The wake-up call came at 2:45 a.m. Time to layer up in thermal underwear, wool socks, snow pants, ski jacket and gloves. Hat, hood, headlamp. We strapped spiky crampons on freshly beeswaxed leather boots. A leash around the wrist attached to an ice ax is a reminder that this is not just a backpacking trip but a mountaineering adventure. An alpine wind whistled through our 8,300-foot basecamp. By 3:15, the 9 in our expedition party were on our way up the steep slope toward the stars.
Two days before, we admired the brilliant snow-covered Mount Shasta while swimming in Lake Siskiyou on the west side of Interstate 5. The snowy summit at 14,179-feet graced the deep blue afternoon sky. Call it “mountainlust” – a desire to feel the terrain of a distant landscape, to set foot on the snow and understand the mountain.
The Clear Creek route to the summit, on the southeast slope, is considered the easiest and least technical approach. Even the first week of July, we found snow by our trailhead at 6,390-feet. The trek to basecamp started in a red fir forest; snow patches made following the path a bit of a scavenger hunt. Emerging out of the forest, we met the ridgeline and an incredibly scenic view of Mud Creek Canyon and Falls and the majestic Shasta above the snowfields.
We tripped and slipped in the sun cupped snow. It was crusty in the shade, slushy in the open and tinted watermelon pink with algae. We made basecamp on a gravel outcrop among bent and twisted krummholz whitebark pines. A few anemone flowers bloomed in the volcanic soil. Beetles, gnats and moths brought the early-season alpine to life. Birds called from the pines. A hummingbird zipped by.
Evening clouds built up around the mountain, greying out any sunset. We melted snow for dinner, looking out over the southern Cascade range to Mount Lassen. We talked about the next day, debating what time to wake and start the ascent, what should be a turnaround time and who would buddy with whom.
The mountain affects everyone in different ways. Some take it slow and steady and reach the summit. Some feel the draw of a warm sleeping bag at basecamp and decide they have gone far enough. For others, the altitude and exhaustion force descent before the top.
While having seen Mount Shasta over a dozen times driving along Interstate 5, finally spending time getting to know this magical, potentially active volcano satisfied that “mountainlust.” Traversing the snowfields, sharing time with friends and watching a spectacular sunrise made this an incredible lifetime memory.
Special thanks to Sean for organizing the Shasta trip, to Stacy and Marty for mountaineering leadership, to Kai and the kids for the family support, to Thomas and Leif for waiting for us in town. Huge gratitude to Ronja for being my ascent partner and an amazing and courageous companion!