As anyone who has travelled I-5 north of Redding, CA will attest, the
enormous volcanic cone of Mt. Shasta dominates northern California.
Rightfully it should be the highest peak in either a range or a state, but Mt. Rainier edges it out by 249 feet as the highest peak in the Cascade Range, and a handful of Sierra Nevada peaks far to the south are the highest in California by a little. Still, the nearest higher peak is 350 miles away, and even the surveyor whose name now adorns California's highest peak, Josiah Whitney, once thought Shasta was the highest point in the United States.
Although higher than many ice-clad Cascade volcanoes, Shasta's southern
latitude means it's glaciers are far smaller than, say, Mt. Rainier's. The
south slope holds only long-lasting snowfields, and offers non-technical
routes to the summit. The north and east slopes have California's only true
glaciers, reasonably impressive, marginally crevassed ice streams such as the Whitney, Bolan, and Hotlum Glaciers. Shasta has a sattelite summit on its east side, a subsidiary volcanic cone called Shastina (12,330'/3758m) analogous to Rainier's Little Tahoma. Shastina is actually the fourth highest Cascade Range summit, after only Rainier, Rainier's Liberty Cap, and Shasta itself.
Not surprising given its commanding position overlooking all the "New-
Agers" of northern California, Mt. Shasta is considered by many to posees
special spiritual energy. Native American myths swirl around the peak, and
UFO sightings are common. In 1991 Outside Magazine devoted a long article to the various paranormal phenomena associated with the mountain.
Mt. Shasta offers a wide variety of routes, but by far the easiest and most popular is the non-technical south side route via Avalanche Gully. The
Everitt Memorial Highway provides excellent paved access from the artsy town
of Mt. Shasta up to 7720', the site of an abandoned ski area. You can start
your hike here and climb up into the Ski Bowl, cross the Green Butte Ridge,
and drop down into Avalanche Gully, or else park a mile from the end of the
road at Bunny Flat and ascend the Gully directly from it's base. This option presents less routefinding problems, but adds 800 vertical feet to an already long hike.
The Gully is steep and full of talus--in early season, snow cover and
crampons make the going much easier. The upper part of the gully contains the "Heart", a large, appropriately-shaped rocky area bordered by narrow
snowfields. Atop the Heart Avalanche Gully ends at the Red Banks, a slabby
rock formation that offers narrow, icy clefts as a way up to its moonscape
surface. You can also climb the short, cliffy slopes on the right edge of the Banks if the clefts and their icefall spook you.
Once atop the Red Banks, the route to the summit is a straightforward hike made difficult only by the high altitude and a false summit called Misery Hill. The summit area contains a small vestigal crater and a few foul-smelling sulfur vents, reminders of the forces that created this peak. The view is superb, but, due to lack of any neighboring mountain scenery, more like the view from a high-flying airplane.