Shasta Revisited

6/22-6/24 2003

random trip report

All pictures by Nikolai Ostgaard
Click on images for super hi-res version

I love Mt. Shasta and want to share it with everyone. So I organized a trip and invited lots of people. In the end only two people came: N and M. But that was plenty.

Sunday 6/22

I've had some kind of low-grade virus for a week, and am wobbly and weak, but it's too late to call things off. N and I drive to Mt. Shasta City and meet M. at the Mt. Shasta Resort. I test the stove, which leaks gas all over the place (it works fine on the mountain, however).

Testing the stove

Dinner at Mike and Tony's (a tradition, but not a good one).


Breakfast at the Black Bear Diner (another tradition). Halfway to the trailhead, M makes a U-turn and returns to town. I follow, puzzled. Turns out her gas gauge was on E because of heading uphill. The refill takes quite a while.

Back to the trailhead.

M has trouble attaching sleeping bag and pad. We set off. Due to large snowpack there's total snow cover almost down the parking lot. The trail goes up the drainage and doesn't go by Horse Flat.

M decides to switch boots and N and I go on ahead. We stop on a hill just above the treeline.

We wait for a while. M emerges below and loses the path. We send a message to her via a descending climber.

M's pack is too heavy and through binoculars we can see she's flailing. We descend. She can't continue, so we decide to camp and find a couple of flat areas on a nearby hill.

I take a rest while N prepares our tent site

We melt water and enjoy a nice dinner. The weather is mild and beautiful. We retire early. As usual I can't sleep, and lie there checking my watch every few minutes.


At 2:50 AM I wake up N and M and we have oatmeal and coffee. We discuss the day's climb. I suggest an 11 AM turnaround time, and return to camp by 1 PM. We're on the trail around 4 AM.

We climb 2,000' to Helen Lake, getting there a little after 6.

Me, on the way to Helen Lake

Nikolai at Helen Lake, looking weary. Many climbers are visible above (see hi-res version).

N and I climb Avalanche Gulch. As we ascend it becomes quite cold. A teenager glissades down, saying he's lost sensation in fingers and toes. Halfway up we look back and see M reaching the lake. A very fast climber without crampons shoots past us. We pass a roped team of 6 skiers traversing laboriously.

I rest on an outcrop at Red Banks around 10 AM. N announces that he's ready to turn around, which is fine with me: I'm extremely tired due to the virus.

Tiny cinder cone in background

We glissade down, which is difficult and scary because the snow is rock-hard. A few dinner-plate size rocks tumble past. I hastily put on my helmet.

At Helen Lake we chat with Eduardo, whom we passed earlier. He's had a very hard day, turning around with exhaustion just above Helen Lake. He's going to try again the next day (his 50th birthday!).

We return to camp, arriving at noon. M is not there. We wait until 2 PM, then start to wonder where M is. I sit by the main track and interrogate descending climbers. One observant man reports talking to someone matching M's description above Red Banks at 11 AM, and giving her directions to the summit. We don't understand how didn't we see her on our descent.

We wait until 4 PM. I climb up to a vantage point. No one is descending the hill from Helen Lake. On Avalanche Gulch, a mile or so away, I can see the tiny speck of a climber descending very slowly. Maybe it's M.

After much discussion we decide that our best course of action is to leave water in M's tent (she has food, but no stove to melt snow), descend, and notify the rangers. We descend rapidly, but the ranger station is closed when we get there at 5:15. We call the phone numbers posted there, but there is no answering machine. Not knowing what else to do, we return to Berkeley.

The next morning I call the ranger station, reach the search and rescue person, and tell him the situation. A couple of hours later he calls me back - Michelle is OK, he met her descending from camp.

This was by far my most scary mountain-climbing experience. It taught me several valuable lessons, which I won't go into here. I'm just glad that everyone is OK.

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