Casaval Ridge is the obvious classic line that bisects Mt. Shasta’s mass, separating the West Face from Avalanche Gulch. Casaval is a moderate climb with big risk potential in the form of exposure to long falls. The ridge’s serrated spine rises from 8,000 feet behind Horse Camp to just over 13,300 feet at its upper terminus at the base of Misery Hill.
The route that follows Casaval Ridge is a singular line that weaves through gendarmes, across traverses, and along an exposed ridge top. The options seem limitless. Most of it is not particularly technical, but a fall would be tragic. The upper portion of the ridge, above the Second Window, holds the route’s biggest challenges. Parties of mixed abilities often carry a light rope to belay difficult, exposed sections.
At approximately 12,800 feet one reaches the Catwalk, which is a sidewalk width ledge with airy exposure. Early season the Catwalk is snow covered making it more forgiving. It can be avoided, if one chooses, by a short traverse toward the West Face for easier terrain. Later in the season, when snow has melted, the ridge becomes a little raw and touchy. The two main options for a bivy site are at the top of Giddy Giddy Gulch at 9,800 feet, and a flat bench along the ridge at approximately 10,300 feet. The upper sight can often be extremely windy. The route can also be accessed via the First or Second Windows.
This is a fun, rewarding, and beautiful route. Part of the experience is the lofty bivy along the ridge top, so take two days. This route is best done early to mid-season with ample snow coverage.
Casaval Ridge is still in good shape. Now is the time to climb this route. It can get VERY windy on Casaval so be prepared. Your camp and climb of this route could easily be thwarted during a wind event. Even though the weather may show sun in the box, check the wind forecast if you want to increase the odds of a successful climb of Casaval Ridge. Consider camping at Horse Camp or be sure to anchor your tent very well if windy. On your climb, wind can easily knock climbers off balance and cause a fall. Immediate self-arrest is mandatory to prevent a long slide for life on the smooth and firm snow currently in place on Mt Shasta. If however, you catch this route on a windless, sunny day... you're in for a treat. Once one reaches the top of the ridge, near the base of Misery Hill, it is common for climbers to get disoriented in a "white out" and wander off of the wrong side of the mountain. Know where you are going, don't climb into a whiteout!
We had a large portion of the Redbanks formation along the Catwalk section of the route blow out earlier this year. Currently, the Catwalk is passable, but it is not advised. Large rime ice formations and unstable boulders threaten the Catwalk at this time. Traversing out onto the West Face is the recommended way to bypass this exposed section of the route.
For those who want a challenging, but fun ascent of Mount Shasta, this route fits the bill. This is not a route for the faint of heart, however. While this route is not technically difficult, Casaval Ridge presents its difficulty by providing exposure to long slips and falls along much of the upper ridge line. It is recommended that one has strong self-arrest skills, route finding, and solid winter mountaineering experience and judgment.
For your descent, many choose to descend down Avalanche Gulch and then traverse back to their camp along the ridge. This option presents loose wet and sometimes wind slab avalanche danger however. Use caution. Eliminate this problem by camping at Horse Camp and descending Avalanche Gulch entirely. The other option is to descend the ridge the way you climbed which can be tedious and slow.