The weather in California has been wild this spring! Thunderstorms with torrential rain and hail have been a regular occurrence rather than extremely rare. Conditions on Mt Shasta have also been a bit unpredictable, fluctuating between solid freezes and superficial ones that make the window for great corn skiing narrow or unsafe.
Our recent trip up to the southeast side Mt Shasta to ski the Clear Creek area proved the point. Here are the details of our Sunday/Monday trip up Mt Shasta.
With a little high-clearance off-roading, we were able to clear a few more snow patches to get within 2.3 miles of the Clear Creek Summer Trailhead. This required carrying momentum with a high clearance Ford Bronco over 1 deep snow patch about 25 feet wide, and skirting a few more easier to navigate patches. This gained us about an additional mile before the road was completely covered with deep snow.
After parking, we set off for our camp near the top of the Clear Creek Summer Trail. We walked in for about a mile before hitting consistent snow and then were able to skin without taking our skis off for the duration of the approach. On the way down we found a snow filled gully that cut 1/2 a mile off this and was relatively easy to travel (definitely a bit of adventure skiing there!).
Below tree line, the forest is snow covered, but covered with debris from a violent winter of windy storms. The snow is consistently thick, over 3' in most places, with consolidated and firm snow above the trailhead at 6400'. Tree limbs, branches, pinecones, pine needles and other debris nearly cover the forest so it's worth trying to find cut blocks to travel in where there is less debris on the surface.
The summer trail is not close to being melted out. This is great for skiers, but for climbers and hikers, it will be a long time before this trail becomes a desirable destination. In most places, it's still under 3 or more feet of snow. At the rim of Mud Creek, there are a few patches where the summer trail has become exposed, but these patches are anomalies where the sun has penetrated the tree cover and caused it to melt early.
We camped at 8300' east of the Clear Creek climbing route. After setting up camp and doing some skills practice, we ducked into our tent just in time to avoid a sizeable hail storm. Shortly after the storm cleared, we made dinner and got to bed early for the long day ahead.
We woke early, planning on an early ski descent given the Southeast exposure and clear skies expected in the morning. Despite a beautiful, cloudless night with strong winds, the snowpack had not frozen at 8300'. We hoped this would change as we climbed higher, but we found only a very superficial freeze that left a breakable crust on top of soft, wet isothermal snow - the worst for both skiing and climbing!
As we climbed higher, we began to sink deeper into the snow. Boot penetration started to become consistently boot top and deeper, and we knew it was time to make the call to turn around.
We skied from 12,400' and the snowpack was already soft at 9:30am. The snow was still supportable to skis, but in steeper areas above the Watkins Glacier, the snow was soft enough to cause small but powerful loose wet avalanches.
The snow surface was variable. From 12,400' to 11k' or so, the snow was smooth and skied really well. Below 11k' to 10k' there was some roughness from sun cupping and previous tracks. In this section the softness of the snow helped to make these imperfections in the surface more skiable and it skied well.
From 10k' to 9k' the snow was a mixed bag. Some panels were smooth with great glide, while others were fairly sun-cupped and rough. Below 9,000' the snow was unpredictable: some snow provided great glide, while other patches felt like Velcro.
This route definitely requires a good freeze at night, so choose other options if you don't see freezing conditions in the forecast. With a good freeze at night, there would have been some great skiing, especially from the summit plateau down to 10,000'. The snow here is melting fast and the snow east of the Watkins won't last much longer. Options to ski the Wintun to Ash Creek to Cold Creek and Pilgrim Springs could be a fun way to utilize access from Clear Creek.