Ascent of Mount Shasta on 2013-05-18

Climber: BMS 914

Others in Party:Rich Stephens -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Date:Saturday, May 18, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Shasta
    Elevation:14162 ft / 4316 m

Ascent Trip Report

On day one, we hiked in with heavy packs to set up our camp on snow at 8500' just south of Gravel Creek. After spending the night on the snow with the summit wrapped in clouds and intermittent snow squalls hitting the tent, we began our summit bid.

As forecasted, the clouds were gone, and the stars shining in the night sky at 4:30 AM. We put on our crampons and started up the south side of the Gravel Creek basin, eventually cutting up the hill to the south, and angling for the Hotlum Glacier. I had felt sharp the day before, but even with a much lighter pack I was not feeling well this morning, and struggled; falling behind Rich who would wait for me to catch up when he took a break. I hoped the feeling would pass.

The weather turned poor as we approached the glacier. The day before, one set of low clouds or another seemed to constantly wrack the summit area, and in spite of the clear forecast, this day would be no different. Assuming things would clear up, we roped up, and began our journey across the daunting Hotlum Glacier. Weaving past the icefalls and seracs, we kept a sharp eye out in the limited visibility, for the smallest signs of hidden crevasses. By now the snow had turned into a whiteout, and I could see Rich 25 meters in front of me, but not well. Still, I could see if he fell into a crevasse, so I kept vigilant, ready to drop and bury my axe instantly if needed.

We came across many crevasses, some we were able to walk around, others we carefully probed and stepped/jumped over, the widest of the latter being maybe 2.5 feet wide. While this may seem like it would be easy to jump over, consider the steep angle of the slope, and the weight of gear, especially heavy mountaineering boots and crampons on our feet. Frankenstein's Monster doesn't win many jumping competitions! I found it rather nerve wracking and hazardous at times. My unease was exacerbated by the weird sounds the glacier made at times when the wind died down enough to hear it. One of the jumped crevasses was so deep neither of us could see the bottom, Rich guessed maybe 200+' down into the blue ice. Worse, some of the crevasses were hidden by blowing snow that had covered them with a superficial bridge that would hold no weight. Often, the only way to notice these was some tiny imperfection in the snow, or by carefully watching off to both sides for sections that were not completely covered. Also, it was difficult to tell exactly where the crevasse started as the edges weren't always straight. As the blowing snow worsened, the looking-to-the-sides method went from difficult to not possible. If one of us was to fall in it would be everything the other could do to arrest the fall in time, and the prospects of getting a fallen and injured/disabled climber out unaided seemed problematic, and there wasn't anyone else around to help out, probably for miles. I began to feel we would be fortunate to make it off the glacier. But we at last reached the topmost stretches, to my lasting relief. Rich, more experienced, seemed far less concerned.

We carried no gear for technical rock or ice climbing, so the 5.8 Hotlam Headwall was not going to be part of our route, nor was the ice gully to the left (south) which our beta had told us was also quite technical. We angled over to the right and found two chutes, and picked what looked like the most favorable one. By now, I was not feeling well at all, and struggling with fairly severe cramping in my hips, hip flexors, and adductors. I considered abandoning our summit bid, but the prospect of having to recross the glacier again erased it from my mind; we were committed to at least getting to the summit area above Misery Hill at that point.

The chute we chose started out as steep snow, but quickly changed into a sheet of fairly hard water ice, sometimes with a thin crust of snow that covered it. I estimate it was at least 60 degrees at the steepest section, and I ended up using front points and dagger technique with my mountaineering axe to ascend it. We had brought a couple of snow pickets, but no ice screws. So we climbed the ice chute, maybe 100' high, unroped; with nasty runout below the chute if one of us fell. Now for sure, I wouldn't be going down the way we came up. The clouds and blowing snow actually lessened the sense of exposure, which was a silver lining of sorts.

We continued on steep snow, every step now a struggle for me, and Rich ahead. As we neared the fumaroles above Misery Hill, I caught up to Rich, who was waiting for me. He said he was wiped out and OK with skipping the summit if I wanted to - he could see I was barely hanging on. We discussed going down the Wintun-Hotlum "Ridge", which is a snowfield between the two glaciers. But at this point, I REALLY didn't want to have to climb Shasta again, and told him I wanted to fight my way up the final 175' or so.

The last section was terrible for me, as I had almost nothing left. I had no headache, but was feeling a little nauseated. But I had felt that way since we left camp. Certainly I was feeling the altitude having come up from 2000' where I live and it being early in the season. But I didn't think I was showing signs of AMS. It took longer than I would have liked, but we both reached the summit, got some pics, and signed the register. One other party of two was the only entry for the same day, probably due to the crappy weather - and they had come up the much, much easier Avalanche Gulch route. How I was going to manage to make it down was something I didn't care to dwell on. I would have to rally and find the strength somehow. The thought of lots of glissading gave me hope.

It was cold on the summit, and I had rime ice all over my equipment and clothing, making some of my zippers tough to operate. After a few minutes, the clouds broke up and the sun even shone down on us. Had the forecasted good weather FINALLY made an appearance? Alas, it was not to be, the clouds reappeared and dumped more snow on us, most small granules the winds (and little vortices that were showing up) had picked up off the mountain. It had the effect of almost sandblasting our faces. It managed to remove our Chapstick and sunscreen. My face is peeling as I type this, and my lips crack and bleed if I smile. If you are ever in similar conditions I urge you to reapply that stuff every hour - I know I will.

We began our trip down to the Wintun-Hotlam Ridge, but quickly got off course and too far to the south. My GPS batteries were low, probably due to the cold, so I was trying to conserve juice by not checking it too often and having the backlight come on. I had a map, which proved difficult to use in the gusting winds, which were probably 40 mph or more. We didn't even try holding a compass to the map. So we actually ended up on the very steep but smooth Wintun Glacier. We saw no crevasses, but instead a snowfield so steep we had our doubts about being able to walk down it without falling. Self arrest was clearly a pipe dream, and our plan of glissading was not happening. But it was better than the ice chute and the other glacier, so we went after it.

By this point, I was at least feeling a little better. Going down seemed much less taxing than climbing, more so than I could have expected, even walking down the steep snow. Then slope got even steeper for a while, which was alarming. We considered going back up: was the route too steep to go? I consulted my GPS. While stopped, the clouds broke again, and suddenly we could see the whole east side of the mountain laid out before us. We spotted the little thumb-like hill above our camp, but it was much farther to the north than we realized. The GPS confirmed it, as did our map. We were at 13200', and we immediately corrected our course. This took us off the Wintun Glacier, and being unaware we were on the glacier proper (not the snowfield to the north where we were supposed to be), we had been traveling unroped. Having been fortunate enough not to have fallen in a hidden crevasse, we angled northward toward the top of the Brewer Creek gully. To the left of this was the thumb-like hill with our camp. We eventually encountered some tracks and a couple of tents, somewhere around 9400' or so. I think these people were doing some backcountry skiing, but no one was around to ask.

Snow gave way to rock, and we took our crampons off. The top of our little hill was rocky and even had some low bushes (manzanita?). The front side of it was much steeper than expected, and covered in deep snow, so the crampons went back on. We managed to get some self arrest practice (unintended) here. Would this mountain EVER give up?

We made it back to camp, and made the decision to break camp and get back to the car. We had little food, and no way to get a hold of my emergency contact, who was expecting a call saying we were down that night. So, even though we were both super tired, we took everything down, stuffed it in our now heavy again packs, and began the 3.2 mile, 1800' back to the car, just before the sun went down. Breaking camp took about an hour. It took us longer in the dark and on the soft wet snow than we anticipated, but we at last postholed our way to the vehicle, finishing off an 18 hour day of pushing almost the whole time.

A couple of hours, and several dozen near misses with deer later, we were in a motel room in Susanville, snoring with smiles on our sunburned/windburned faces.

Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:7291 ft / 2221 m
    Elevation Loss:7291 ft / 2221 m
    Distance:14.2 mi / 22.9 km
    Grade/Class:Grade III, AI2
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country, Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb, Ice Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Snowing, Frigid, Windy, White-out
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:7211 ft / 2197 m
    Extra Loss:45 ft / 13 m
    Distance:7.9 mi / 12.7 km
    Route:Hotlum Glacier
    Trailhead:Blocked road near Brewer Creek trailhead  6996 ft / 2132 m
    Time Up:12 Hours 52 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:7246 ft / 2208 m
    Extra Gain:80 ft / 24 m
    Distance:6.3 mi / 10.1 km
    Route:Wintun Glacier & Ridge w/ traverse
    Trailhead:Blocked road near Brewer Creek trailhead  6996 ft / 2132 m
    Time Down:7 Hours 47 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by BMS 914
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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