May 4, 2018
With the demise of my spring alpine climbing objective, Carly introduced the idea of skiing Mount Shasta. It is a relatively moderate climb and ski, but entails about 7300′ of ascent. This was a good swap since the total time involved is minimal. It is an 11 hour drive away and the route is doable in a day. This compares well to an Alaska trip which would take about a week or more. We kept training through April and kept an eye on the weather for conditions.
Unfortunately our first potential weekend opportunity had poor weather. Especially unfortunate because the conditions the preceding week were amazing. Between the NWS weather forecast and the mountain webcam, we had pretty good information on the conditions so there was no need to start driving unless the conditions were good. With my approaching work trip, we decided on a late week day. The weather looked good and we both could spare the 2 days out of the office.
The trailhead was pretty nice in that we didn’t have to worry about sleeping in the van. At some areas like the Tetons this is not completely allowed and the change was nice. We started at about 5:15am under clear skies. “Good” conditions for spring skiing are clear days and nights. The clear days melt the snow a little and help it consolidate. The clear nights allow the snow to refreeze and be supportable. We got the clear night, but as the morning went on and we climbed up Avalanche Gulch, there were some high clouds that kept the snow from starting to soften and allow quicker travel.
Working through the lower gully we got clear of the trees and saw the route. The route is straightforward in that it just follows a drainage to a ridge then cuts left and to the summit. We skinned to Helen Lake, a bit less than halfway. From there we decided to boot with the skis on our backs. This proved to be about the same speed but a little less work.
The terrain is pretty moderate, but the section from Helen Lake to Thumb Rock is the steepest, though still pretty easy walking. Carly was much faster than me on the way up. I think I had not hydrated the previous day and as a result my legs were a constant battle to stave off cramps. Once we reached Thumb Rock it was pretty clear we were well behind our expected schedule. Later in the year when thunderstorms would be a concern this would have been an issue. After eating lunch and resting up we made for Misery Hill, named since it is slog which isn’t actually the summit, which is out of view still. The snow conditions here were very firm and didn’t seem like there was a hope of softening at all. Once at the top of the hill it is 1/10th of a mile or so along a moderately flat ridge to the summit block. The summit itself is about 100 vertical feet up from a nice broad flat spot which is good for resting.
The summit is relatively small and we enjoyed the views with just a bit of wind. The view from the summit shows just how prominent that Shasta really is. There are a couple sub-peaks and another reasonably tall volcano to the south, but everything else is just a tiny hill in comparison.
After summiting the fun began! Well, not quite yet. The ski from the summit to Thumb Rock was not very good and a bit dangerous in spots. Because of the altitude, wind, and temps the snow up here wouldn’t soften. This resulted in an icy careful descent to Thumb Rock. This was not one of Carly’s favorite moments, nor me. From Thumb Rock we booted down a little way until the snow got better and swapped back into skis. For the next 4000′ it was the best corn skiing I’ve done. The terrain is moderate and enormous so you can ski as fast as you want, anywhere you want. This was the highlight for sure. Doubly the highlight as the weekend streams of climbers and skiers were slogging uphill in the corn as we were carving smooth turns.
The last 1000′ or so feet of skiing when to slop, again this is expected. While not hard it wasn’t as fun as the previous section so it just meant keeping some speed on the flats. Luckily the snow extends to all but the last 100 or so feet to the trailhead so we were able to ski all the way. For being our first volcano it was quite an experience, not one I would repeat without the amazing corn skiing in the middle. The sentiment is shared by Carly.