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solstice, full moon, aligned planets, unwillingness
to accept the end of the ski season, these four
things could only mean one thing: it was time to
head for Shasta. Land of deep forests, hippies,
rednecks, big volcanoes, and late season snow. Yes,
it was time to head for Shasta.
Gary and I left Prunetucky about 5 pm Thursday night, picked
up Zeke in Davis at about 8, and arrived at the Castle Crags
campground at about 11. Finally fell asleep to the sound of
and noisy campers around midnight. Next morning we were up
early for a breakfast at the Black Bear Diner, picking up
our permits at the McCloud Ranger Station, and finally
arriving at the Brewer Creek Trailhead at midday. We
organized our gear and started off under a very light rain
and the sound of thunder for a mile’s hike through the trees
to timberline. As we broke through the trees, we could start
to see views of the mountain. We put on our skins as the
snow grew more continuous. We decided to camp about 1000’
above timberline at ~9800’. From the trailhead at 7400’ we
had climbed about 2400’ with our packs on.
After setting up
camp, Zeke and I decided to skin a little higher for some
turns. Wanting to preserve my strength, I climbed about 1000’.
a bit higher. With the sun sinking low, we
carved a few turns in the soft snow. It was going to be a
good weekend. That evening, with the setting sun turning the
haze to the east a misty red, we entrusted our dinner to Gary,
who did not disappoint. Grilled red pepper torte on sourdough
bread was the starter and then salmon risotto filled our
bellies to the brim. After boiling water for drinking the next
day, we were finally off to bed at about 10:30, eagerly
awaiting at 4:30 wakeup call.
slept fitfully, waking each hour and looking at my watch.
Nope, back to sleep each time. I was psyched for summit day.
Finally, the hour arrived. Up we rose to a quick breakfast.
were hiking by 5:45. I had a lot of energy hiking up the big
snowfield that separates the Hotlum and Wintun Glaciers. But
Gary slipped quickly behind. Soon I couldn’t see him behind me
any more. So I slipped off my pack, put on my crampons, and
hiked down to see how he was doing. Turns out that his skins
were not giving him enough purchase on the hard snow so he had
switched to crampons. I hiked back up to my pack and skis with
him. Onward we went. Forever climbing the big snowfield.
After a few hours we met up with Zeke up at the lunch rocks.
Here we met up with Spencer, a guide with the local guiding
service, and a client. Both were on skis and were doing the
same route we were. We had a bite to eat and switched to ice
axe and crampons. We traversed over to the snowfield that
merges with the upper reaches of the Wintun Glacier. This was
crux of the climb. We could see a blue ice bergschrund at the
top of the Wintun to the south, on the other side of a big
rock. Spectacular but scary. We followed Zeke and a boot track
up the steep snow fields, staying close to the rocks
comprising the Hotlum-Wintun ridge. Gary had a bit of trouble
with the big steps, so soon Zeke began using French technique
to zig-zag up the slope. It was easier than the big steps. All
this time, clouds had been gathering around the mountain.
Coming and going, the cloud cover seemed to change every 5
minutes. Clouds would converge, only to part moments later.
we were on the bench above the Wintun Glacier. We traversed
climber’s left beneath the couloir leading to the summit. At
this point, the clouds engulfed us and graupel started
Visibility dropped to about 50 feet. We could hear the two
skiers skiing down from the summit. We could hear their skies
schussing through the snow and their voices as they talked,
but we could not see them. Zeke and I exchanged worried
glances. Gary said, “This is nothing. It will blow over in a
few minutes.” Gary and I decided to leave our skis there on
the bench and proceed without them. I did not relish the
prospect of skiing down steep slopes in a white-out. It was
now about 1 pm, getting close to our turn-around time of 2 pm.
After eating a bit and resting, we continued on towards the
summit, angling climber’s right of the summit couloir. We
found easy slopes and good views of the couloir. As we neared
the summit, the clouds parted and it stopped snowing. Gary had
been right. We could also see that the summit couloir looked
sweet: not as steep as the crux we had climbed earlier, and
filled with soft corn snow. I was disappointed that I had left
my skis down below. But it was the right decision; it enabled
Gary to travel faster and I had not relished the idea of
skiing down steep slopes in a whiteout.
Before we knew it, we were climbing the last rocky steps to
the summit. Suddenly there were people around: perhaps eight
of them on the summit. I climbed to the highest point, had a
look around, and had a bite to eat. Behind me I heard the
pfsht of carbonated beverage being opened. “You got a beer
there?” I asked the folks behind me. Nope. It was only a diet
Coke. Some other folks arrived. They pulled out a cell phone
and called somebody to tell them they were on the summit. Zeke
and Gary looked at the register and noted that about 60 people
had summitted that day. It was time to go back down.
we geared up and headed down. I paused to take a few pictures
Zeke in the summit couloir. Back down to the skis, we put
them on and proceeded to ski
steep slopes of the crux of the climb. Luckily, Zeke got
a few pictures of me skiing this section in front of the
big rock. We had much debate over how steep this section is. I
thought it was high thirties to forty, but the other two
thought it was not as steep. I took a fall on top of the steep
section, but found a rock to hold onto while I got my skis
untangled. The snow was nice. As soon as I convinced myself
that the snow was good, I skied it without a problem. In fact,
the snow was excellent. As soon as the angle eased off a bit,
the skiing was a lot of fun. Clouds came and went as we skied
down the big mountain. After what seemed
a long time, we got back to the traverse over to the big
snowfield. We weren’t even half way down the mountain.
Down the big snowfield we went. The slope was easy here.
Just easy one easy turn after another. Towards the bottom,
some sun cups appeared. We were so tired that dealing with the
sun cups was hard. Finally back in camp, Zeke and Gary took
naps while I got some water boiling for our next day’s
day we slept in till about 6:30 am. Got up and slowly got
going. Finally we got going and made the big push to the lunch
rocks. Zeke climbed a little higher to the steep slopes to
climbers right of the lunch rocks. I took pictures of him as
he appeared to
ski down into the clouds. Skied the big snowfield again
all the way back down into camp. This time, the sun cups were
easier, probably because we weren’t as tired. Packed up the
tent and sleeping bags, and down the lower snowfield we went,
until we couldn’t find any more snow to ski. Hiked back down
through the trees to the cars and celebrated a fitting end to
Fred Hochstaedter, 6/25/02