Mount Shasta Via Hotlum-Wintun Ridge

  • Updated: June 17, 2012
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

June 16th & 17th, 2012
Mount Shasta (14,179')

This weekend was originally planned as a quick three day Sierra climb to grab Brewer, North Guard, and South Guard over Sphinx Col until during the Steve Eckert proposed that we do a quick Shasta trip as a warm-up for the planned July climb of Mt Olympus.

Shasta is one of the 15 14,000+ ft peaks in California and therefore a very popular climb for the altitude hungry crowd.  I’d been invited to go before but always via the popular southern route called Avalanche Gulch and I was somewhat reluctant to burn two whole days getting to / from Shasta that could be better spent mucking about in the Sierra as far from any crowds as possible.

Steve however proposed coming in from the east and climbing the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge which I'd never heard of which always has appeal.  As an added bonus we’d only take 3 days if I could fly in to San Francisco and drive the rest of the way with him.

And it is one hell of a mountain from a distance.

I flew into San Francisco where Steve picked me up for the 5 -ish hour drive.

It actually gets somewhat less impressive as you get closer.

The subpeak to the left is Shastina.

Climbing above 10k on the mountain requires a summit pass.  This allows the locals to ski down lower.  We ended up at the 5th Season for the paid permit which had a reputation for being a good place to buy / fit boots.  I'm notoritiously difficult to fit due to odd feet proportions and they did a good job.  I actually bought a pair of La Sportivas.

The other annoyance on Shasta is of course the mandatory WAG bags.

Short for Waste Activated Gelling most people in California are familiar with them in the context of Whitney or Shasta since for most of the Sierra you can bury solid waste and only have to pack out your toilet paper.

Basically you open it all up, put down the sheet of paper (which has instructions on one side), do your business on it, dump it into the bag which has something resembling kitty liter, wrap it in the plastic bag, and then dump it in a trash bag and strap it on the outside of you pack.  And hope it stays cold because they turn rather ripe when they warm up.

Shasta's are actually better than Whitney since the sheet you lay down has a bonus target with a point system.  Comparing scores when returning to camp is optional but all but inevitable.

Also the included toilet paper is garbage so make sure and bring your own.

But that wasn't a concern until the next morning.  We ate a final meal at the Black Bear Diner and headed up the mountain.

Steve's car was able to reach most of the way to the trailhead in his car until we hit a patch of snow we didn't like the look of.  We might have been able to make it further but the actual trailhead wouldn't have saved us much.

We actually spent the first night camped here bivy'd off in the trees which was rather pleasant.

We got moving a little after sun up the next morning.  We weren't planning to summit that day due to the altitude only wanting to reach 10K so we were set up for the following day.  So no need for a pre dawn slog.

This is the actual Brewer Trailhead.  There's a bathroom and a self registration permit you have to fill out in addition to your paid summit pass along with a good number of map displays.

We were soon on patchy snow that improved quickly.

Eventually we were able to leave the rock entirely.

Finally!  Decent snow.

We were passed by a few skiers coming down.

There seemed to be an area most people were camped around 10k but I turn anti social when it comes to camping.  We headed a bit further up and set up in another area with a little protection and a lot more solitude.

It was still early in the day, about 1:30 pm and we briefly debated just pushing for the summit.  We decided it was best to wait for the next morning and decided to relax in camp.

We could see a large group further up and spent some time trying to figure out what exactly they were doing.  It seemed to involve a lot of flailing and sitting down but they didn't seem to be in any distress exactly.  We later found out they were a Boy Scout group and everything made sense.

It was windy enough we retreated into our bivys well before sun down but I popped out long enough to take pictures of the giant shadow the mountain throws on the surrounding terrain.

The night was breezy but we were plenty warm tucked behind the rocks in our bivy.

The next morning we were up before dawn.

Incidentally when it comes to WAG bags wind is a bit more of a challenge than your average cathole morning constitutional.

First off the high winds and relative lack of shelter meant you practically had to set up the target sheet then move a step or two upwind before doing your business.  Easy enough and adds an extra level of sport to the whole affair!  Less pleasant was the kitty litter type material in the brown bag which promptly blew everywhere the moment the bag was opened.  Steve and I both came back to camp spitting and wondering it it was toxic.

Doesn't look too hard...

We had crampons on right out of camp since the snow had frozen the night before.  We went straight up and cut across at the same shoulder all the tracks seemed to use right about where the N is on the USGS topo maps.

We could have jumped on the rocks from here but after looking at that vs the steep snow we decided the latter looked more fun.

We were on a headwall that had let go lower down.  Notice the avalanche down below and the skier chasing us up.  In fact everyone else we saw successfully climbing the route were carrying skies or snowboards.

There's still about 2000 ft from here and it's steep.  And since you're approaching 14k it's not easy going.

Eventually after much huffing and puffing and aching of calfs we popped up over the top.

It's a quick transition from this side.

We took our turn posing on the summit block for hero shots and visiting with people coming up from all sides.

There was a guide there with a young couple who had come up the north side with full crevace precautions though we heard due to conditions the risk was basically nil.  The woman seemed a little overwhelmed and you can see her lying down in some of the pictures.

There was a register but as with all peaks this popular it fills up too quickly to last any amount of time.

 Shastina down below.

People trudging up the last bit of the Avalanche Gulch route.

Now of course we had to get back down.  Steve glissaded some of it but I stuck to plunge stepping.

We dropped down to camp, packed up, and headed down.  No reason to sit around at 10K when we could be home with our respective girlfriends that night.

We glissaded where we could.  Steve had been on Shasta before and came prepared with pieces of foam to help move us along on the less steep sections.  Still we alternated between glissading and plunge running down the slopes.

We even ran into a ranger on the way down who checked our permits.

It was early afternoon when we made the cars which gave us plenty of time for a quick post trip mexican dinner in town and got us back into the Bay Area early enough to make the respective girlfriends happy.  Not a bad weekend!

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