On Sunday, 20 May 2012, the Alpenglow Sports Crew headed north to notch one more volcano for the season. After a barrage of volcanoes in Washington and Oregon, we’d be remiss not to hit our local hero, the beautiful and elegant Mt. Shasta.
But first, something really unusual happened this past weekend. No, No, it was not the ‘annular eclipse’ of the sun, although that was spectacular, but rather something that was almost as rare. You never will guess this rare occurrence, so let me tell you: the Alpenglow Crew arrived at the trailhead for an attempt at Mt Shasta’s SE side, EARLY; as in 3pm on a Saturday afternoon early. Unprecedented! Usually our summit pushes consist of packing up after work and arriving at the trailhead at 10pm, 11pm, 12pm, or later, power-sleeping for a few hours, and then getting to the task at hand. So, as you can imagine, this early arrival was quite a shock for us. We did not know what to do with our selves. But we found something…
After securing our Wilderness Permits, Summit Passes, and WAG Bags at the Mt Shasta Ranger Station, we pointed the Toyota towards the Clear Creek Trailhead on Mt Shasta’s SE side. Up the dirt road, and sooner than we hoped, we encountered a couple of deep snow patches about 5.5 miles in. Not to be deterred, we rallied the truck through them and drove a little further, winched a log out of the road, and drove some more. Finally, we really could not go any further and parked the truck by one very large, and deep, snowfield at about 5200ft. We took a look around, soaked in the magnificent panorama of Mt Shasta, assessed our route plan for the next morning’s adventure.
What’s the Crew to do with so much time and daylight on our hands? Well, duh; we started drinking beer then posted the empties up on a log for target practice with the .22 rifle. (All good road trip ski adventures include beer and rifles…) Anyway, ripping aluminum cans in half amused us for sometime until we started getting hungry. After picking up all the target practice refuse, we cooked up some vittles, Mac n Cheese with bacon/pineapple sausage. Around this time, a boat of Tahoe locals showed up to our “quiet” little trailhead. We shared introductions, beer, and route finding ideas, and then parted ways as the parking on “our” snowfield was limited and not flat enough for all of them. Tired, and just before dark, we crawled into our sleeping bags, swatted a few mosquitoes, and then drifted off to dreamland.
A 3:30am alarm is jarring, no matter what time you go to bed. We shook off the head splitting noise and rallied the troops. Breakfast was Greek yoghurt and pull-apart cinnamon bread from JJ’s Café in Old Station. That’ll wake you up! We slapped skins to skis, boots to bindings and we were off in the pre-dawn, skinning away from the truck. 300 meters in we took a right turn up a subtle drainage then milked this luge run until it petered out above the gorge of the Mud Creek drainage.
By this time, beautiful morning alpenglow illuminated Shasta and we turned out our headlamps. From tree line, at approx. 7500ft, we slithered up what seemed like the most direct line on the SE face. Despite plenty of snow on the route, i.e., skinning options, one “tactical error” by 2 of our intrepid explorers had them boot hiking the scree while the other Crew member took a 40 minute nap at the top of the his skin track and waited. Oh well; at 12,500ft we re-grouped, snacked, and pushed onward.
Meanwhile, the eerie clouds that had been floating above the summit all morning were now getting ‘stuck’ up there, stacking up, blocking the sun, and flattening the light. Strong, cold winds buffeted our sail of overhead packed skis and tore at our sweaty base layers as we boot packed the last 1500ft. The temperature had just dropped about 15F and we could not see the summit anymore. Should we push on? Yes! Of course!
Having seen only the Tahoe Locals in their numerous posses heading up, it was quite a shock to step around the south side of the mountain and not only get hammered by the increasingly cold wind but also be inundated by the hordes of climbers/skiers ascending the south side of Mt Shasta by the famous Avalanche Gulch Route. There was more than a dozen I can assure you!
After a brief summit pose, and a long lecture by the USFS climbing rangers posted up top asking all climbers for wilderness permits/summit passes, we finally clicked into our skis and dropped in a gorgeous couloir just meters from the true summit. “Sweet!, Freshies at 14,000 feet,” Stefan commented as he smeared into his turn. It was beautiful, carve-able “porn” snow.
Arching out of that dogleg, we traversed into a second, more North facing couloir, and were rewarded with several turns of creamy powder. Yummy. At the bottom of this one, we trenched a hard right to a huge hanging bowl filled with wonderful corn snow. The harvest was on!
“The best corn of the year!” Matt shouted as he passed me by, grinning.
At the end of this snowfield, and in order to avoid the prolific tracks of the Tahoe Locals, the Alpenglow Crew took a long traverse and a short hike to the west and then dropped into a more direct South facing bowl, drifting it all the way down to tree line. It was near perfect corn the entire way. “The best consecutive turns of the year!” Stefan exclaimed as he burned his legs to a stop. Here’s a kid who skis a lot, so that’s quite a statement.
Near tree line, the snow stayed solid and smooth but was super sticky and slow. We hung on to our toenails as we tried to find the “sweet spot”- not too far forward, not too far back, as we willed and lurched the skis through the remaining trees.
With a bit of luck, and some decent route-finding, we found our way to the top of “Hotwheels Gully” and railed it all the way back to the road and slid right up to the truck. Wow. What a day! We figured top to bottom was approx.. 9000ft of skiing- we only took our skis off twice, for a coupla short traverses on dirt and rocks.
In my book, that’s as good a value as our case of Rainer Beer was, and even more tasty! I’m going to try and make the trailhead camp Early from now on! We encourage all of you to get out and get skiing. It is GOOD out there!