Unsettled weather has been the name of the game for the last couple weeks on Mount Shasta. Huge snowfall, high winds and extreme cold have been the most defining characteristics recently on California’s Fifth tallest mountain.
But what has all this stormy weather meant for current skiing and climbing conditions on Mount Shasta? It has been amazing to watch the intense California sun change the snow from cold powder to consolidated spring snow in a matter of days. Given the high position of the sun in the sky and longer days that accompany mid-April, the solar radiation on the mountain has been doing serious work to harden the snowpack.
The intense sun meant that powder skiing was short lived, but it also made for quick transition back into melt freeze and corn snow. This transition has been cheered on by climbers looking for a solid snowpack to support boots rather than skis but is still a few warm days from being easy climbing.
Climbing Conditions on the Ascent
Currently, climbing conditions on Mount Shasta are good where others have traveled and set a boot pack. Beyond an established track, conditions are highly variable.
Low on the mountain, intense melts during the day and hard freezes at night have made for glacial conditions that support boots well in traveled areas. The superficial crust in areas off of beaten paths will probably support most climbers when it's frozen in the early hours of the day, but as soon as it begins to soften, beware!
Mid-Mountain, above tree line to Helen Lake, the most solar affected parts of the snowpack are firm and supportable to boots until softened by sun and daily temperatures. Here, the snow is easily skinnable in this elevation band for ski mountaineers at any time of the day and is supportable for climbers until the sun and temps break down the surface. Temps have been cold recently and continue to look that way for the next few days, so if you can start in the early part of the morning and arrive at camp well before noon, boots should be just fine. There are well-trodden paths that will make boot-packing a breeze - just stick to the boot pack if in doubt!
Skinning up Avalanche Gulch toward the red Banks on April 23, 2022. Soft conditions existed that allowed us to skin most of the way up the Red Banks. Subsequently, that has firmed up and is best skinned with ski crampons or boot crampons. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Helen Lake to the Red Banks is serving up firmer surfaces after a couple of intensely sunny days on the 23rd and 24th. Surfaces in this elevation band were easily skinnable to the Red Banks before these sunny days, but now current conditions are more challenging for skiers and climbers alike. Ski crampons are a highly recommended tool to bring, and climbers should look for established boot packs as the snow here is crusty with a softer and drier layer underneath. These are tough conditions for everyone: slippery for skinning and breakable crust for cramponing. Today’s sun may improve that situation for climbers and make the crust more supportable, but the temps are cold again on the upper mountain so it may not move the needle much.
The Upper Mountain, from the top of the Red Banks to Misery Hill and the Summit Pyramid are firm and variable. Two Blackbird Mountain Guides teams submitted on the 23rd and reported thin, blue rime ice on the south side of Misery that would have been nearly impossible to skin (they opted for boot crampons). On the descent, the East side of Misery Hill was holding soft powdery snow, with ski quality ranging from excellent to good with some pockets of unreactive wind slab. This soft east facing snow was reportedly scoured away on the 24th, so if you go up there, let us know what you find!
The Current Climbing Conditions on the Summit Pyramid of Mount Shasta: Rime! Photo: Zeb Blais.
The summit plateau April 23, 2022. Great conditions for skinning or boot crampons. Photo: Zeb Blais.
The Summit Plateau was easily skinnable and also supportable to boots. The Summit Pyramid was in typical condition: rime ice “chickenheads” stuck to the volcanic rock with the occasional band of wind drifted snow. Boot crampons are highly recommended here.
Soft turns on the best side of Misery Hill during Blackbird Mountain Guides Summit and Ski 2 Day program. Photo: Zeb Blais.
The Blackbird teams descended on skis from just below the summit register (down the rime face…not recommended unless skiing from the highest possible point is a must) and just below the summit pyramid to the top of Misery Hill with only a few side steps to gain Misery. From there, the East face skied really well! Take note: this soft snow was reportedly scoured the following day.
Entering the Heart of Avalanche Gulch on a descent of Avalanche Gulch, one of the 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America. Photo: Zeb Blais
Our teams traversed to the Heart and entered Avalanche Gulch. There was approximately 6” of cold snow on top of a knife hard layer that made for loud turns and required conservative skiing. Glissading would not have been pleasant or safe in these conditions. A few hundred feet down, near the lowest extent of the Red Banks, the snow became more spring-like. It was a dense layer of new snow that had seen some intense sun and had begun transitioning to corn. It skied really well, and reports were that it skied well the following day again.
Snow was mostly very good skiing from the Red Banks to Helen. Below Helen, it was thick and grabby until about 9,000’. There down was still heavy, but with good glide and consistent, predicable surfaces. These zones seem to have improved in ski quality with more sun and warmth and are gaining support for boot packing (trails still recommended). With today (the 26th) adding more solar radiation, the snowpack should improve further for ski quality and boot packing.
Snow Last Night - 2022-04-26
At 10,000’ our teams on the mountain reported 3” or so of snowfall, but a fierce Southwest wind that shifted to Northwest stripped most of the new snow away, leaving the surface mostly unchanged. Small pockets of drifted snow could be found with enough snooping, but nothing to write home about and not consistent enough to link turns.
Current conditions on Mount Shasta are pretty good at the moment! These big storms have had a huge impact on the skiing and climbing conditions and should make for a great season of adventure on Shasta! If you're climbing, get started early on the lower mountain to avoid punchy snow, stick to well-travelled trails, or bring snowshoes. If you're skiing, bring ski crampons and have an awesome time - looks like more great ski conditions this week!