Mount Shasta, Cascade Range in Siskiyou County, CA
The road leading to north side of Shasta had just opened, and the route offers some good crevasse crossing and a bit of steep ice. Dominik, Natasha, and I were going to summit Denali together, and decided to go up the Hotlum Glacier as a bit of pre-Denali training. We figured that it would be a good place to work on group dynamics and figure out what everyone’s climbing style was.
We camped at the TH Friday night and had a lazy morning on Saturday. After a few cups of coffee, we unpacked and repacked our gear to make sure we had all that we needed, and headed up hill. The start of the trail was in good condition and easy to follow, however, after about the fifth snow patch the trail disappeared. We decided to just take the gully straight up to the bottom of the glacier and not worry about following the trail. Turns out this was a good idea and saved us about a mile of hiking.
By midday it was a HOT, beautiful bluebird day that had us wishing for any amount of wind. We made camp behind a group of rocks just below the Hotlum Bolam ridge. After pitching tents and having a bit of soup, we went to a steep slope and practiced crevasse rescue procedures. Dominik had some really cool tricks from his caving days that I had never seen before and was excited to learn. As the full moon was rising we hit the hay, eager for an early start.
At 3 AM we got up, had breakfast and moved out. It was an incredible night; the full moon was just setting and the stars were out in force. We moved back onto the Hotlum Glacier and pointed our crampons straight up the hill. Conditions were excellent; the snow was crunchy, there was very little exposed ice, and there were obvious crevasses with strong snow bridges. At the top of the glacier it was starting to warm up, and we choose to escape to the right and do some scrambling rather than go up the steeper ice to the left that had some mischievous looking rocks at the bottom. We gained the Hotlum Bolam ridge and moved about 100 feet up before deciding to take a break.
While Dominik was taking care of business behind a rock, Natasha and I dropped our packs and sat down. Here occurred the only hiccup of the whole trip. As Natasha plunged her axe into the snow to anchor her pack, it slipped and her pack broke free and started to tumble. It kept tumbling, and tumbling... and tumbling. It was amazing, the pack gracefully followed every curve of the Hotlum Glacier, leaping over crevasses with a perfect double backflip, sticking the landing and going straight into a triple front somersault. Incredibly the pack stopped right before the final pitch of the glacier that lead to a large icefall. There were a few profanities yelled, but we ended up just laughing about it, deciding that we didn’t need the pack for the summit and continued up.
The Shasta summit was as I expected, crowded, but for such a nice day that made sense. What didn’t make sense was the gear and experience that some of the people up there had. I saw multiple groups coming up the very snowy avalanche gulch in tennis shoes with microspikes, some without even an ice axe. Talking with them, they were all terrified to go down and admitted that they had really underestimated the mountain. We gave them a bit of advice and headed back down to retrieve Natasha’s pack, which was in remarkable shape with nothing broken. The descent was tricky with the warm spring snow sticking to everything it touched. My anti balling plates didn’t stand a chance against this glue.
We made it to the car by 5 and headed for the brewery with grins on our faces. We successfully learned more about one another and became a stronger team, better preparing ourselves to tackle Denali!