How to Summit Mount Shasta
The legendary Mt. Shasta soars to 4322m high. It almost seems unreal as it rises majestically from the flatlands in perfect cone-shape and snow-cap. Even the naturalist Author John Muir, could not hold back upon seeing Mt. Shasta. He penned these heartwarming yet captivating words in 1874, “When I first caught sight of it, I was weary and 50 miles away and afoot. Yet all my blood turned to wine, and I have not been weary since.”
Mt. Shasta is located in Siskiyou County, south end of the Cascade Range in California, United States. Known as the second highest peak in the region of the Cascades, it forms a part of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
On a non-cloudy day, you can see the peak from almost 160 KM. It is amongst the top goals on the bucket list of many mountaineering enthusiasts. This natural wonder has attracted many presidents, authors, and poets over the centuries.
It is recognized as the most distinguished and sacred mountain in the world. The humans have a soft spot for mountain landscapes as sacred features, that's why, many have attached to their spiritual attributes. The Native American Tribes of Northern California are known to have viewed Mt. Shasta as a holy ground. Its also being said that Anyone who attempted a climb unprepared in terms of cleansing rituals has risked harm from the protective spirits of the mountain.
Here’s everything you need to know about Mt. Shasta.
Geology and Eruption
Mt. Shasta is a potentially active volcano with four overlapping cones including Shastina, the most prominent one and the main summit itself. Furthermore, It is also home to the 7 popular glaciers, including Wintun, Whitney, Bolam, Hotlum, Mud Creek, Watkins, and Konwakiton.
Is Mt. Shasta likely to erupt?
Ring of Fire, Illustration By Gringer
Mt. Shasta is part of the notorious chain of volcanoes (Ring of Fire) in the Pacific Basin, where many eruptions and earthquakes take place. The U.S. Geological Survey has rated it as one of the highest threatening volcanoes. It has continuously erupted for over last 10,000 years in intervals of 600-800 years. The last one happened about two centuries ago, in 1786.
The presence of fumaroles indicates the fact that it is alive and brewing. Geologists are quick to agree that it is not a question of “if” but “when” it will erupt.
Mount Shasta Climate
Mt. Shasta experiences an average of 122 sunny days, with a warm-summer Mediterranean type of climate. The average annual temperatures on Mt. Shasta is 49.2°F, with an annual high of 62.2°F and an annual low of 36.2°F. The highest temperature of 41 °C was recorded in 1981, whereas, the lowest temperature of −25 °C was recorded in 1980. The month of July is the warmest month while January is the coldest one.
Let’s take a look at what it takes to climb Mt. Shasta.
Climbing Mt. Shasta
Is it possible to climb Mt. Shasta?
Climbing Mt. Shasta is one of the great ways to communicate with the nature. Most of the routes are easy, especially the Avalanche Gulch. So anyone with an insatiable desire to reach the summit and has a good physical condition can surely attempt the climb. However, proper physical training, backpacking, and hiking experience is highly recommended.
How long does it take to climb the Mt. Shasta?
It actually depends on various factors like the goal or purpose of the climb (is it to enjoy the scenic views, to get to the peak in the shortest time possible, to have a feel of the terrain and explore it, etc.), your physical condition and the route you choose. On an average, it can take up to 8-10 hours to ascend, and 4-5hours for the descent. You can choose to summit in one day, but it is recommended to divide the trek in 2 days so that you can acclimatize and increase your trek progress.
What’s the weather like?
Considering Mt. Shasta stands tall and in isolation, it has a tendency to amplify its existing weather. This is why the visibility can plummet to zero at higher altitudes within a few hours. A drastic drop in temperature and strong winds can be noticed as you ascend. During summers, lightning storms are quite common as well. Therefore, traveling cautiously, carrying extra clothing regardless of a normal weather, carrying a survival kit, food, and shelter can prove to be extremely helpful.
What equipment should climber carry?
I suggest that you call ahead to get information on current weather and mountain conditions. This will determine the type of equipment you can use. Other factors include the route that you will choose and the time of year at which you will trek. You will be needing crampons, an ice axe, and a helmet for the Avalanche Gulch route as well as for other routes.
Other essentials include comfortable hiking boots, maps, flashlight/headlamp, pocket knife, stove, matches, a locator beacon, a fully charged phone with extra power bank, sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen lotion.
Are permits, passes or reservations needed?
Yes. Most of the area located above and below the tree line is within the Mt. Shasta Wilderness. You will need to acquire a Wilderness Permit, which is free of charge. You can get the permit from Mt. Shasta Station or McCloud Ranger Station. These permits come in handy during search and rescue missions, as they contain most of the climber’s information.
If you intend to climb over 10,000 feet, you will have to obtain a Summit Pass at $25 per person. The validity of a Summit Pass is 3 days. They can be acquired from the aforementioned stations or from vendors.
Also,there are restrictions placed on human activities that tamper with the Wilderness’ ecosystem so as to preserve its integrity. Some of these regulations include a maximum number of 10 people per team and 7 days as the duration of stay in a 30 day period. Dogs and campfires are prohibited. You will be required to pack out your solid human waste.
Disposal of human waste along the routes of Mt. Shasta Wilderness poses a serious threat to its environment, aesthetic, and is also a health hazard to the rangers and other climbers. In an effort to minimize these problems, a Human Waste Disposal System was developed. So you will be required to pack out your food, garbage, and waste. These bags are available at McCloud Ranger and Mt. Shasta District Offices free of charge.
When is the best time to climb Mt. Sashta?
Many climbers opt to summit from May to September, depending on the chosen route and the different favorable conditions along the aforesaid routes.
For Avalanche Gulch route, which is the most popular and non-technical route, the best time to climb is usually between mid-May and mid-July. During the month of July, there is a good snowpack coverage, whereas, the weather is more ideal towards the end of May.
As the summer progresses, however, the rockfall becomes a major hazard in the south side of the mountain along Avalanche Gulch route.
How Accommodation works on Mt. Shasta?
Camping is allowed throughout the Mt. Shasta region. For many of the south side routes, an awesome camping option - The Sierra Club Foundation at Horse Camp has facilities like fresh water, composting toilets, Leave No Trace information, campsites, and an emergency shelter. It costs you $3 per bivy and $5 for per tent. These fees are donated to the organization for the maintenance. You can also camp at the Bunny Flat trailhead.
Helen Lake is also another common camping area, and in case you decide to stay there, ensure that you carry extra water for cooking and drinking and extra fuel. The upside of camping at Helen Lake is that you will be rejuvenated to tackle the steepest part after a night’s rest. The downside is that the ground is rocky, the temperature is cold, and the winds are strong; which may rob you of your beauty sleep.
There are two campgrounds that are maintained by the Forest Service on Mt. Shasta; McBride Springs and Panther Meadows, both located off Everitt Memorial Highway.
Fowlers Camp is located along The McCloud River and it offers a good spot and easy access to the east side trailheads.
Also you can explore other good campgrounds like Castle Lake and Gumboot Lake are situated on the west side of Mt. Shasta and only a few minutes from the town.
There are comfortable and well-furnished hotels near Mt.Sashta as well. In case you’re on a budget or you just don’t want to go back home grumbling that you spent all your money on accommodation, here are 5 affordable hotels for the stay, starting from $55 only.
- Strawberry Valley Inn
- Travelodge by Wyndham Dunsmuir
- Best Western Plus Tree House
- Shasta View Lodge
- Shasta Starr Ranch Bed & Breakfast
Mountain climbing routes
Mt. Shasta provides numerous routes to the summit. The south side routes hold Avalanche Gulch, Casaval Ridge, Cascade Gulch, Green Butte Ridge, Sargents Ridge, and West Face. On the other hand, the north side routes are Bolam Glacier, Bolam/Whitney Ridge, Hotlum Glacier, and Whitney Glacier. Moving to the east side, the routes include Clear Creek, Hotlum/Wintun Snowfield, Wintun Glacier, and Wintun Ridge. Here are a few often-used routes.
This route is the most direct and popular one to the summit. Nicknamed the John Muir route, it is at its best in the months of May to July, when there is plenty of snow. The route is favorable for all levels of climbers. You can camp at Horse Camp and its access is through the Bunny Flat trailhead.
The West Face
Talking about the alternative to the Avalanche Gulch, the West Face route is the second-best one with a more or less similar technical level. It is a scenic route and you can camp at Hidden Valley, a beautiful base camp. It is best attempted in May-July during snow year. This route can also be used for skiing and snowboarding during the descent. Are you up for it?
Casaval Ridge on Mount Shasta seen from near Helen Lake
This route is for those mountaineers, who love challenges. It is quite steep yet undeniably beautiful! It is best climbed during the winter and spring season.
An Emergency Plan is essential before you attempt the summit. Include the information about the route you will use, contact information in case of an emergency, a timetable, etc. This information is normally covered in the Wilderness Permit and enhances the search and rescue operations.
Information about the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, website: www.fs.usda.gov/stnf
To find out climbing conditions, call (530) 926-9613
For 24 hour information about climbing and avalanche conditions on Mt. Shasta, check out the Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center website- www.shastaavalanche.org or call (530) 926-9613.
Also some other important contacts include:
Mt. Shasta Ranger Station (Avalanche Report): (530) 926-9613
Mt. Shasta Ranger Station (Forest Service): (530) 926-4511
McCloud Ranger Station: (530) 964-2184
Flora and Fauna on the Mount Shasta
The Mt. Shasta has a mixture of conifer forest trees such as sugar pine, cedars, western white pine, douglas fir, and white fir. Underbrush includes chinquapin, snowbrush, greanleaf Manzanita, and tanoak.
Miner’s lettuce, mountain violet, Shasta lily, and showy phlox are some of the common wildflowers found in the zone.
Juniper and mountain mahogany can be found on the northeast flank.
Wildlife on Mt Shistaincludes the coyote, deer, mountain eagles, black bear, prairie falcons, red-tail hawks, and the ground squirrel.
Hiking with Kids
Kip Van Horn was 9 years old when he successfully summited Mt. Shasta. Children under the age of 18 years can attempt the climb under proper guidance. However, there are many other adventurous options for hiking with kids. There are several hiking trails, for instance, you can go tubing, visit the Sisson Museum, and many others.
Things to Enjoy
McCloud River and Falls
During summer, adults and kids are seen to enjoy jumping from the falls into the beautiful pools of the McCloud River. The Upper Falls have well-manicured walking trails, fishing spots, clear blue-sky ponds, and amazing picnic areas.
This lake offers water rafts, water toys, kayak rentals, and paddle boats. It also has a beautiful beach that is used as a playground.
Shastice Park, located a few kilometers up the EverittMemorial Highway is just the right place to be. The skating season starts in November and ends in February. Non-holiday tickets go for only $10! It also has a jungle gym, a tennis court, and offers a fabulous view of the prestigious mountain.
Pluto Cave is almost a mile in depth, which is why it is called the lava tube. Furthermore, you can enjoy the mystery of this cave and be ready to be amazed by these volcanic formations.
The Sisson Museum
This museum is home to Mt. Shasta’s history. Kids can engage in various experimental activities, as you delve into getting familiar with the mountain and its origin. While at it, you can go on the fish hatchery tour. This museum is a popular spot for school field trips as well.
These botanical gardens are perfectly placed on the edge of River Sacramento. You can take a tour of the gardens and have a picnic. Also you should take the time off to walk along the river and enjoy some quiet meditation as you breathe in nature at its best. The gardens also offer a hall that can be hired for family reunions or special events.
This is a caldera lake which sits in an ancient volcano, located a few miles East of Mt. Sashta City. It offers great opportunities for sightseeing and recreation. Covering an area of about 600 acres, Medicine Lake is well-known for its crystal clear waters.
Yes, you read it right. The Lake Shastina Golf Resort takes care of all your golfing needs. This resort offers a stunning view of the mountain. In addition, other golf courses include the Weed Golf Course and the McCloud Golf Course.
I’m sure you’re all excited and eager to take on the adventure Mt. Shasta has to offer!
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