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Mt Shasta - Approach timberlinetrails.net
Shown in the
image to the right
is the Avalanche
Gulch Route up
Mt Shasta. The
starts at Bunny
Flat (6,950 ft) and
then proceeds up
the mountain to
(14,179 Ft) for a
total elevation gain
of over 7,200 feet.
Most climbs up Mt Shasta use the Avalanche Gulch Route as seen above. During the summer months, there is a maintained trail
that leads from the parking lot at Bunny Flat to Horse Camp 1 3/4 miles away. During early season, you can make a direct path
over the snow to this first landmark. Best to get an early start, because on warm clear days the snow will get soft and sinking up to
your calves, or worse, will really add to the work of your approach. Lake Helen (marked near the center of the above image) is
the first day goal of most people climbing the mountain. Of course you do not have to stop at Lake Helen if you are in excellent
condition and have begun your climb early enough (around 2AM or so). People opting for this plan can and do make the return
trip to the summit and back in one day. But breaking the climb up into a day or more, is a good way to enjoy the beauty of the
mountain during different lighting conditions.
And it is especially nice to be able to take a
break and rest before pushing on to the
In the photo to the right you see climbers
making their approach through the lower
forest elevations, making use of natural
pathways in the snow. I have to say, that I
prefer early season to later on when it comes
to travel on Mt Shasta. We had warm
conditions in mid May 2009, and we did do
our fair share of sinking in the snow, but all
in all, early season snow travel is preferable
to dusty trails later on.
Another plus to climbing Mt Shasta, is that
the approach is fairly short. Only about 3 1/2
miles to Lake Helen.
As you progress through the forest section of
Mount Shasta, you will come across scenes
like this (to the left). They are a reminder of
the harsh weather that the mountain is able to
deliver. Bent over trees are a sign of heavy
snows and stiff winds.
Mt. Shasta's weather is variable. The
exposure to storms from the Pacific can result
in high winds and heavy snow accumulations.
Major storms can certainly occur at any time
of the year and Mt Shasta's solitary position
intensifies any existing weather conditions.
The word " Shasta" itself may have been
derived from the Russian word "tshastal"
meaning pure or white, and there is certainly
a lot of pure and white on the mountain.
Horse Camp Lodge (7,900 feet) is the first
notable landmark that you come to on your
approach when climbing Mt Shasta. From
the Sand Flat or Bunny Flat Trailheads, there
is a 1 3/4 mile trail (when snow conditions
permit) to the structure seen on you right.
The Sierra Club Foundation owns this little
historic Lodge at Horse Camp. It was built in
1923 and dedicated on July 4 of that same
year. Shasta Alpine Lodge (Horse Camp) is a
climbers' hut located on a 720-acre parcel
within the Mount Shasta Wilderness area. It
is also part of the Shasta-Trinity National
Forest. It is constructed primarily of
indigenous materials including volcanic rock
and Shasta red fir.
Visitors are asked to respect this private
property and to respect wildlife by not
bringing pets. During the late May through
The above little Alpine Hut is the destination for many
hikers during the summer months, and is a good stop off
point to those either coming or going from higher
elevations on the mountain.
There is also a little running spring (shown to the left
buried beneath the snow) at Horse Camp, and it ensures a
reliable source of fresh water. There are plenty of cleared
campsites available after the snow melts out, and a fire
ring in front of the hut that offers climbers and campers a
place to socialize during cool summer evenings. The
Phoenix solar-powered, composting toilet, which is also
located on the grounds, converts human waste into a
non-toxic end product, making it easier to practice low
impact camping. The stone structure itself houses a guest
register, a small library of mountain books, and displays
other pertinent information about Mount Shasta, including
a lost and found board for climbers.
Shown to the right is a photo of the inside
of Horse Camp's alpine hut. As noted
above, you see a little library of mountain
books, and several bulletin messages. In a
severe storm, this little building could prove
to be a lifesaver for those ill prepared.
Guests are welcome, but the Sierra Club
asks that you respect all the belongings of
the property, and leave the place the same
or better off then when you found it.
The Horse Camp hut and its surroundings
are a great place to meet and visit with
people. And in the final analysis, it is the
relationships that you build with people that
will count in the long run, far above any
summit goal you may attain.
About an hour and a half from Lake Helen, we
stopped to take a little lunch break. If takes lots of
energy to climb mountains, and physical
performance greatly suffers when you run out of
fuel. For more on this subject, check out our
article on "Eating in the Mountains"
Also note how Ben (in the photo to the right) is
making use of his Z-pad for insulation from the
snow. Once past Timberline (in the early months),
there is very little if anything at all to sit on. Sitting
in the snow can quickly soak pants bottoms and
put a chill into your bones. This bit of advice also
goes for camping out on the mountain. A barrier
between you and the ground is vital for any resting
or sleeping situation.
Well, that's about it for the initial approach information on
Mt Shasta. This is certainly not by any means the only
way to approach a climb on Mt Shasta, and there are
many other paths up Shasta, including technical glacier
routes on the north side of the mountain.
The Avalanche Gulch Approach is the most popular and
most widely traveled, and it is the route we have chosen
here. But if you are a frequent visitor to Mt Shasta and
you have already climbed this route, you may want to
explore other possibilities. There are many good books
available that will provide invaluable information on other
options for climbing Mt Shasta.
Shortly after leaving Horse Camp, you
break out of the forest and enter a land of
snow and ice (winter through early summer)
or barren rock. You are now above tree line
and there is little protection from the
elements. Things like UV sun protection,
wind, and other challenges come into their
own here. So hopefully you are prepared.
It is also more likely that you will sink into
the snow during the warmer parts of the
day, so cross country skis or snowshoes
may be a good option. We noticed a big
difference in staying on top of the terrain
when traveling through the forest (where the
provided shade from the trees kept things a
bit cooler) then when traveling on snow
sections out in the open.
Additional Timberline Trails Links for Mt Shasta
September climbing season Horse Camp is staffed by friendly, knowledgeable caretakers.We met a nice caretaker named Cindy
while on our trip in May of 2009.
From Horse Camp, the Olberman Causeway extends another half mile up the gulch. This stone walkway was constructed in the
1920s by Mac Olberman, the first Horse Camp caretaker. The Causeway is constructed out of some of the large boulders that
were found in the area.
The Topo Map shows
the Avalanche Gulch
Route up Mt Shasta.
The two red lines
near the trailhead
show the winter /
spring route on the
right (while the lower
sections of the
mountain are under
snow), and the route
to the left shows the
path that you would
take once the regular
trail has melted out.
The contour lines
show a steady ascent
pattern for essentially
the whole climb. The
one exception is the
summit plateau. There
things ease quite a bit
and you are able to
catch your breath for
the last summit push.
From Lake Helen to
the top of Red Banks
is the most difficult
part of the climb. This
section is usually
done during the
pre-dawn hours of the
morning. "The Heart"
area is the steepest
part of the entire
route. There you
encounter slopes that
reach angles of up to
Up until August (in
an average year),
crampons and ice axe
are essential for this
section. After that, the
slopes turn into a
miserable scree climb.