Shasta Mountain Guides leads two-day climbs of the Avalanche Gulch Route ($325 per person). On day one, you'll hike to base camp to practice self-arrest and cramponing, including the French, American, and duck steps. The next day, you'll put the instruction into action as you attempt the summit. (530-926-3117, www.shastaguides.com)

Stomp up Avalanche Gulch in KOFLACH's ARTIS EXPE hard boots. Later, they'll keep your toes warm—and attached—when confronting McKinley's bitter chill. ($355; 800-258-5020, www.koflachusa.com) The ultralight chromoly-steel shaft on the GRIVEL AIR TECH EVOLUTION ice ax will withstand 880 pounds of force, more than enough to catch a slip. ($150; 801-463-7996, www.grivelnorthamerica.com) CHARLET MOSER SUPER 12 ART articulated step-in crampons handle it all: Shasta hardpack, Rainier boilerplate, and Orizaba blue ice. ($140; 801-327-3805, www.petzl.com) Warm hands equal a warm body, so don REI's EXPEDITION-WEIGHT MTS FLEECE GLOVE LINERS. Line your mitts with 'em, too. ($12; 800-426-4840, www.rei.com)

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