Summit season is in full swing up on Mt. Shasta. Conditions around the mountain are highly variable by aspect and it pays to know some of the link ups to connect the best snow to avoid volcanic scree scrambling. Record snowfall this season came with high winds on the upper mountain making it difficult to find consistent skiing conditions from the summit to the trailhead.
I spent four days on and around Mt. Shasta this past week and was able to get a very good read on conditions and where to find the best skiing and climbing. Originally we had hoped to access the mountain from the north east side via Gravel Creek but given the northeast winds in the forecast our team opted to climb and ski Shasta and Shastina from bunny flat via a more sheltered camp at hidden valley.
We were able to gain hidden valley fairly easily with adequate snow coverage and easy skinning on the way into camp. This approach melted out significantly by the time we exited 3 days later. Suncups are in full effect on the south, southwest and west aspects below about 9500’. This made for tricky skiing from just above camp down to bunny flat. There was still snow all the way to the bunny flat trailhead however which is an awesome treat for this late in the season - it is June after all!
After setting up our tents and firing up stoves for water, myself and a guest went out for an evening lap below casaval ridge before dinner. We found five star corn from 11500’ down to our camp at 9000’. The winds came up as forecasted during the night and we were glad to not be camped on the other side of the mountain! After breakfast on the second day we spent a few hours in the morning working on ski mountaineering skills like crampon techniques, moving as a short rope team and self arrest skills. After our “snow skills school” we started towards our day's objective- the summit of Shastina.
Shastina is a sub-cone of Mt Shasta’s volcanic edifice. At 12,335’ Shastina is the 3rd highest of the cascade volcanic summits - with Mt Rainier and Shasta being the highest and second highest respectively. The summit of Shastina to the I-5 highway below is a massive 8500’ of relief that would make this a premier skiing and climbing destination in its own right if it wasn't overshadowed by its bigger sister. It’s a fantastic summit and ski that is often much quieter than Shasta.
Our group toured up the gully to the Shasta/ Shastina col making good time having outstanding skinning conditions. After the col the snow ran out. As is the case with much of the upper mountain this past winter's strong winds and low density snow did not bode well for coverage above 12000’. After a bit of rocky scrambling we bagged the Shastina summit block and after a few photos we were on our way back to our skis. We linked turns down the gully in perfect corn until about 9500’ where the sun cups continued until our camp.
The next day we awoke early for our Shasta summit bid. We climbed up to the Shasta/ Shastina col and planned to ascend the Whitney glacier and onto misery hill to reach the summit. This route would keep us away from the rock fall on the west face via a very remote and infrequently traveled part of the mountain. Unfortunately high winds on the upper mountain almost scuttled our summit bid. We ended up stalling for time (napping) just below the col. We waited for a forecasted break in the winds and around noon the winds died off dramatically and we stepped into our skis and set off for the upper Whitney glacier.
The Whitney glacier was tricky to find a safe route onto, but once we gained it the travel was easy. We picked our way up the glacier, traversing past the massive bergschrund at the top and gained the bench below Misery Hill. We opted to leave our skis at the foot of Misery Hill and walk the summer trail to the “baseball diamond” where we donned crampons and climbed firm snow up to the summit block. We topped out on the summit of Mt. Shasta- our second Cascade summit in as many days.
We descended back down towards where we had stacked our skis and then proceeded towards the top of the West Face- one of the best ski lines on the entire mountain. After a few brief sidesteps through some thin patches of snow we found ourselves on top of 4000’ of fall-line corn skiing back to camp. We were dropping in very late- around 5pm after having to wait out the strong winds in the morning but we still had outstanding corn for the first 3⁄4 of our decent- the last portion was a bit over cooked but that can happen if you prioritize summiting over timing the corn cycle for your decent. The skiing was fantastic from about 1300’ until 9500’ where we once again entered the land of sun cupped snow.
After breaking down camp at Hidden Valley, we began our descent back towards Bunny Flat. The snow at lower elevations had melted out quickly during our 3 days on the mountain and we began linking up as much snow as possible, having to take off skis on occasion to link up snow patches for our exit. The snow textures are very feature rich and with the thin coverage made our exit a bit tricky on skis. We snuck into Avalanche Gulch from Horse camp and I was shocked with how much snow coverage had disappeared even in the gulch. There was still snow back to the trailhead and we arrived just as the mountain was starting to be painted a rosy pink with the evening's Alpenglow.
All in all an awesome trip with a great group of guests- we bagged two summits and got to explore a very rugged and seldom visited part of the mountain. Unfortunately, ski season is close to done on the south and west sides of the mountain and ski endeavors on Shasta in the near future will be focused on the northeast side of the mountain. The northeast still has continuous snow from the summit down to military pass road. This means the traditional trailhead at Brewer creek will not be accessible for quite some time. After having spent hours exploring every possible logging road and stem the day before our trip trying to find an access point to the snow line, I’m confident that it will be a while before easy access to the northeast is possible.
Road conditions are interesting from the north side of the mountain via highway 97 to military pass road. Military Pass road was significantly washed out during the winter just south of the railroad line. The old road has been more or less abandoned with folks driving in a new “road” parallel to the old. This section is friendly to high clearance vehicles- or maybe to a Subaru with a skilled driver behind the wheel.
Looking down the Hotlum Wintun from the summit of Mt Shasta. Photo: Jason Smith.
The road improves at the junction with the Northgate trailhead fork.- The Northgate trailhead is open but the road is fairly sporty as well. Snow line from northgate here only becomes consistent from about 10000-12500’. Not ideal for skiing but pretty good for climbing.
Trying to access the Brewer Creek trailhead is a totally different animal. Reports from Shasta avalanche center have been spot on. I found numerous downed trees blocking roads, large impassable snow drifts blocking others. The best access I could find was a convoluted route up logging roads towards gravel creek. I was able to avoid downed trees and had pretty easy driving until a large patch of snow at about 6300’. From this point, one could make their way towards more consistent snow pretty quickly but there’s going to be some intermittent dirt walking involved. In theory the sun cups on the NE aspect should be a bit less evolved and I’m sure you could find many thousand feet of greatskiing! going to take a bit more motivation to get there this season!
- Good smooth skiing 10000-12500’
- Snow to bunny flat- most climbing routes still have decent coverage. Access to hidden valley very thin.
- Lots of suncups solar aspects below 9500’
- Thin coverage above 12500’= more rockfall Hazard!
- Still no easy access to the east side of the mountain
About the Author
Jason Smith is an AMGA Assistant Ski Guide and AIARE instructor and a full time guide with Blackbird. Jason's passion is skiing and teaching skills to his guests in the mountains.