Welcome to our newfangled Adventure of the Week series. From here on out, each Wednesday we’ll take a walk (or hike, bike, ski, surf, climb) in someone else’s shoes, from pro athletes to local Tahoe adventurers. Former Tahoe Mountain Sports staffer extraordinaire Nathaniel bats first in our line-up:
WHAT: Backcountry skiing on Mt. Shasta
WHEN: Friday July 2, 2010
WHY IT WAS SO EPIC:
Even with the 4th of July weekend coming up I wasn’t ready for the 09/10 ski season to be over. This time of year in California you can go hunt patches around Tahoe, deal with long, melted-out approaches on the Eastside, or you can go hit one of the premier backcountry ski peaks in the whole U.S., Northern California’s Mt. Shasta.
Its a big and intimidating mountain, and I was glad to go with Shane, a very experienced backcountry skier who has summited Shasta over a dozen times. Our route was the Hotlum-Wintun ridge, a very aesthetic 7,000 vertical foot route on east side of the mountain…
With the great snow year we had, the dirt roads leading to the Brewer Creek trailhead on the east side of Mt. Shasta are just now melting out completely. We were hoping to drive all the way to the trailhead, or at least close, but we found snow blocking our way at only 6,400 feet, still a couple miles from the summer trailhead. To cover the extra distance and not summit too late in the day we got an early start at 4:30am. The first couple miles consisted of hiking over patches of snow alternating with dirt road. As we approached the treeline, we got our first great views of the peak in alpenglow. We switched over to skinning as soon as there was enough snow and made our way up through the sun cups.
It was nice to get above treeline, but we still had a very long way to go to reach the 14,162-foot summit. As the sun rose higher, a breeze kicked up which helped save us from completely baking in the July sun. I was actually very comfortable in my Icebreaker Bodyfit 200 base layer and Patagonia Traverse light softshell most of the way up, although I did throw my hard shell over the top when things got more windy high on the mountain. We skinned up to approximately 11,000 feet where a steep and firm slope made us switch over to crampons and ice axes. From there, the final 3,100 feet of climbing were strenuous, but I finally summited at around 1:30pm. It was cold and windy on the summit with some clouds, so we didn’t hang around long. But needless to say that the views were pretty awesome sitting on top of a mountain that rises 10,000 vertical feet above the valley.
We quickly switched over to skis and started back down. The snow was a little refrozen and heavy directly off of the summit but softened nicely as we descended. The east faces were firm, so we stuck to a southeast aspect and enjoyed perfect corn snow for a large part of the run.I was glad I carried my Black Diamond Zealots all the way up there when I got to open it up on a smooth and soft 40-degree slope.
All in all, it was an awesome day, on a classic line. There are not many places you can sky 5,000 vertical feet of great corn snow from the summit of a 14,000-foot peak. It’s truly a special place, and I can’t wait to return next year.