Mt. Shasta Trip Report
Zack, Hoenig, and I did a one-day ascent of My. Shasta via the Avalanche Gulch route.
FeedbackBy Preston Hunt, 22 June 2003
The pictures, gear list, and heart-rate data from this climb are all available. {Additional comments from Zack in curly braces.}

Zack, Hoenig, and I did a one-day ascent of Mt. Shasta via the Avalanche Gulch route this weekend in just under 12 hours car-to-car (8 up, 3.5 down). Our total elevation gain was 7900 feet (summit is 14200 feet), and I burned 6700 calories along the way.

Hoenig and I left Portland around 4:30pm Friday, got mired in rush hour traffic, and ended up at the Bunny Flats trailhead just before midnight. Along the way, we carboloaded at KFC and stocked up on several thousand calories of snacks (Clif bars, gummy bears, powered donuts, swiss cheese, trail mix, bagels) at WinCo. At the trailhead we rendezvoused with Zack (who had driven separately from San Francisco) and agreed to wake up at 2:30 the next morning.

After 2 hours of pretty bad sleep in the back of Hoenig's Jeep, we got up at 2:30 and prepared our gear. Alpine starts always seem to take an hour to get ready, and this trip was no exception. Despite our best efforts to get going by 3:00, we weren't on our way until 3:45 pm. We thought we were following the trail to Horse Camp and were pleased when we popped out of the trees directly into a gulley. We later learned that early in the season you can bypass Horse Camp by following a route that becomes a river when the snow melts.

Our general strategy for the entire climb was to climb 1000 feet and then rest for 10 minutes. Zack started to fall behind when we hit the steeps due to the heavy tele gear that he was carrying (he would lag us for most of the climb but had the last laugh on the descent when he whizzed past us on his skis). Hoenig and I had extremely light summit packs (basically clothes, safety gear, crampons, helmet, ice axe, trekking poles, and food).

Conditions were ideal throughout the climb. The snow was crisp and firm for the entire ascent, turning to slush at the lower elevations only in the late afternoon (which made for easy plunge stepping on the way out). {Z: note what this implies for coming down on skis --> major quad burn trying to deal with the ice} We all started out hot, but slowly added more layers until we were fully clothed at the summit (which was quite windy and cold -- around 21 degrees F). The sun rose a couple of hours after our start, which we were glad for, but unfortunatey we didn't benefit from the warmth until somewhere between Helen Lake and the Heart when the sun had risen enough for its rays to reach us.

All of us started to feel mild AMS at 12500 feet, no doubt a result of our rapid ascent from sea level within 12 hours. Our pace slowed considerably until we were really winded: It was slow going from Misery Hill to the summit. Luckily, we had budgeted 4 hours for the last 2000 feet of climbing and came in well under that.

Zack and I were both wearing heart rate monitors and were surprised that our hearts didn't race at the higher elevations (less oxygen = faster heart to get the same amount of oxygen). Instead, I found that I started to get winded at around 75% of my max heart rate, and thus endeavored to stay below that. At sea level, I am able to push my heart easily to 90-95% max without feeling too bad. {Z: I had a similar experience and max'ed out my heart rate at 173 bpm.}

Hoenig and I beat Zack to the summit by about 20 minutes but felt too sick to hang around and wait for him. Our descent was pretty standard: We limped back to the bottom of Misery Hill at which point the thicker air started to make us feel better. Hoenig was feeling the effects of elevation much worse than I was and puked right above the Red Banks. Of course, we were well above the timberline so there wasn't much in the way of privacy for him and a guided group of people that following right behind us had front-row seats to the action. One of the clients asked "are we going to go down now?", to which the guide responded, "Let's let him go first." I guess the guide figured that Hoenig needed to get down worse than they did.

The snow was still hard all the way to below Red Banks which was pretty hard on the knees. A glissade path was available from the Heart down to Helen Lake, but I eschewed it, not wanting to trash my pants. Hoenig, wanting to get down at all costs, took the glissade option and beat me to Helen Lake by about 10 minutes. We waited for Zack at Helen Lake but he didn't see us and zoomed by on his teles. Snow quality was great from Helen Lake all the way to the trailhead, both for skiing and for plunge stepping. I made great time out and the soft snow was very easy on the knees. We passed literally hundreds of "2 dayers" on their way up to Helen Lake. When we had reached Helen Lake that morning, I was surprised to see how few tents were up there. It seems that a Saturday-Sunday climb is the most popular option for climbing Shasta. If I were to do it again, I would definitely climb Friday-Saturday or avoid the Avalanche Gulch route entirely.

{Z: Conditions for skiing down were very poor at the summit. There are two options to ski from the top - 1) off to the east one can walk down a scree area and drop in - I didn't take this route as I wasn't sure it'd end up where I wanted to go and did feel like hiking more 2) drop off the SW side (right where you come up to the peak) - there are tons of options once one departs from here. I opted to start just beneath the peak (right at the base of the peak) and went down Misery Ridge and then through a SUPER narrow chute in the Red Banks. As I mentioned, the conditions sucked above 11k, but once I popped out of the chute above Helen Lake things got a little better. By the time I was at 11,500 ft. I was smiling - FRESH turns!!! The turns one could make on this stuff were uber-nice and it was oh sooo soft. Brings joyful tears to my eyes. At that point it was all worth it - ok, maybe not all worth it - if I was going to just get good tracks I would have stopped just above the Red Banks. Carrying the planks and ski gear to the top was more of a challenge than anything, plus I wanted to have the "top to bottom ski down Shasta experience" (or thought I wanted to have it ;-) ). }

Strangely, even though we all felt that this climb was the hardest physical thing we had ever done, we all got our second winds at the lower elevations and were feeling fine (although quite tired). (Indeed, Hoenig and I went on a 20-mile mountain bike ride in Portland the next day.) Also, we ate surpsingly little on the climb. For breakfast, I had a banana, 2 pieces of cheese, and half a diet Pepsi. Throughout the hike I ate 2 Clif bars, 3 Gu, 4 cheese slices, and a bunch of Gummi Bears. That's not a lot of food! Hoenig and I had also mixed up some Cytomax in a 16 oz. water bottle at about twice the recommended dosage. We affectionately referred to this mixutre as "the concentrate" and it seemed to help. It was definitely strong stuff; when I first quaffed it, I was momentarily possessed by that involuntary head shake that one gets when eating or drinking something with a kick (wasabi comes to mind).

Fortunately, our biggest fear for the climb never came to pass: I am speaking, of course, of the high-altitude dump. On a previous climb up Shasta, I was overcome by rumblings in the nether regions at 13,500 feet and was forced to take emergency measures. As I mentioned before, there is no privacy whatsoever up there, forcing me to take care of business in plain view of everybody. Shasta has a strict "pack it out" policy and issues little plastic bags with kitty litter inside them when you register for your climbing permit. Needless to say, this is a pretty unpleasant process that is best avoided if possible. And I haven't even talked about the pack funk yet...

We got back to the cars at 4:00pm and enjoyed the sun and the breeze while packing up our gear. We replenished our reserves by snarfing down pizza in the town of Shasta (thanks Zack for treating!), and then embarked on the long, boring drive home. Hoenig and I were both dog tired but managed to make it with generous helpings of coffee and Pepsi. {Z ditto, needed a cup o'Joe to make it back to San Fran.} We made it back to Portland just after midnight, bringing our 32-hour odyssey to an end.

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