Peak(s):  Mount Shasta - 14,162 feet
Date Posted:  06/12/2012
Modified:  11/01/2013
Date Climbed:   06/06/2012
Author:  lordhelmut
Additional Members:   mtnfiend, aHudge, benners
 Skiing in the Cascades: Lessons on Humility   

Mount Shasta - 14,162 feet

Mount Shasta (14,162) - Avalanche Gulch (Misery Hill -> Left of Heart Variation)
Total vertical skied = 8,000 feet
Prominence = Most I've ever laid eyes on
Skiers/Climbers = Ben (Benners), Rick (Mtnfiend), and Alex (Ahudge)

Mount Shasta was a bit of an out of body experience, at least for me, and I'm pretty sure I can say the same for Ben, Rick and Alex. We embarked on a journey to the Pacific Northwest with plans to climb and ski Rainier, Adams, Hood, Baker and all 3 of the Sisters outside Bend in a 10 day period. Chris Davenport did twice that in nearly as much time 2 weeks prior, so we naively assumed it could be done. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is supposed to plan a 2 week trip in May, in the Cascades and get 14 straight days of bluebird, summer-like conditions, immediately followed by 3 whole weeks of apocalyptic, hurricane force, whiteout conditions. That's what we experienced for 7 of the 10 days. Anyways, good for Chris, as he really knows how to pick em.

I did say 7, though, and since we all view ourselves as glass half full types, we made sure we took advantage of whatever weather windows Mother F'ing Nature sent our way. After getting nearly blown off the Fuhrer Finger the day prior at 12,000 feet, the 4 of us sat in the Whittaker Caf somewhat dejected, contemplating our future. We went back and forth for at least a hour until Ben pulled up the Shasta 72 hour forecast. We actually saw a sun, with blue behind it and nothing else, for 48 straight hours. It was a sign and it meant a little detour. None of us were thrilled to put nearly 3 years of planning and anticipation on hold to hit a peak completely off our radar, but it was the first sign of hope since landing in Washington on the 1st.

We loaded up the Dodge Grand Caravan and made our way South, hitting every Chipotle and REI we could find en route. After a quick stop in Portland for maps, burritos and other misc items, we made one last stop in Medford, before reaching the Shasta parking lot and crashing for the night.

full moon

A hauntingly beautiful night

The morning brought a much welcomed sight.

Shasta in all her glory

Now that's more like it. Enough can't be said when waking up to the sights, sounds and smells of a clear, clean, crisp morning in the mountains, after being socked in for days. Shasta had always been an afterthought in my mind, taking its place behind the Northern Cascade volcanoes. This proved foolish logic, as this was one of the most inspiring, uplifting scenes of my life.

"Wake up in there, we've got blue sky a**holes"

artistic view of our campsite

non-beetle kill forests are cool

We obtained our $20 climbing permit, filled out our wilderness camping permit and were on our way from the Bunny Flats Trailhead, departing around 10am for the 3,500 slog to the Lake Helen campsite at 10,430 feet. We only had to shoulder our skis for maybe 150-200 yards down trail before hitting skinnable snowline. This was our first time in the region, and the trees really caught our attention. Some of them seemed perfectly symmetrical.

symmetrical trees

And the views to our backs weren't too shabby either as we crested tree line.

looks like a nice ridge traverse

skinning up to Lake Helen

It was pretty hot on this day, Avalanche Gulch serves as an alpine convection oven, and there is no escape. We all applied multiple levels of 30-50 spf sunscreen and we all still got fried. My recommendation is to just cover yourself with zinc and just deal with it.

We reached a snow covered Lake Helen in 3 hours or so and watched some of the afternoon skiers make their turns down the Gulch. A digging of the sites was in order....

Rick getting friendly

Try not to judge Rick in image 11, I think after 5 days around one another, him and Alex got pretty close. Regardless, their tent construction exceeded ours tenfold, so I guess they can play grab ass all they want.

our basecamp

After setting up camps and melting some water, Ben, Alex and I decided to go for a late afternoon tour up the hill a ways, while Rick took a load off. The westerly facing aspects were breakable crust, so we used that for climbing and then reached a rock outcropping about 1,000 feet up, where we took off the skins and got some surprisingly nice turns back down to camp.

skinning up for some late afternoon turns

looking down at camp

Alex showing why he's in charge

It was time for a much needed dinner and we feasted pretty well, with Ben and I splitting a big bag of 4 Cheese Tortolini and Rick and Alex braving some Backcountry Pantry entrees. As the temps dropped, the Jetboils worked less and less effectively, so melting water became a chore.

Dinner Time

After enjoying the sunset.....

Campsite view sunset

We called it an evening with an early wakeup alarm in anticipation of BLUEBIRD WEATHER. Well, we should've known better.

Sometime around 3:30am, a few gusts of wind hit the tent and woke us up. We all figured this would pass and we'd get to experience the forecast we drove all the way down here for shortly. Well, not 15 minutes later, gust after gust hit the tent, sending blowing snow underneath the fly and creating a thick layer of snow accumulation on the tent and in the sleeping bags. After we reached our first breaking point, Ben and I sat up, numb to the snow blasting our faces, just staring off into nothing, wondering what the hell was going on. After we reached our second breaking point, a snow drift had conveniently begun to form inside the tent body and one of the vestibules was basically under 2 feet of snow. This forced us out of the tent and into Rick's 4-Season Sierra Designs. We laid there with pretty miserable looks on all our faces, wondering if we should go out in this or not. Ben and I, now tent-less, figured we'd stand a better chance out there than down here, so we packed up and just went for it. Rick and Alex said they would catch up in 5 to 10 minutes, which they did.

After making it around 1,500 feet up the Gulch, the winds didn't seem as bad now, but we could see what we had in store ahead, with the ridgelines just clouded with blowing snow. Is this what we get for driving 8.5 hours out of the way? Thanks Mother Nature, you can be so kind sometimes.

At least the sunrise was solid.....

Morning shadow alpenglow

We were able to skin pretty much up the entire amphitheatre with relative ease and then were forced to shoulder our skis about 100 feet below "The Thumb". After some rime ice, class 3 to 4 scrambling, we reached the wind blasted ridgeline. But the views improved, which was nice.

Sailboat Effect

With our skis now on our backs, the sailboat effect made our progress arduous, so around the base of "Misery Hill", we donned skins and switchbacked up the slope. Misery Hill takes on a new meaning when you have sustained 30-40 mph winds and some 50-55 mph gusts. The rime ice bulge features made for some surreal climbing venues, and helped me forget about the commotion engulfing us. We took one last quick break, where we lost sight of Alex and Rick, and were finally able to enjoy some Reces Pieces, Emergen-C concoctions, and some Pringles in relative peace and harmony.

This was short lived, as the strongest of the gusts awaited as just below the final summit pitch, which I shall refer to as "The Grundle Field" (a shortened version of Long's Boulder Field, covered in rime ice bulges and a smoking plume of sulfur emitting foul stenches nearby). As we stashed our skis, I thought to myself, "well, Ben's finally done it. Guy went ahead and shat his pants and we are pretty far from a change of clothes". I felt bad for the guy, till we crested the hill and noticed sulfur misting out of a cave, 150 feet below the true summit. My mistake Ben.

nearing the finish line

The stench didn't seem to deter our new friend, Andrew, who was the only other climber that day who made it past Misery Hill. Having been here before, he showed us the easy traverse around the Grundle Field and the backside of the summit ridge to the summit. This was nice, as the summit wasn't obvious to either of us and saved us some time.

We reached the surprisingly very unique, exposed summit and let out a rather large sigh of relief, as this would end up being 1 of only 2 summits we would reach on the entire trip.

National Geo shot on the summit

Aside from the lack of possibility of a summit ski descent, one thing I realized about Shasta was that it's a skier's mountain, where Rainier is more of a climber's mountain. The number of potential lines that shoot off this massif is overwhelming. The turns were phenomenal straight out of the gates.

skiing down Misery Hill with a nice backdrop

spindrift deposited powder

We skied a kind of variation of Misery Hill, staying far skier's left, enjoying some spin drift deposited turns for a couple hundred feet, before swinging hard right back to the ridge and the Trinity Chutes. We opted to take the Left of Heart Variation, as opposed to the middle Trinity Chute, since we were a tad worried about the wind and new snow. They looked pretty loaded. What we decided to ski was loaded, but we didn't have much of a choice in the matter.

Here is Richard giving a quick free clinic on how to ski a tight chute......

Rick eyeing his line

making short work

and ripping out the exit

We skied down the flanks of the Red Banks, which loomed overhead as kind of a "Rime Palisades" similar to the aesthetic features of Keplinger's Couloir. Only difference is we had 4,000 vertical feet of powder, so we took advantage and opened up our turns big time. If you like wide open, GS turns in the backcountry, ski Shasta. I've never experienced anything quite like it. Hands down the best snow I've ever skied out of bounds.

blowder powder with a rime encrusted Red Banks

Ben showing how small we really are

About halfway down, it transitioned perfectly to corn and we skied right down to camp. Upon arrival, we noticed that the Marmot Limelight 3 had been literally ripped to shreds. Had I known conditions were going to be like this, I would've brought a 4-season, I guess you can't put all your faith in a forecast in the PNW.

This was neither here nor there though, as our endorphins were riding high somewhere up on cloud 9. Mangled tent aside, I've never reached that level of euphoria before and with that simple fact, I'm calling this the single best ski descent of my life. Ben more or less agreed and Rick and Alex's giddiness revealed their opinions on the matter as well.

This shot speaks for itself.....

Rick is a proud man

The wind was still pounding us pretty hard as we packed up, making it a royal pain in the ass. But just as Rick attached the final piece of gear to his pack, the wind completely subsided and it was at that moment we realized that mother nature was doing this on purpose. Davenport can have his 14 day PNW weather window in May, the Fuhrer can give us the Finger, we can drive 16 round trip hours to salvage the trip, the clouds can block out view of all objectives for all 10 days of the trip, we can climb and ski in a near hurricane force storm, but I couldn't let this one go, this was too much of a coincidence. This mountain was alive and it was toying with us. Doug Coombs once said

"These mountains are alive and they'll make you more alive. Or they'll make you dead. You need to read them cause there's always bad luck, its always just there".

I couldn't help but think about this, feeling as if the mountains were trying to tell us all something. We couldn't figure it out. We weren't being dumb, we weren't cocky, weren't reckless, weren't immature, but then I guess none of this matters when you are talking the unpredictable weather of the Pacific Northwest. I'm sure there are more unforgiving corners of the world and larger trips, expeditions and years of planning ruined due to storms, so it's good to keep this all in perspective.

Anyways, this was a humbling experience and a learning one at that. We spent the majority of the rest of the trip trying to avoid the storms, unsuccessfully. We were able to find some pockets of reprieve in the trees outside Bend and on South Sister, but more importantly, we were able to enjoy one another's company and see parts of the countryside that was new and exciting to most of us. It was fun to straddle the crest of the Cascades, with the lush, green valleys of the western side and the dry, sage infested, pine tree forests of the east. Bend and Eugene were cool towns and we got a historical lesson on the Timberline Lodge, a place I've personally looked forward to seeing since Kubrick's "The Shining". At the very least, it was 10 days NOT spent in a cubicle.

At the end of the day, a good one of these will always help you forget a good old fashioned wind storm....

Post Climb grub

Thanks for reading.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

you really had to put that
06/13/2012 05:08
picture of rick playing grab ass in there didn't you?

great time Brian... that weather was rough, but damn that snow was good.


06/13/2012 05:17
Brian, my interpretation would be that the Cascades were making you work for this one so you would appreciate it properly... which you obviously did. What an awesome trip, what a great writeup, love the pictures! I have some other friends who are going to Shasta soon, and I'll be in the PNW next week. You've got me stoked big time.

BTW: Did you and Ben ever act on that restaurant idea you had...?


Thank You
06/13/2012 11:35
I needed that. Congrats on a great trip and summit. Those shots of skiing powder in June are unbelievable. Shasta has been on my list since I climbed Rainier....I think next year a Hood/Shasta trip is in order. This just gets me stoked even more. Awesome report Brian.


06/13/2012 13:25
Awesome TR for an awesome looking climb. This one's gotta go on the list.

Kevin Baker

06/13/2012 13:40
Congrats on braving the winds of mighty Shasta and getting it done! Was your ski line climbers left of the Red Banks? My experience on the summit plateau was quite similar as the wind was ripping through there. It was the stiffest wind I've ever experienced. I have a lot of respect for the Pacific NW volcanoes. It seems like Shasta catches a lot of weather for sure off the ocean.


Nice man
06/13/2012 13:46
Awesome to read, thanks for putting this together!


Love the relief
06/13/2012 13:59
Sweet report, Brian. So happy to hear you guys tagged and skied Shasta. Spectacular mountain. You guys had much better pow than we did May 20. Plus, you guys didn't have the 250 person conga line up Avi Gulch we had to duck & dodge. Glad there are peaks like Shasta, Rainier, etc with that much relief with the lower 48. You guys sure persevered and came out on top. Well done dude.


Red Banks shot
07/29/2013 18:29
Love it! Amazing how much snow is up there still. Shasta was the first 14er I ever did, 27 years ago, thanks for bringing back some great memories!

Summit Lounger

PNW relief
06/13/2012 14:17
The volcanoes of the PNW have awesome relief. Even the 10k peaks are impressive. Your report stirred up some old memories. Congrats on a great trip and for posting.


Nice Summary
11/01/2013 20:39
Definitely does the trip justice, I had a great time up there with you guys! Despite the weather being less than ideal over the eight days we were there, I'd say we hit this one as good as it gets, which is satisfying as a consolation. You win some and lose some, and on Shasta I'd say we managed to eke out a victory. Nice TR Brian.


14 Straight Days of Bluebird Weather ...
06/13/2012 14:45
8) You know, Brian, funny you should mention it but that phenomena is exactly what suckered us in to moving up there. I can honestly say that climbing in the PNW (and specifically the volcanoes) changed my life in a good way. That 1960's greenery that covers everything, the glaciers and crevasses, the moistness of the air, the big trees, starting out the climb in tevas and shorts with grass and flowers and ending up on the rime-ladened summit in crampons and ropes abound with views (not to mention that added thrill of an active/inactive stinky volcano to boot... and, what is it about the PNW that makes everything taste better from beer to food. Great report. Sorry about the tent. Looking forward to more from you (and your ilk) from this part of the country. Happy trails!


”Wake up in there, we've got blue sky a*
06/13/2012 14:55
Frikkin hilarious!

Sorry to hear you guys didn't get to hit all you planned, but glad it worked out just the same. The scale in these pics is amazing.

And you are right Brian, 7 days of bad weather certainly beats 10 days in a cube. Congrats guys!


Thanks all
11/01/2013 20:41
Alex - Rick's lazy ass never sent me shots, when he does, I'll get more of you ripping around. But I used most of your shots, so it all evens out.

Matt - goodluck out there, forecast is looking more promising, I'm not gonna even bother looking at it anymore, but looks like its settled. As for that restaurant idea, it might work in some 3rd world country, probably not in the States, haha.

Eatin and Bean - Thanks guys. Glad this inspired you to put on your lists. Definately one you shouldn't overlook. Rainier grabs all the attention, but Shasta probably holds all the goods.

Kevin B - Thanks man. Sounds like the winds weren't unique to our trip. Good to know others can relate. Our chute (Ben and me) was at the very top of the Red Banks, descenders right. Rick's line was descender's left.

jcm5040 - Thanks for the comment!

Brandon - We heard from others on the mtn that the snow conditions sucked a week before, so that made it all the more sweeter. 250 people on Avy Gulch sounds like hell, there was maybe 10 and then only 4 above Misery Hill the whole day. I guess we got it better than we realized. Thanks for the comments!

49ersRule - Thats a long time ago my friend, but I imagine its the kind of summit you remember for life.

Greg - You are correct, the relief is mesmerizing and yes, the 10ers in Oregon, had we been able to see them, look pretty damn cool with tons of vert. Its nice on your lungs to start at 5k and end at a Colorado trailhead. Your body seems a lot more in tact when you are done the day.

Presto - Nice description. As much as I'd love to move there, I think that unpredictable weather would drive me insane. I don't mind the overcast and the lush green valleys it produces down low, but up high, I don't know. Plus I'd miss the Gores and San Juans. Thanks for the perspective.

Ben and David - Thanks guys!


06/13/2012 15:35
I plan to do Shasta in Sept from Avy Gulch, it was good to read your experiences on the mountain, but it will be a different beast by then, hopefully the weather will cooperate for me as I will get only a few days to try. Nice TR!


Nothing wrong with a little grab ass...
06/13/2012 16:09
It keeps everybody loose - figuratively not literally.

Thanks for telling your story.

Tent-Bound > Office-Bound


06/13/2012 16:22
Have always thought Shasta would be incredible to ski. Nice work guys, and thanks for the great write-up and pictures!


Welcome Back
06/13/2012 16:26
Way to perservere and make the most of your plans. Too bad you'll have to go back for Rainier. I'd go with but I don't think I can keep up on the descent. Congrats on a well earned and appreciated summit. Now put the planks away for a few months and let's go find some trouble.


06/13/2012 16:53
But glad you guys got some good vert in good conditions. Wishing I could make a trip out there right about now as its going to be a long summer here in CO. I have a failed attempt of south sister a few years back due to weather that needs some closure. looking forward to the report. you guys wanna make a long weekend for Hood in the near future? Flights are running 250ish


06/13/2012 17:55
Can't describe my jealousy of the pow turns you got over there. Definitely gonna make a trip to those peaks some day. Great work helmut and crew.


06/13/2012 18:06
Great TR. Love the pics. Shasta was some of the best turns of my life, too.


Regardless of the weather......
06/14/2012 02:02
That was still a great way to spend 10 days. Don't worry dudes, we'll go back.

So many good photos from the trip, and that day in particular Brian. I'm surprised you could narrow it down to 30!!

I'd volunteer to play grab ass with mother nature to get perfect weather if I knew where.....

Edit: Here's a couple of alex skiing


06/13/2012 18:43
Great TR - I would love to get Shasta some day and now thanks to your report I want to ski down it to.


Great report!
06/13/2012 19:28
Yeah, funny how the memory fades re: what a different environment the PNW is for climbing. Great job, really well done report. Thanks for sharing!


Cool and all
06/13/2012 20:21
But c'mon. Half-a$$ed reports like this should go in the ”conditions” section.

Bummer about the weather - still a good looking peak and climb.


06/13/2012 21:15
Agree with Eric and Floyd - cant describe the jealousy of those turns and way to persevere. Very very nicely done you guys and awesome TR Brian. I can't decide if Hawaii was still the better move?! Now we are both back in CO, let's go!


Has to be said
06/13/2012 21:21
Not because of the active thread about TRs, but just because it should be said: a lordhelmut TR is always a bright spot in the dimming universe of TRs. On the first vacation I took as an adult, I visited my cousin who lived in northern CA -- essentially my first time west of the Mississippi. When we drove by the snow-capped Shasta, and she mentioned that people climb it, I was amazed! I'd never thought about climbing mountains like that before. And it wasn't until years later that I started. Your report revived thoughts about climbing it someday. Thanks!

Steve Knapp

Well Done
06/13/2012 22:08
What a cool adventure and great culmination of your road trip. I've noticed the unsettled weather in the PNW this month while we have drought and fires. Didn't know you were out there though. Hey at least you got a sweet powder run on Shasta, better than anything here all winter and in June no less.

Great report!


not so bad
06/13/2012 22:54
Maybe I do ”like” this report. It's okay, I guess.
Stellar photos for sure.
Nice job guys!
Grab ass with Mother Nature. Hmmm....I bet she comes out on top every time! ;)


Well done!
06/14/2012 16:14
That's sweet that you guys were able to adapt the plan and be rewarded for it. Shasta looks awesome. Bummer about the Washington weather. The 3 groups of friends (you, Pritz's group, Bean's group) that have made a ski attempt on Rainier all got hosed by the weather. At least you still got to ski a 14er! That picture of Alex and Rick explains why the two of them stayed in the tent Sunday morning on Rainier. Thanks for the clarification.


06/16/2012 00:35
Your trip sounds strangely similar to mine, we didn't even make it north of Portland though. Shastas an amazing ski, not a bad detour at all for us either.


Very nice
06/17/2012 02:21
Great TR, and amazing photos.


06/22/2012 04:56
Finally had a chance to sit down with a good IPA and read this, and I thoroughly enjoyed it (the beer, too). Awesome photos as well. And I love your perspectives and philosophies; they're right on. If you ever come back for Baker, our door's open and my fridge is always filled with good beer.

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2017®, 14ers Inc.