Mt. Shasta & Rafting the Trinity River
July 30, 2017
“When I first caught sight of it (Mt. Shasta) over the braided folds of the Sacramento Valley
I was fifty miles away and afoot, alone and weary. Yet all my blood turned to wine,
and I have not been weary since”
John Muir, 1874
Mt Shasta, 14,179 ft., approximately 12 miles via Avalanche Gulch
Mt. Shasta is an iconic stratovolcano in northern California, the penultimate southern peak of the Cascade Range and the recent object of our attention/affection. Our band included daughter Mary, friend (and biking buddy) Steve and as many fellow pilgrims as California could gin up on a beautiful mid-July weekend. The mountain, which last erupted in 1786, sits at the head of the Sacramento Valley and is a spectacular transition out of the Central Valley.
Summer of Love reprise
We arrived at the trailhead at Bunny Flats, to a reprise of the ’67 Summer of Love transported several hundred miles and 50 years from the original venue in San Francisco. These young people were tanned brown, playing with hacky sacks, and talking about the relative quality of brown acid – I’m not kidding. Their grandparents were probably the original denizens of the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco, and these young people may be well on their way to evolving into a new and unique sub-species of human. Only time will tell.
Shasta is regarded as one of the 7 great spiritual mountains of the world – the others being Mt. Fuji (Japan), Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Kailash (Tibet), Mt. Sinai (Egypt), Mt. Taranaki (New Zealand), and either Mt Everest (Nepal) or Inyan Kara (Black Hills, SD). The Native Americans never climbed above tree line – out of respect for the Creator, leaving the first summit by a party of 12 led by Captain Elias Pierce in August of 1854.
John Muir was an early aficionado of Mt Shasta, climbing it in April 1875, and was caught in an early summer blizzard. He and a friend found warmth in a couple of hot springs near the summit.
“In the early stages of the night, while our sufferings were less severe, I tried to induce Jerome, who is a hunter, to break out in bear stories or Indian adventures to lessen our consciousness of the cold…We lay flat on our backs, so as to present as little surface as possible to the wind. The mealy snow gathered on our breasts, and I did not rise again to my feet for seventeen hours.” Sounds like a long cold night.
Mary heading into Horse Camp
This Mt. has seen a huge variety of climbers, including Alma Cousins, of Redding CA, who rode her horse, Jump Up, to the summit in 1903, guided by Thomas Watson. There is no record that this equestrian feat has ever been duplicated; that’s quite a woman, and really quite a horse.
1903, Alma Cousins climbs Mt. Shasta on her horse
Our approach and climb went up the snow fields on the south side of the mountain; the Avalanche Gulch/Climbers Gully from Bunny Flat route. This is a steep 7,000 vertical ft. climb, up icy snow fields carved up by snow cups, rock slides and glissading chutes – tough footing and slow going. Nothing about this climb requires being roped-up, but it is a steep and long slide if you mis-step, so ice axes and crampons are required gear.
Steve and Mary enjoy an early dinner at Horse Camp
We camped at the Sierra Club facility, Horse Camp, just below the snow pack. Horse Camp was conceived and built with private monies of local material in 1923 – a precursor to the much larger Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood. Horse camp offers great camping, clean and fresh spring water and composting toilets – a blessed alternative to carry out human waste.
Horse Camp, Avalanche Gulch behind
We got an early start the next morning, after a 1:30 wakeup call. The team did a great job on the ascent, climbing to the right of “the heart” (a large open area of rock about half way up the snowfield) – so as to avoid rock falls, which are very common in the late climbing season. The rock falls are generated out of poorly consolidated welded ash flow, known locally as the Red Banks. This is generally regarded as the crux of the climb, and we were on the top of it by 9:30.
Mary at high camp (above Helen Lake) at sunrise
Rough and icy surface of the snowfields
Welded ash flow of the Red Banks
Steve coming to the top of the Red Banks
Shortly after getting over the Red Banks, at around 13,600 ft., one of our team started to suffer the disorientation and related maladies associated with altitude sickness. We headed down just short of the summit, but with all of our team members in one piece. Summiting is optional, descending is mandatory, and we had a long way to go down to our next adventure – rafting on the Trinity River the next day with Martha and her siblings, gathered for a memorial for her recently deceased father.
The descent was basically a 2.5 mile glissade – all the way down Avalanche Gulch. This was a fabulous method; fast, screaming fast – with soaking wet asses and mile wide smiles. Sure beats walking.
We broke camp at Horse Camp, and headed down to Redding in our rented Chrysler 300, with a temperature transition from 10° near the top to 110° in Redding – 100° in a day is a big swing. It turns out that 110° was overwhelming for the air conditioning in most of Redding, but we enjoyed a delicious but hot steak dinner at the Cattleman’s Restaurant – a local favorite and a really good steak.
Martha and Andrew prepare for the might waters of the Trinity River
The next day we drove to Willow Creek CA via the fabulous CA Route 299 to join the Blakemores rafting down the class II-III rapids on the Trinity River. This was a day of mild rapids, warm waters and blazing hot sun. Lots of fun.
This country is noted as the marijuana capital of the US – prior to the recent legalization in various states, as well as home to some very unusual rock – the Trinity Ophiolite. This Ophiolite is a type of ultra-mafic rock, commonly called peridotite, which was dragged from the mantle of the earth to the surface by the incredible tectonic activity in California. This rock is incredibly dense, containing large amounts of heavy metals – most notably gold. Contrary to the assertions of Larry Gatlin, all the gold in California is (and was) in these ophiolites, not in a bank in Beverly Hills. Seeing this rock embedded in the river bank was very cool.
Betsy and Mary
Betsy drinks pickle juice to prepare for the demanding effort
Adult swim in the Trinity
Chaos; group photo
This was a high speed weekend, covering a lot of vertical, horizontal and time – ranging from the Summer of Love, John Muir and the Ordovician deposition of the ophiolites in California.
Shasta was the original objective for the weekend, and it is truly a wonderful mountain – I’ll be back to finish the climb. I have may have short changed myself of its full spiritual potential – anyway, that’s the excuse I’ll use to come back. This looks like a mighty fine place to try a little back country skiing, although summiting will probably not be part of that effort.
Adios, from Mt. Shasta