By: Bob Hartunian
Back in May, I was called by a woman named Izzy who wanted to climb Mt. Shasta on the Fourth of July. She thought it would be enjoyable to experience fireworks on the slopes. After checking out her physical abilities, I agreed that a few sparks were still left in me, so we made plans.
Good information for climbing Shasta can be obtained from the Five Seasons climbing store, 426 N. Mt. Shasta Blvd., Mt. Shasta, CA, 96067, if you request copies of Mt. Shasta Climber's Review and Mt. Shasta/Castle Crags Wilderness map; both mailed to you for $10.01. Call them at (916) 926-3606.
On with the story. I flew to Sacramento, got picked up in her MB 450 "camping sedan" and we eventually drove to the town of Mt. Shasta. Like Rainier, Shasta dominates the area, visible from at least 50 miles away as a stationary white cloud. It had snowed several days before, leaving a foot of new, consolidated snow down to 7500' - perfect for climbing.
The standard southern route on Shasta is known as "Avalanche Gulch" which starts at Bunny Flat trailhead on Everitt Highway #A10 out of Mt. Shasta. Base camp is usually located at Helen Lake (10,440'), about 5 miles from the car and 5 miles from the top. A maintained trail leads from the trailhead 2 miles to a Sierra Club stone cabin (7900') with a caretaker, camping spots for tents and good running water, but too close to cars for the base camp. From the cabin, a path of flat stones leads upward to a use trail switch-backing on a rocky glacial moraine that blends into Avalanche Gulch. We took out ice axes and moved up the Gulch in soft snow and burning sunlight to the bench of Helen Lake.
After setting up camp on the snow, Izzy expressed a desire to tan her upper body without incurring tan lines. I, of course, agreed and joined her in the process while other climbers in the area took our pictures over and over and over again. Never knew I was so popular...
Because of the new snow, all water had to be melted, taking considerable fuel and time. By nightfall, I was still filling bottles and making supper in the dark. Totally-tanned Izzy felt the altitude and rested in the tent while low clouds opened and closed between us and the clear stars above.
The morning of the Fourth was perfect. I counted 28 climbers ahead of us moving up 25"-35" snow toward the "Red Banks," a horizontal band of reddish volcanic rock protruding through the snow at 12,900'. Several times during the ascent, we came across women whose crampons fell off and we stopped to help. During one assist, my 20-year old, green helmet decided to slip away and slid 2,000' down the snow and over a ridge, never to be seen again. Meanwhile, Izzy discovered an ear lobe still white and exposed herself at every opportunity.
Above the Red Banks is a long snow slope called "Misery Hill" that tops out around 14K' on a flat approach to the summit rocks. However, Izzy had color problems at 13,200', turning a bit pale before showing her breakfast. She decided to descend while I trudged up to the top to admire the green valleys and hills of Northern California and Oregon. The register was very formal - a large book with edge-gilding and lots of spiritual comments.
We met at camp, gradually returned to the MB and civilization in time for evening fireworks. It really was a great Fourth, but I never saw much of Izzy afterward. Perhaps I'll run into her on a sunny rock in Death Valley in the summer.
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