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Hiking Stats as of 11/21/2018
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 325
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Sep 5, 2014 - Shasta, Mount

 

Partners: Kyle Breen

Distance: 13.89 miles

Elevation Gain: 7,673 feet

Trip Time: 11:56

Maps and Stats:
Kyle and I were staying at the Motel 6 in Weed, having spent a few hours the day before in Lassen Volcanic National Park to acclimate for today's big hike of Mt. Shasta. And an ambitious plan it was, the objective was to dayhike the peak, requiring about 7,700 feet of elevation gain all the way up to 14,179 feet, over loose ash and talus for most of the way up. What better way to spend a day off work than this? Mt. Shasta has a lot of distinctions, such as being the fifth highest peak in California and the second highest in the Cascade range. It dominates the landscape - there is nothing around even close to this height. It is the highpoint of Siskiyou County and is on the WSC list (my 34th).

We woke up at 5 AM and took a half hour getting ready and packing our stuff for the ride back to the Bay Area after the hike was done. We would be attempting Shasta form the Clear Creak Trailhead, which is the summer route for the mountain. The drive to Clear Creek was a bit of an adventure, although it is well marked, and my car survived the sometimes bumpy and other times sandy road to make it to the parking lot by 6:20. It took several minutes to get going, as we both needed wilderness permits, summit permits and WAG bags. After getting everything in order I drank 2 liters of Powerade Zero and set off with 5 liters in my pack and 1 in my hand, knowing that this would have to be the days allotment of fluids unless I wanted to drink from Clear Creek (although the creek is barely over an hour into the hike so it isn't that useful).

The first 3 miles are on a well marked and maintained trail which is fairly easy and not nearly as steep as what comes later. This portion of the route is largely through the forest, and ever more impressive views of Mt. Shasta began to come into focus. I could make out some of the features I had read about, such as the massive Mud Canyon with its waterfall. Nearly the entire route was visible to us, as we would wind left (referring to the previously linked picture), then head up diagonally towards the right, going above the giant rocks near the lower center of the mountain, then up the slope on the right side of the mountain to the distinctive bright brown rocks. We could see what looked like trails skirting to the left of those rocks which lead to the plateau just below the summit which was visible on the far upper right of the mountain. Seems easy enough if you just don't think about the many thousands of feet above you. By 7:30 we were approaching Clear Creek and the site of the campground area. There was only one tent at this location, much to our surprise (and we would meet the occupants of that tent later). We crossed Clear Creek and we knew that this was the end of the official trail.

There was a well marked use trail that went off to the right (uphill) immediately after crossing Clear Creek but it didn't look as heavily traveled as the trail we were on, so we kept going. About 10 minutes later our trail petered out, and we were left looking around for the correct route. We weren't sure how well marked the use trails heading up to the summit would be - we had heard they were easy to follow but somehow we had already lost it within 10 minutes. We decided to just climb up the nearest slope, as we knew that eventually we would have to meet up with the use trail if it in fact existed, since we still had to go further left to avoid some large rock outcroppings we had seen from below. This slope was very loose, and pretty tiring. We would never be able to climb all the way to the summit going up stuff like that. Once we got to the top we were able to find a very well marked use trail we we were essentially able to follow all the way to the top. From there it was a steep climb uphill, although the trail was generally in decent shape and we weren't having to put forth too much extra effort to battle the loose terrain. As we went uphill, we spotted 2 tents ahead, perched at about 10,300 feet (about 2,000 feet above Clear Creek).

We could see 2 hikers above the tents, although not too far above. They were heading up, but oddly they took a 15 minute break maybe 300 feet above the tents and we caught up. We assumed they left from the nearby tents and were later laughing at their changes of summitting if they were going to rest every 300 feet. (It turned out that they were the owners of the tent down by Clear Creek as we would find out later). They asked us what the elevation was, and they asked what time we started. We said 6:30 from the trailhead and they were amazed, saying that we must not be resting very much. I told them we had rested maybe 15 minutes total (about as long as they sat there watching us as we caught up). We passed them up, although we would see them below us for much of the day. The view uphill stayed basically the same, as we could see almost all the way to the summit for hours on end, although it seemingly never got any closer. Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, the trail through this entire section (from the high camp tents to the ridge above, covering about 3,000 feet) contained many dozens of switchbacks. I had feared that we would be required to somehow ascend the slope (if going a a straight line from Clear Creek up to the summit ridge it would have been 3 miles and 6,000 feet of gain, hardly a reasonable slope). Behind us, the views were spectacular. We were measuring our time against milestones that were cited in other trip reports, and found that we were making good enough time to make the summit in less than 8 hours.

By 11:15 we passed 12,000 feet, and we could finally see the actual summit to the right of the ridge that we had been climbing towards now for a while. By 12,800 feet we approached the giant brown rocks, a momentous event for us as we had seen these things from 6,000 feet lower and thought about how close we would be once we got here. Now that we were here, it was daunting to think we still have another 1,300 vertical feet to go, which would be by far the hardest of the day. It was not yet noon as we passed the rocks, and we began thinking we may make the summit in less than 7 hours time. But reality set in as we started ascending the rockfall towards the final summit plateau. We could have stayed on the use trail, but it looked impossibly steep and full of loose rubble and ash, so we decided to gain the top of the ridge by going class 2 talus climbing. This was no ordinary talus, however. Every step risked sending down large sections of rubble. Taking a step would sometimes cause rubble 10 feet away to start sliding down, something I had never seen before. Normally aiming for large rocks is the best strategy as they generally weigh enough to absorb a step and sink into the ground. Not so here, as they were just as likely to start sliding down the mountain as anything else. It would have been hazardous for us to climb one above the other in these conditions, so I stayed to he left and Kyle to the right so we wouldn't risk sending down a dangerous rockfall on the other person. With the other hikers far below they were out of harms way. We wound up having to climb on all fours - not with our knees on the ground but placing our hands on the ground to ensure everything was okay before taking the next step. It actually was a bit easier this way, as we gave our legs a bit of a break by making our arms take on some of the work. We took many breaks as this was tough work. It took about half an hour to ascend the 200 feet to the top of the ridge.

Once at the top of the ridge we both hit the wall, in a big way. Our pace slowed even further as we continued up a slightly less steep hill, as it took us another 40 minutes to ascend another 400 feet. So much for summitting in less than 7 hours. It was painfully obvious that we were not sufficiently acclimated, and every step uphill became an effort which would take our breath away. We had only spent a few hours the previous day at 9,000 feet and that was not enough up at this height. Resting would make us feel better, but there was so little regeneration of energy that no amount of rest would allow us to go more than a couple of minutes without needing another break. We crossed the summit glacier (rather than climb up and down a 30 foot bump that would have allowed us to avoid it) because the thought of having to gain and lose 30 extra feet was too much. This was actually pretty neat, with a lot of odd looking shapes having formed from the ice in the area. By 1:30 we reached the end of the glacier and the final 250 feet of climbing to the summit. We stood at the base of these rocks for several minutes, neither one of us wanting to feel the exhaustion that would hit us hard. I took the first step, and announced that I only had 249 vertical feet left, and actually felt better. I could do 249 more steps, right? So up we went. Many breaks followed (this is on a 250 foot slope, after ascending 7,500 feet so this is such a small section compared to what we had already done). I pulled out my GPS, and updated our progress every 25 feet or so.

Unbelievably it took nearly half an hour to go up 200 feet and reach the final 50 feet which is a class 2/3 portion. But better to go straight up than slog away on the slope. It only took 5 minutes to do this last 50 feet, and we popped out on top of the summit blocks of Mt. Shasta at exactly 2 PM, for a 7 1/2 hour ascent. Still pretty good! Now that things were pretty flat again and with the excitement of summitting we looked around for the high point. It wasn't clear which of 2 points was the true summit so we visited both just to be sure. I took some pictures of Kyle on top of what we believed to be the lower of the 2 summits, and then another of him on what looked to be on the higher bump (by about 2 feet). Kyle then did the same for me. The summit register was located in between these 2 competing high points, which I signed (while eating lunch). Funny how now our energy was back, and we both went walking around taking in the views. And what views they were. There is nothing to compete with the height of Shasta so we could see nearly forever in every direction.

I say nearly, because of a wildfire that was burning off in the distance and caused a haze over a good portion of the lands below. We could still see back to Lassen Peak which meant we weren't losing too much visibility. Looking down the forest below was a long ways away. We also had great views towards several glaciers, including the one we crossed to get to the top. I really didn't want to leave, but we had set a time of 2:30 to get started back down. After all, we still had to drive all the way back to the Bay Area later after the hike was over. So a little after 2:30 we left the summit, energy levels once again high and our pace back to normal. Rather than cross the glacier we traversed above it, and we made quick work of getting back down, back towards that dangerous loose rock where our fatigue first set in. Rather than go back down the rock we took the use trail (as we did off of the summit, in fact, we followed the use trail all the way back down to Clear Creek). As we suspected, it was mighty steep, and we wound up doing sitting glissades to speed things up. This wasn't without its dangers, however, as at one point I sent a 10 pound rock tumbling down the mountain, and as it picked up speed I yelled for Kyle to get out of the way. He saw it and wound up climbing a nearby boulder as the rock sped by. It certainly would have caused damage had it hit him. By 3:15 we were back at 13,000 feet where Kyle climbed up the brown rocks that marked the big milestone on the way up. It had taken us over 2 hours to ascend from this location but maybe 40 minutes to get back down to it.

The descent was very easy, with the most challenging thing being keeping our balance and the massive amounts of dust that would blow around as we kicked up the dirt and ash. This stuff is a nightmare going up but perfect for a descent. Because of the dust we kept a distance between us. As we passed where the 2 tents had been at 10,300 feet we noticed one of them was gone, and figured it was those 2 hikers who were behind us but never summited. A few hundred feet lower we met a couple of women who were camping at around 9,700 feet and asked us if we summitted. We told them we had and they said that there were a couple of hikers who descended before us who told them they lost the trail. The women asked what time we started and after we told them a minor argument broke out between them, as one of them had convinced the other that it was "impossible" to dayhike Shasta from Clear Creek. She was not happy that she had to carry all her overnight gear and tent up to this location. We told her that the dayhike was incredibly hard, but she didn't let up. She asked us if this was harder than dayhiking Whitney, to which we replied that it was much harder. She still thought she could do it with a 3:30 AM start but we left them to argue that point as we continued our descent. Back at Clear Creek we came across the tent that we had seen in the morning, and who should pop out but those 2 hikers we had seen earlier. They asked if we made it and we told them we did, and they said they made it to the top of the ridge before rock avalanches forced them to retreat. We must have had our wires crossed, as the top of the ridge was past the rock danger, but no matter. They asked if we wanted to stay for tea but we had to keep going. We reached the forest, and the views of Shasta started fading away behind the trees. By 6:15 we were back at the TH and as we approached the car I noticed my poor parking job from the morning. Oops...when I parked I wasn't sure of the sand conditions but now I felt a bit foolish. Oh well, we packed up our stuff, and got started on the drive back. I had to stop for gas in McCloud, from which point I got a final farewell shot of Shasta before drive home. I dropped Kyle off in Vallejo at 11 and I was back in Tracy by midnight. We both rated Shasta as the toughest hike we have ever done.

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