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Climbing Advisory

05-05-21 General Conditions & Climbing Information

The Bottom Line

It's been warm and sunny lately and the storm snow from late April 23-26 has mostly melted out on sunny aspects. Climbing conditions remain poor. Some outfitter guide services have ceased trips on the south and west aspects. That said, a climb is still possible and private trips are giving it a go, with some success. A climb of Mt. Shasta this year has more risk than usual due to a dry mountain, plenty of exposed rock and active rockfall. For most routes, watch for rockfall between 10,000 and 12,000 feet or in any area where exposed rock looms above. In the AM hours is when those rocks and really get winging down slope on firm snow. You might not see any rockfall, or you might get smacked causing serious injury or death. It's a roll of the dice. On glaciated routes, large patches of hard ice exist, making self-arrest impossible.

Besides Bunny Flat, all other wilderness trailheads have prolonged approaches. The following numbers represent miles of snow covered roads to the trailhead: Northgate - .7 miles / Brewer Creek - 11 miles / Clear Creek - 4 miles.

Conditions Update

We've already had a close call in Avalanche Gulch near The Heart where a solo skier received a glancing blow by a large rock to the thigh. Rockfall is real, folks. Wear a helmet and be aware of steep slopes with exposed rock overhead. 

The road to Bunny Flat trailhead (6,950 feet) is the only open trailhead at the moment. The gate to the Old Ski Bowl is closed. There are bathrooms but NO running water or other facilities at Bunny Flat. The bathroom at the Shasta Alpine Hut (Horse Camp) is open and water is available. One must melt snow for water elsewhere, so bring extra fuel. All other wilderness trailheads are still closed for the season. You may still access closed trailheads, but your REQUIRED summit pass, wilderness permit, and human waste packout bag must be attained at the ranger station in Mt Shasta or McCloud. 

Camp cleanliness and overall mountain sanitation are very important to us and other climbers. When traveling in the wilderness, always follow Leave No Trace principles.  Minimize your impact. Plan ahead and prepare. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Depose of waste properly. Leave what you find. Always respect wildlife. 

Don't hesitate to give us a call for your specific questions at 530-926-9614. We're in the field a lot, but we'll call you back within a day or so.

Be Prepared!!

Our goal is to ensure you have a positive wilderness experience and come home in one piece! So,

  • BE PREPARED
  • DO YOUR RESEARCH 
  • ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET
  • KNOW HOW TO USE YOUR ICE AXE & CRAMPONS.
  • CARRY PROPER NAVIGATION TOOLS AND KNOW HOW TO USE THEM
  • REMEMBER, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY.

Accidents and Hazards

Many incidents occur on the mountain every season. The most common accidents include rockfall injuries, lost climbers, and slips and falls in steep terrain. Most accidents can be prevented with proper planning and preparation.

  • Do not climb into a whiteout. Always carry a map and compass and/or GPS device and route plan ahead of time.
  • Keep your group together. If you split up, have a solid plan and make sure everyone has proper equipment and knows the way.
  • Do not glissade with crampons on. If you choose to glissade, take OFF your crampons and make sure the snow is soft.
  • Know how to properly self-arrest with your ice axe. A slip and fall on the upper mountain can be fatal.
  • Wear a helmet and watch out for rockfall. Climbers get hit every year.

With the right knowledge, skill, equipment, and decision-making, all of these accidents can be easily prevented. Please, wear a helmet, and know how to use your ice axe and crampons any time of the year.

There is always the potential for thunderstorm activity during the summer months to shroud the mountain in clouds, limiting visibility. Climbers becoming disoriented on the upper mountain in whiteout conditions and subsequently descending the wrong route is not uncommon. These kinds of scenarios have resulted in many searches over the years. It should go without saying, but we will say it as a solid reminder: Check the weather before you go and more importantly, monitor the weather as you climb. DO NOT CLIMB INTO A WHITEOUT! Being caught on the mountain in any type of weather can compromise life and limb.

Understand that if something goes wrong or a member of your climbing party gets injured, you need to be prepared to self-rescue. If you have an emergency on the mountain, call 911. Be prepared to provide your location and the nature of the injury. 

Many hazards exist in mountain terrain. Some of these include:

  • Ice and rockfall
  • Altitude
  • Extreme weather
  • Avalanches

Icefall and rockfall are possible year-round. It's a simple equation: as snow melts, rockfall increases. If rime ice is seen plastered to exposed rocks above, it will eventually flake off and fall onto climbers. Wear a helmet and keep your eyes upslope as you climb. Pay attention to other climbers: rockfall is often caused by climbers resting in melted out areas and accidentally dislodging rocks onto slopes and climbers below. Be careful not to kick rocks down onto others.

At the height of 14,179 feet, Mount Shasta is a high altitude peak. It is common for climbers to experience acute mountain sickness (AMS) with signs and symptoms of nausea, headache, and lightheadedness. Despite being a common condition, AMS should not be taken lightly. It can quickly develop into a much more serious and potentially deadly pulmonary or cerebral edema. Stop and take a break. If symptoms do not improve, your only choice is to descend!

Mt Shasta is a 14, 179-foot volcano with steep slopes, avalanches, glaciers, rockfall, altitude, and extreme weather. Some may feel like Mt Shasta is "safe" due to its proximity to Interstate 5 and its "easy" climbing objective connotation. This is false. One should still expect cold, winter-like conditions at any time of year. Have the appropriate gear AND skill level. Mountaineering is dangerous, and climbers must constantly evaluate the terrain, weather, and many other factors to have a safe trip. One should also not expect immediate rescue. Many factors can prolong rescues. Thus, it is necessary, no matter what mountain of the world, that you be prepared.

Mountain Weather

Check the WEATHER FORECAST before coming up onto Mt. Shasta! Our site's main menu hosts numerous resources on the weather. Researching the mountain weather should be an important part of your trip planning.

Clouds and Precipitation: While you may encounter fair weather at lower elevations, cloud caps can form up high. Never climb into a whiteout, as many climbers have become lost or died in similar conditions. Many routes from all aspects of Mt. Shasta converge on the upper mountain (>12,500 feet). During limited visibility conditions, climbers have descended the wrong side of the mountain. Keep an eye on the sky as you climb, turning around if clouds begin to build on or near the mountain.

Lightning: Mt. Shasta is a 14,000-foot lightning rod and is frequently hit by lightning (usually in summer and fall months), so don't push your luck with building thunderheads.

Wind: Winds can reach over 100 mph at tree line (8,000 ft) and much higher in the alpine region. Winds of 40 mph can knock you off balance. Winds of 60-70 mph can force you to crawl. Hurricane strength winds (>74 mph) can make it nearly impossible to stand and will destroy well-anchored tents. The strongest winds occur with big pressure and temperature gradients in the atmosphere and tend to occur in front of and behind storms. The lowest winds occur when the center of high pressure is over the Mt Shasta area. Take this seriously as the wind has resulted in searches, injuries, and fatalities.

Tips & Notes

Climb early and descend early. This limits exposure to inclement weather (afternoon buildup of clouds is common), allows plenty of time to descend before dark and allows a rescue effort to ensue before dark if one gets injured or lost.

Get an alpine start (2-5 am) and have a turnaround time of 12 to 1 pm. Proper equipment, clothing, and training are a must. Helmets are always recommended and expect rock and ice to fall at all times.

Bring extra warm gear (like a down jacket, balaclava, and extra gloves) in all seasons as climbers often develop superficial frostbite during strong winds. The wind chill temperature near the summit in winter and spring can be well below zero.

Anchor your tent well wherever you camp. Tents can and do blow away frequently. Do not plan to camp above treeline if you do not have anchor lines for your tent.

Solo climbing is not recommended. Traveling with an experienced group is a good idea, and remember - do not split up the group!

The routes on the north and east sides are not recommended for unguided novices; glacier travel and route finding skills are prerequisites.

Mountain Rescue

Do not expect to be rescued. Rather, prevent rescues from happening in the first place, and be prepared to handle rescues within your climbing party should something happen. Nature sets its own terms, and YOU must judge how much risk you are willing to accept.

When to Climb

The BEST time to climb Mt. Shasta is usually from May to mid-July on the south and west sides of the mountain when summer days are longer and the weather is generally stable. However, in dry years, the thin snowpack creates the best climbing conditions in April, May and early June. When the snow melts, you are left with 7,000 feet of scree, talus, and boulders. In heavy snow years, the climbing season extends to August or September. There is NO trail to the summit. Climbing is much safer and more fun on consolidated snow.

A winter climb of Mt. Shasta is possible. Still, it is more difficult and dangerous: extreme weather, short days, avalanches, falling ice and potential post-holing increase the difficulty and danger on all routes. If you choose to travel in the backcountry during the winter and spring, you need to have the proper equipment and training to stay safe. An avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe and the ability to identify avalanche terrain and snow stability are essential. A climb of Shasta should not be taken lightly.

Every year, many climbers become lost, injured or killed while attempting Mt. Shasta. Many of these accidents could have been prevented with a little bit of pre-planning and training. YOU need to come prepared.

What to Bring

  • MANDATORY: wilderness permit, summit pass, human waste pack-out bags. Available for self-issue at all open trailheads.
  • THE TEN ESSENTIALS: map and compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra food and water, extra clothing, headlamp/flashlight, first aid kit, matches/lighter, stove, knife/multi-tool, bivy sack
  • HELMET, ICE-AXE, & CRAMPONS
  • AVALANCHE BEACON, AVALANCHE PROBE, SHOVEL

Wilderness permits, summit passes, and pack-out bags are currently available at all trailheads, the Mt. Shasta and McCloud Ranger Stations and The 5th Season in Mount Shasta City. All trailheads are currently open. Annual passes ($30) are only available at The Fifth Season outdoor store in Mt Shasta. The Mt. Shasta and McCloud Ranger Stations are usually open Monday through Friday from 8 to 4:30 PM. Due to COVID-19, the ranger stations are currently CLOSED. Check our climbing regulations for more details.

Using common sense and carrying the TEN essentials keep you and your party out of search and rescue statistics. Wear a helmet, and know how to use your ice axe and crampons. Be prepared and pay attention. The mountain has extreme weather changes.

Winter and Spring months usually see periods of heightened avalanche danger, though this danger could exist in the summer months under the right circumstances. Research the weather and avalanche danger while planning your trip. Have your climbing party bring avalanche beacons, probes, and shovels armed with proficient skills in their use. Know how to identify avalanche terrain and evaluate snowpack stability.

Shasta Alpine Hut

The stone cabin at treeline on the Avalanche Gulch climbing route is open year-round and all are welcome. However, one cannot sleep inside the cabin, except in emergencies.  The composting toilet is open for the season and water is available at the spring.  Caretakers are present five days a week for the climbing/hiking season.  If you plan on camping on the property a nominal $3/bivy and $5/tent fee is asked. There is a fee deposit tube inside the cabin.  This fragile area gets a lot of use. Please practice Leave-no-Trace principles.  Lastly, the property owner, The Sierra Club Foundation, manages its property under the Mt. Shasta Wilderness rules – that means dogs, horses, and other domestic animals are not allowed.  Please respect the rules. Thanks!

Dogs

DOGS ARE NOT ALLOWED IN THE MT. SHASTA WILDERNESS OR WITHIN THE SIERRA CLUB FOUNDATION PROPERTY BOUNDARIES (Shasta Alpine Hut).