Shasta Climb – 2014

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Mt. Shasta from Clear Creek Springs – the summit doesn’t look that far away but it took us seven hours to get there

 

Overview of Our Climb…

Additional pictures

On August 28th Donna Bauer, Jack Fogelquist and Larry Fogelquist set out to climb Mount Shasta… Spencer Fogelquist elected to stay home and take care of Heddi.

Parameters of the climb… We took the Clear Creek route because it was the only route with water within our skill envelope. We drove north to Shasta and camped the night before climbing at the Clear Creek springs about 8,500′ up the mountain.
Next morning at about 7 AM we started climbing. It took us about 7 hours to reach the top. Total ascent was about 6,500′.  We stayed on the summit for about three hours before finally tearing ourselves away from the summit plateau about 5PM. We got back to camp about 8:30 PM so our descent took us about three and a half hours.

Okay… now for some of the detail…

I’ll spare you, our precious reader the detail of the drive up to Shasta.  I’m sure that you’ve driven up I-5 countless times.  It’s seldom more than an endless freeway ordeal with rest stops, fast food breaks and an overworked car AC.  This time though it was notable because the water level in Shasta Lake was unbelievably low.  We found it pretty hard to believe that just a few years ago we were cruising around on full lake in a houseboat.  But I digress…

Somewhere north of Lake Shasta we caught our first glimpse of Mount Shasta.  We could barely see it though all the smoke from the nearby wildfires.  But as it got closer I think all of us were a little humbled…   maybe intimidated is a better word.  It looked HUGE… and incredibly steep.  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

We eventually exited I-5 and made our way through a series of endless back roads… most of em dirt until we finally got to the Clear Creek trail head… You totally had to want to be there.  It was the Thursday before Labor Day so the parking lot was pretty empty.  We knew that the next time we saw it though, Labor Day would be in full swing and cars would likely be stacked on top of each other.  Time for some defensive parking… After taking an extra long time to get going (probably my fault), we hit the trail for the hike  in.

We had to ascend over 2,000 feet to get from the trail head to our campsite.  I did my best not to snivel but not sure how effective I was.  It was almost a three hour trudge in.  I count steps when I’m stressed hiking… and I counted steps all the way.  I calculated that 260 steps was equal to about a tenth of a mile.

Besides the whole climbing Shasta thing, this trip was notable cuz I was doing something I had sworn that I would never do… I decided to bring… and actually use, trekking poles.  I know a number of folks who swear by them… But I’ve always thought they looked lame and as everyone knows, who knows me… I’m pretty vain.  So how I look when I’m using outdoor equipment is important.  Well… long story short… I wanted to hate em… I tried my best to hate em… but it turns out that they’re pretty nice to have.  I’m mostly a convert now… which is embarrassing of course.

After what seemed like forever, we finally broke out of the forest for our first look at Shasta.

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The Thumb – highest point that Donna and I reached on our last Shasta climb

It was VERY big… this really wasn’t seeming like such a great idea now.

After a little more trudging, the grade got a little flatter.  And I started to feel my urge to live returning.  Then we saw the springs… Gettin’ to set this damn pack down wouldn’t be long now.

After selecting a place for our tents, we went about setting up camp…

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…and all the while Mount Shasta was looming menacingly over us.

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As I said earlier, there were wildfires all around the mountain.  That evening, we watched as smoke from a nearby fire engulfed the lowlands behind us.

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Smoke from a nearby fire creeping up the valley below

I was outraged because that meant we weren’t going to have much of a view tomorrow as we went up the mountain.  I’m SO tired of our back country trips being marred by smoke.  Donna and I are like fire magnets.  Our first Shasta trip… smoke from the Lassen Fires.  Our Lassen trip was smoke free but we were hiking through the forests that had burnt the year before.  Our first attempt to hike in Emigrant, cancelled by the Rim Fire.  This summer in Emigrant, smoke from a Yosemite fire… and now another fire near Shasta… Good grief… I think we may have to take up winter camping just so we can have some clear skies…

That evening we crammed as much dehydrated food as we could stand, into our bellies, sorted our climbing stuff so we could just grab it and go in the morning… and went to bed…

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Sunrise over the smoke at about 6:30 the next morning

The next morning, after I procrastinated as much as I could get away with, and the alpine glow of the sunrise just beginning to touch the top of the mountain, we headed out.

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Donna and Jack headin’ up the mountain

The snow had long since melted off the mountain – there were only glaciers remaining, and none on our route – so we climbed through what looked like a lunar landscape… higher and higher.  We marked our altitude gain by how much harder it got to breathe.

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Donna and Jack as the sunrise finally reached us

We looked up at Shastarama as it rose over a ridge.  Shastarama Point is 11,135 feet high… Seemed like we’d never be as high as that peak…

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…but shockingly soon we were even with the top of Shastarama…

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Next stop, Mushroom Rock, or as I liked to call it, Rubber Duck Rock… This is an odd shaped pyroclastic formation at about 13,000 feet.  It’s a landmark… a place to collect yourself and shift gears for the next 1,200 feet of climbing.

My climbing goal up to here was to maintain a thousand feet of elevation change per hour.  That lasted for about an hour.  Then it dropped to about 900 feet per hour for about three hours… At Rubber Duck Rock we (me mostly), was down to about 800 feet per hour.

After Rubber Duck Rock though, the character of the climb completely changes.  To this point, it had been really nothing more than a strenuous hike (with the emphasis on strenuous).  But from here on, us sea level dwellers are constantly doing battle with the thin air.  Keeping a watch on feet of elevation per hour was kinda pointless.   Also we changed up the route a bit so we could actually do some climbing instead of hike up switchbacks.  We chose to go straight up a headwall above Rubber Duck Rock (aka UFO Rock) which was actually a little class 4 climbing.  Not sure of the wisdom of that but we did it anyway.

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Donna proceeding up the rock headwall

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We got through the rock abutment and didn’t die… actually climbing that wall was a nice change of pace from the endless scree slopes below.

Now we could see the top right there… so it was onward to the summit…

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Our first up close and personal view of the summit

The top of Shasta is pretty complicated.  It’s not just climbing up until you can’t go up anymore… In fact on some routes you actually have to go down a little bit before the finish.  Of course that seems unimaginable.  I think the most prominent feature near the summit is the ‘summit plateau’.  This is a flat place bigger than a football field at the top of the mountain.  Actually I think it may even be MUCH bigger than a football field.

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Walkin’ along on the summit plateau… I said it was bigger than a football field… it might be bigger than two football fields

Donna and I hung out on the summit plateau for a while.  It’s a cool place with all these bizarre rock and ice formations.

Meanwhile Jack bounded off to the top.

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Jack at the top

So now I guess it was time for Donna and me to get off our asses and finish the job… Jack told us the way he went up.  I had studied the routes and knew that there was a trail to the top.  Wasn’t quite sure where it was though.  I couldn’t see it from where we were sitting.  And due to the altitude, I was too lazy to look around for it.  So Donna and I just did what Jack told us.  The altitude had not only sapped our strengths, but had compromised our judgement as well.  That’s okay though cuz what we did next was pretty fun.  A little sphincter puckering but still fun.

We climbed up to this little saddle between two high points on the pinnacle.  Then we saw this little essentially vertical chimney that snaked up the side of the pinnacle for maybe 30′ to the summit… Oy!  Really?!  I looked down… it was essentially space.  Say four or five hundred feet to the first bounce… Nothing to be gained by looking down though so I turned back to where Donna had been… Holy Shit!  She had already started climbing up the chimney!?  No hesitation!  I think pictures work better here than words…

Now it’s my turn I guess.  Time to man up!

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Jack and me at the top

 

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This photo is an instant classic. We may have to make it our Christmas card for this coming year… ‘cept Spencer is missing… sigh…

The GPS reading at the top.  This is the highest I’ve ever been under my own power…

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I had done more than a little preparation in the way of searches of the internet and reading about climbing Mount Shasta, and nowhere had I seen any mention of how difficult it was to get up the summit pinnacle.  I guess in retrospect, it wasn’t all that tough.  I mean there’s a damn trail up to the summit and all… But when we were sitting there breathless on the summit plateau, getting to the actual top seemed a bit troublesome.  I’m glad we went up the pinnacle the way we did though.  It really did make the climb.  Of course had we known we were going to be so creative, we probably would have at least considered bringing a rope, helmets, some beaners… to do it properly.  The altitude really did do a number on our judgement.

The summit itself has two high points.  I don’t know which one is higher so I made sure to stand on both.

Right next to the two summits is the summit register.  Besides the register, it had some cool stuff in it… a couple things were kinda funny for over 14,000 feet.

 

Oh… another thing about the summit plateau of Shasta is the fumarole.  I had heard about it before and while at the top I didn’t want to forget finding it… Well it turns out that it’s really not that hidden.  It’s right along the trail leading up to the top of the summit pinnacle.  If we’d gone up the easy way, we woulda walked right by it.  DOH!  We found it when we came down though.  It’s pretty sulfury so it’s hard to miss.  But it’s pretty clear evidence that Shasta ISN’T an inactive volcano.  It’s only dormant.

Hmmmmm… Now I guess we gotta figure out how to get down.  We took a different route down than we came up.  Instead of avoiding the scree slopes, we gravitated toward them.  But first we had to pick our way through this icky talus rock field.  While Jack and Donna were better at climbing, I’m better at descending so I ventured out ahead to see if I could pick a path.  The only problem was that once I committed to a route, there was no turning back if it turned out to be a mistake.  We couldn’t see our way down through the rocks so if I thought it was sketchy, I’d yell back up to urge Jack and Donna to not go the way I did… or yes, indeed, come this way.  For a little while we were out of earshot so relied on whistle signals as I scouted a route.

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We had to work our way down through this rock chute. I was able to stand upright here so took a picture of Jack struggling with me.

It was definitely no fun.  The rock would shift underfoot and at one point I was riding a slab of moving talus… sort of a rock avalanche.  I don’t think it was dangerous but it was definitely unsettling.

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All this at about 13,700 feet.  So we didn’t even have the luxury of getting much air to breathe as we struggled.   From time to time I would stop to pant and take some pictures though…

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This rocky section was just a jumble of talus

We did finally get through it though and proceeded down to Rubber Duck Rock.

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Rubber Duck Rock in the setting sun. It’s at about 13,000 feet. We were told by another climber at the summit that we’d start feeling like we could breath again when we got there. Not sure if we did though.

 

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Mushroom Rock

Now that  we got past Rubber Duck Rock, the going improved considerably.  We went from talus to scree… So now descending changed from gingerly picking our way through the talus to literally running down the slope.  Actually not sure if running best describes what we were doing.  It was more like somewhat controlled falling.  Jack and I took the lead.  Jack stayed right on my heels to try to keep above the dust I was kicking up.  I was using my trekking poles like ski poles.  Sometimes it really did feel like skiing.  Donna kept well back so as to stay out of our dust.  I stopped breathlessly about every 150 to 200 feet of elevation to catch up on my breathing.  It was amazing how fast we were coming down.

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My boots filled up with rocks

As we descended we stopped a few times to take pictures of the evening sights, snack a little bit, but mostly breathe.

The sun set so no more pictures.  The rest of the descent was pretty uneventful anyway.  It got darker and darker.  I was trying to preserve my night vision but Donna finally busted out her light.  I was secretly grateful cuz I kept tripping over stuff.  Jack navigated us back to camp.  Once in camp, we were too tired to make dinner.  But Donna and Jack had both carried in a small bottle of champagne (Donna) and three beers (Jack).  I felt bad for Jack cuz those beers were heavy.  But I could barely bring myself to suck down my share of the champagne.  Jack’s beer would have to wait.

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Then we all retired to our tents for some rest.

Next day…

Time to hike out… no hurry to get up so we all took our time… We cooked breakfast then packed up to leave.  Nothin’ to carry on about.  We all kept looking up at the mountain as we packed though.  The day before just didn’t seem quite real.

In the morning, the mountain was clear, bright and vivid.  You could see every detail.  You could even make out Rubber Duck Rock almost a mile of elevation above us… but then the smoke from the nearby fires began to envelop us.  Musta been a wind shift.  By the time we left camp, you could see maybe 300 yards, the air smelled like smoke and my eyes were burning.  But earlier that morning it had been so clear…

Mount Shasta - looking up the Clear Creek route
Mount Shasta – looking up the Clear Creek route

It was the beginning of Labor Day weekend so as we hiked out, the trail was full of climbers hiking in, intending to go up the mountain.  I was glad that we were done.  Any climbers that went up that day certainly weren’t going to have much of a view.

Pictures from that morning and the hike out…

I think we wanna do Shasta again… probably next year.  But this time maybe go in June or July so there’s snow and no forest fires.  We’re so OVER the fires.  Also I still want to go up the Cascade Gulch route.  It starts at Horse Camp, climbs to Hidden Valley.  Then for the actual climb up Shasta you go up the gulch between Shasta and Shastina, take a right to climb up the ridge next to the Whitney Glacier.  There’s a tricky spot towards the top right next to the foot of the glacier that I don’t know how to navigate.  But after that it should be fairly easy to get to the top.  We’ll see what we pull together next year.  It would be nice to get a couple acclimatization trips in before climbing though.   Would be nice to have a few more red blood cells.  I hope we get to do it.