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Mt Shasta - High Camp (Lake Helen) timberlinetrails.net
High Camp on Mt
Shasta is by far
and a way
Perched at 10,400
feet above sea
level, it proves to
be the customary
half way point on
the mountain. Lake Helen is not your typical lake. I have been to Lake Helen four times during different months, and I have never
seen any water there (although I have seen a cool photo taken in late September when the Lake was melted out in all its glacial
green tinged glory). In the photo above, we are camped in the blue tent closest to the foreground. On a good day there will be lots
of campers at Lake Helen. Here they are set up in a nice simi-circle. The tents provide for a colorful scene when viewed from up
higher on the mountain.
The snow in spring provides for a comfortable base for camping out, provided you have proper insulation below your sleeping
bag. Make sure you anchor your tent well. Stiff winds can come up, and the last thing you need is your tent coming loose and
tumbling down the slopes of Mt Shasta. The natural snow bank in the upper image, however, did provide for some wind
We started out at Bunny Flat around mid morning,
and got to Lake Helen around mid afternoon. As
soon as we get there, we set up our tent, and got
to work on getting our water supply all set up.
From past experience, I have found that my son
Ben and I need about five quarts of water for
summit day, while my son Sean usually needs far
less. But he opts to carry the same amount of
water, just in case someone else in the party needs
This means melting down nearly 5 gallons of
water when you add the cooking and cleaning
needs to the whole equation. This takes time. On
our last trip to Shasta, I brought along two stoves
and a couple of bottles of fuel to greatly speed
things up. The little "Pocket Rocket" stoves weigh
next to nothing, and work great for melting snow
and cooking dinner.
In the above image, you see me working on the task of melting
down snow using the two stove setup. To the left, you see
another teams cooking area. They used shovels to dig out
platforms for cooking, and some of the groups gear.
Even though we did not take along shovels, they could prove to
be life savers in the sad event of someone getting buried in an
avalanche. Another invaluable instrument for avalanche safety,
would be transmitters, beacons, and/or finders. Finders are
cool, but it is necessary for all in your party to have one in
order to be effective, and they need to be tuned into each other.
In the case of an avalanche, the involved individual needs to
press the "Find Me" button. Then the others in the group need
to press their "Find" button to locate the buried climber.
Shovels then come into play for digging a person out. Even
though this equipment is not mandatory on Mt Shasta, if you
have the funds (the equipment is not cheap, but
what's your life worth?) it would be a very
good idea to carry it. On some mountains,
authorities are beginning to require these
instruments in order for you to get permits to
In the photo to the right you see an image of
what comes next after Lake Helen as you
proceed up the slopes. The route marked with
the thin blue line represents the steepest section
of the climb at around 35 degrees in angle.
You want to actually stay more to the right as
you climb, and then head for the notch just to
the left of "The Thumb" in early season, or
head through one of the cliffs on the "Red
Banks" later in the season. The reason for this
is because the glacier on the other side of the
mountain (behind "The Thumb"), melts out
and leaves a nice big crevasse between you and
your next objective. This gap makes for a highly treacherous
crossing later in the season. Thus you need to bypass this
bergschrund (crevasse) by heading left through one of "Red
Many climbers carried snowboards or skis for the descent. In
the photo to the left, you see climbers all set up for the trip
down the mountain. Though I did not envy them on the way
up when they had to carry this extra weight, I have to say that
I got a bit jealous later on when watching them disappear into
the distance as we slogged through the soft snow. Some
climbers brought along cross country skis, and this option
proved to be the best choice of all. Cross country skis provided
efficient travel for both the uphill and downhill portions of the
To the right you see Sean and Ben walking out on
frozen Lake Helen just before turning in for the night.
We usually go to sleep around 7 or 8 pm when
mountaineering. This way we can get a nice early
alpine start in the morning.
The Shasta Climbing Ranger, who was camped along
side the rest of us on Lake Helen that night, made the
effort to come by each of our tents and answer any
questions we may have had. He also went over the
expected conditions on the mountain for the following
day. He encouraged us all to get started climbing by 2
AM so that we could make it to the summit and be
back to camp at Lake Helen by noon the next day.
Things had heated up substantially from the previous
week and an avalanche was a real possibility.
Another benefit of using Lake Helen for a short
layover before going to the summit, is to be
able to watch a beautiful sunset high up on the
mountain. Photos of Avalanche Gulch and the
upper Red Banks are best late afternoon.
These landmarks are usually washed out in the
morning, but come into their own just before
Even though a photograph can never do justice
to the real thing, it is still very worthwhile
grabbing your camera and taking some shots of
Shasta just before sunset. To the left, you see
the upper slopes of Mt Shasta nicely lit in the
late afternoon sun. The frosty rock formations
give the mountain a magical appearance during
this time of the day.
Additional Timberline Trails Links for Mt Shasta