July 15-17, 2019 – Mt Shasta, Hotlun-Wintun Ridge

“It hasta be Shasta” John said in his email reply after checking the latest weather forecast. The four of us (Dan, Joe, John and I) were looking forward to camping and skiing on the Middle Sister, but the weather had different plans in store. It looked like the forecast to the south was holding, and it didn’t take much arm twisting for everyone to agree that Shasta was the spot. We met at Dan’s house at 6:00 am, loaded gear and skis into my Outback, and hit the road. The drive up 58 went quickly, and soon we were cruising down highway 97. Before we hit Klamath, we could see the white dome of Mt Shasta on the horizon, and from that distance the coverage looked awesome. After a quick stop just north of Klamath so John could score some beer, we crossed the state line and pulled over at an overlook to get a good look at the mountain. The view and the coverage didn’t disappoint…

Joe and John staring at the Bolam Glacier on Shasta’s north side

A couple of hours later, after winding around on gravel roads on the east side of the mountain, we made it to the Brewer Creek trailhead. We were a bit surprised to only see one other rig at the trailhead, and quickly set about unloading gear from the car. A half hour or so later, our packs were stuffed to the brim with overnight gear, and skis and boots added the finishing touch, and it was time to hit the trail…

At the trailhead
The Hotlun side of Mt Shasta

We followed the trail for a mile or so, until it became difficult to follow due to snow patches on the lower mountain. Working our way south, we traversed across the lower reaches of the mountain looking for a spot to camp. About halfway across our traverse, I noticed a glimmer under a rock. Investigating a bit further, it turned out to be the find of the trip — 5 cans of Old Chub, 4 of which were still in pristine condition. The dates of brewing were from July of 2015, but they were preserved perfectly…

Hiking to camp
The find of the trip

After stowing the brews safely in our packs, we headed on a bit further, and ended up finding an awesome campsite in the trees at the edge of what looked to be a continuous snow patch with the larger snowfields up higher. Ski in/ski out from camp looked promising. It didn’t take too long to get the packs unpacked, camp set up, and the urge for some evening turns to take over…

Hanging at camp before skiing
Dan enjoying turns above camp

We set out on skins a few feet from the sleeping bags, and were interested to see if our snowfield next to camp would connect to the snow higher on the mountain. As luck would have it, it did, and we’d only have to ski over a few rocks in a spot or two. We put a couple thousand feet between us and camp, before calling it for the day to enjoy a great corn run back to camp.

John skinning above camp
Evening turns on Mt Shasta

The turns were nice, and the snow was in good shape for the most part, with a few spots that skied better then others. We explored skiers left on the way down, eventually working our way onto the broad ridge that was to the south of our campsite.

Taking a brief break during the evening ski
Joe above the final pitch

On the ridge, we dropped in one by one down the short, steep face. Joe and John headed down first, and then I followed, snapping a few pics of Dan as he skied down.

Dan skiing the pitch above camp
Looking back on Mt Shasta

At the bottom of the slope, the sun was low in the sky next to the mountain, so I switched lenses to see if we could capture a sunburst, and snapped a photo of Dan (above) and he snapped a shot of me. Then, it was a short hike across the rocks, and a few more turns down to camp.

Matt after the evening ski
The view from camp

After airing out the skins and changing out of ski boots, it was time to enjoy a evening margarita along with dinner. My drink was made up with the usual ingredients — crystal light lemonade, an airplane shot of Cuervo, and corn snow. Dinner was pad thai from Good-To-Go foods, and it hit the spot. We hit the sack early, in anticipation of an early morning the next day with conditions that would hopefully be favorable for a summit bid.

Early morning on the mountain

I got a good night’s sleep in my bivy sack, and woke early in the morning in time to get a few shots of the mountain before the sun rose. The rest of the crew woke up a little bit later, and by 6:00 am we were eating breakfast and getting gear ready for the day.

Looking east from camp

It was around 6:30 am or so when we headed out. Given our recon the night before and the firm snow, we elected to leave skins behind but carried ice axes and crampons in the packs. The morning booting went smoothly, and after a couple of hours of hiking we noticed a cloud bank from the south moving in. It seemed to be hanging to the south and east, and was at an elevation lower than us, but would be worth watching as the day wore on…

The crew working their way up
Joe and John on the bootpack

The climbing seemed to go on an on forever, and we took turns setting the bootpack. Around 11,000 feet, we traversed over from the Hotlun side to the Wintun side. Although tiring, at this point I was getting stoked because it looked like the summit would be in striking distance as long as the weather held off.

Dan working up the mountain
Gaining ground on the summit

Between 12,000 and 14,000 feet, the going was pretty slow due to unconsolidated snow conditions, but we pressed on. Near the top, we only put in 50-75 steps apiece before gladly falling to the back of the line on the bootpack. The hard work eventually paid off though, and we made it to the summit…

Dan above the clouds
The view towards Shastina from just below the true summit

I was stoked to get on the summit, and to see the views south and east, having looked at the mountain from I-5 on multiple trips south with the family on the way to southern California. Looking to the west, the massive crevasses of the Whitney Glacier stood between us and Shastina, and to the south was the route up Avalanche Gulch and Misery Ridge. The winds were howling on the ridge, so we donned down puffies and made the short hike to the true summit a few hundred feet away…

Shasta summit ridge view
On the summit

We spent a few minutes on the summit, soaking in the views and stoking on the fact that nobody was around. Surprisingly, the entire time we were on the summit and summit ridge (about 45 minutes to an hour), we didn’t see anyone, even on the approach routes. Back down at our gear, we snapped a few more photos, and readied to start the descent. I strapped in, and made the first turns off the summit ridge, and set up to shoot some photos of the skiers coming down…

A quick shot before dropping in
Dan skiing the upper pitches of Shasta

The views off the top were incredible, and made for some good pics on the descent. Dan skied down first, followed by John and Joe. I fired off a few shots of the guys coming down, as well as some shots as we worked our way out onto the Wintun proper.

John skiing down from the summit
Joe ripping the upper slopes on the Wintun Glacier

The snow on the upper thousand feet was in decent shape, albeit a bit bumpy. We worked our way down, and Dan grabbed the camera and snapped a few shots of me riding…

July turns off the top
Dan enjoying a well earned turn high on Mt Shasta

The Wintun Glacier has a decent amount of vertical, and the descent went on and on and on. Somewhere around 1,500 vertical off the top, the snow became more unconsolidated, and the turns began getting pretty manky…

Dan skiing above the clouds
The skiers heading down

At an elevation of around 12,500, we did a ski of the slope and got a significant wet hisser going. The snow was traveling fairly slowly, but ended up running down the remaining length of the glacier. Although it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for, it provided a safer descent route down and we took advantage…

Looking down the slide path
Cruising down the Wintun

Once we had descended the majority of the Wintun, it was time to cross over the ridge and traverse out onto the Hotlun side of the mountain. We were able to find one spot where we could keep skis on and make the transition, and frankly, were hoping for some better snow on that side of the ridge….

Endless turns on the Wintun Glacier
Joe skiing across the slide path

Indeed, the snow on the Hotlun side was in better shape, and we continued making turns back down towards camp. Around 9,500 feet, we rolled into a thick cloud bank that obscured our vision for a few minutes, but were able to continue on without incident.

Dropping into the clouds

Like the day before, we enjoyed some excellent turns above camp, and worked our way skiers right to ski a similar line to what we skied the previous evening. I caught a few pictures of Dan skiing with Ash Creek Butte in the background…

Dan skiing above camp

We made it back to camp by early evening, it time to enjoy a cold beverage as well as a well earned dinner — I think had a beef stew freeze dried:) We were pretty taxed after a day of strenuous climbing, somewhat from elevation but mostly from the unconsolidated snow conditions. We discussed possible plans for the next day, along with the usual bs, and then hit the sack early to get some well deserved rest. I slept well, and we woke to mostly clear skies the next morning…

My board a few feet from my sleeping bag

During breakfast, we discussed plans for the day, and ultimately decided to pack it up and leave Shasta, but make a pit stop at Crater Lake for a few turns on the way home. We broke camp, and hoisted heavy packs onto our shoulders for a ski down the snow fingers towards the trail below. 

Packing up camp
Looking back on the mountain

Somewhat surprisingly, we were able to link turns and snow patches below camp for several hundred feet. Combined with our run from the summit the day before back to camp, the total vertical for the “one” run split over two days totaled nearly 7,000 feet! We skied down to treeline, following the snow in the gully to where it finally ran out. From there, it was a short half hour or less hike back out  to the trailhead…

John and Dan skiing the finger
John at the end of the snow

At the trailhead, I was stoked on the trip. We unloaded heavy packs, found the beer in the cooler, and stacked gear in the car, readying for the drive out (which proved to be interesting in it’s own right). Given it was my first experience on Shasta, I’d have to count it as a success, and I can’t wait to get back! Below is a parting shot from the trip…

Parting shot