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Climbing Advisory

05-23-24 General Conditions & Climbing Information

The Bottom Line

Mount Shasta is good shape and this weekend is going to be a busy one, notoriously one of the busiest of the year. Northwesterly wind has been hammering the mountain all week, but looks to lighten up into the weekend. Wind is dangerous as it can blow climbers off balance, initiating a fall. Further, should something happen, being caught in strong wind can introduce hypothermia to the scene. Think about this when making decisions. Sunday appears to be pretty nice. Note that Redbanks (12,500 feet) is NOT almost the top. You still have several more hours of climbing, and then your only half way. Use Redbanks as a key decision point: what time of day is it, what's the weather like, how are you and your group feeling? Set a turn around time of high noon. Overall, the majority of the mountain is holding good snow coverage and quality surfaces. Ridgeline climbing routes are beginning to show more rock. Climb them now, they melt out fast. Slide-for-life conditions is a primary hazard. Smooth and firm snow in the morning on the upper mountain will be encountered. A fall without quick self-arrest is a guaranteed 911 call. On the contrary, firm surfaces will aid in crampon traction and climbing quality. Careful foot work is essential. Do not glissade on firm snow! Glissading when conditions are too firm is a good recipe for disaster. Consider the conditions and your skills. Take off your crampons if you choose to glissade, make sure the snow is soft, control your speed. Rock and ice fall are possible. To mitigate this danger, keep an eye to the sky, wear a helmet, yell "rock!", and be off the upper mountain by mid-day. Further, what we say, may not be what you encounter. Recognizing hazardous conditions is up to you. Here are a few notes and watch-outs for your awesome adventure!

  • Conditions are great. It's still possible to ski off the summit, to your car door, 6.5 miles and 7k ft vert. EPIC! Somewhere along the way you should find some good snow for skiing. Ski down anywhere between 10 and 1. Choose your own adventure by aspect and elevation seeking out the primo corn. Ridge routes are in good shape. Do them now. They melt out fast.
  • Access to other trailheads as of 5/10: Clear Creek - 4 mi. Brewer as of 5/23 - 10 mi. Northgate as of 5/20: Half a mile. 
  • Bunny Flat is the only accessible trailhead at this time. It accesses all routes on the south and west aspects, as well as Shastina. Motorized use is still possible from Bunny Flat to the Old Ski Bowl. Large toy haulers not recommended due to vehicle congestion.
  • The only water available on the mountain is at Horse Camp. Otherwise, plan on melting snow. Water is not available at Bunny Flat.
  • Punchy snow conditions are likely on the warm days in the afternoon. Snowshoes are helpful only on the lower half of Shasta, but with enough climbers on the mountain, a decent boot pack is developing. Trekking poles are great, we don't go anywhere without them.
  • Slide-for-Life conditions are present on the upper mountain. This simply means smooth and firm snow in the mornings. If you slip or trip, and don't immediately self-arrest, you will take a winger down the mountain. Practice self-arrest in soft snow on a slope of non-consequence and without crampons to get your self-arrest with an ice axe dialed. It needs to happen fast, like a cat.
  • Wear a HELMET. Seriously. Redbanks and the adjacet rocks of upper Avalanche Gulch are covered in rime ice. These chunks break off and tumble down onto climbers below on warm days. Keep your head up, wear your helmet properly, yell, "rock!" to warn climbers below.
  • Please don't forget your FREE wag bag(s). Take pride in keeping a clean mountain environment. Thousands visit Mount Shasta each year. Pay your respect by packing off ALL of your human waste and trash. There is a composting toilet that is OPEN at Horse Camp.
  • Lastly, don't forget your REQUIRED ITEMS to climb: summit pass ($25), wilderness permit and human waste packout bag. They are available for self-issue, day or night, at Bunny Flat or the Mt Shasta and McCloud Ranger Stations. A electronic fee machine at Bunny Flat has been recently installed. Credit sales are available for 3-day or annual passes. KEEP THE RECEIPT WITH YOU.

Conditions Update

Except for Bunny Flat, all Mount Shasta Wilderness trailheads are still CLOSED and have prolonged access due to miles of snow covered roads. A snowmobile or good set of legs and extra time is necessary for Northgate, Brewer and Clear Creek trailheads. We will update access info as roads melt out. As of 5/10 the following numbers represent miles of snow covered roads to the trailheads: Clear Creek - 4 miles. As of 5/23, Brewer Creek - 10 miles from Highway 89 and 12 miles from Highway 97. As of 5/20, Northgate is half a mile out. You may still access the Wilderness via closed trailheads, but your summit pass, wilderness permit and human waste bags must be obtained at the Mt Shasta or McCloud Ranger Station. You may self issue day or night. An annual pass must be obtained during business hours. Bunny Flat is open and accessible, with all required items for climbing available.

The climbing season is just beginning. Typically, late April, May and June are best, and this year is no exception. It's that time of year when periods of good weather can lure climbers onto the mountain, but winter-like conditions are still possible. Mount Shasta will experience winter-like conditions in April, and must not be underestimated. CHECK THE WEATHER and be willing to change plans if the stars don't align. Don't climb into a whiteout! Always carry navigation tools and know how to use them. An ice axe, crampons and helmet is absolutely necessary. Climbing Mount Shasta early season holds little similarities to conditions a few months from now. Climbers need to consider the avalanche danger, very cold temperatures with high wind, unpredictable weather patterns and poor visibility, ice/rock fall, variable snow surface conditions, and lack of other climbers. Despite being 15 minutes off the interstate, rescue is not guranteed so be prepared to support yourself and your party in the event of a accident.

Mount Shasta is holding excellent snow coverage for all routes. Above treeline, climbers and riders will encounter a mixture of conditions. Wind has created many firm and dense surfaces. In some spots surfaces are scoured down to ice and/or rock. Softer snow exists in more protected areas like gullies and depressions. Rock outcroppings are adorned with a large amount of rime ice. Be prepared for changing conditions and hazards. Lake Helen is in great shape for camping. Be sure to take your trash and waste down with you, it's required. We have a long climbing season ahead. Help us take care of the mountain we all love. 

It is REQUIRED to pack out your human waste on Mount Shasta. Please pickup a FREE human waste packout bag at the ranger stations or Bunny Flat before you hit the hill. Respect the mountains and Mother Nature. Learn and practice the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace.

Bunny Flat is one of the busiest places in the Forest and we need your help to keep it clean. We permit camping in the parking lot or just below in the dispersed camping area. There is no water available but we do provide a bathroom. The camping stay limit is 7 consecutive days, and not to exceed 30 days total in the calendar year.

Please read all the information below to educate yourself on general information about what it takes to climb Mount Shasta safely. If you have further questions, don't hesitate to give us a call. We are not always in the office, but will respond as soon as we can: 530-926-9614 or email nicklaus.meyers@usda.gov.

Be Prepared

Our goal is to ensure you have a positive wilderness experience and come home in one piece. To do 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 self-arrest properly 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, 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 thunderstorms 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 continue to 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 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. Rest and hydration are vital to alleviating AMS symptoms. If these 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 any time.

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, probe, with the ability to identify avalanche terrain and snow instability, is 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 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, bivouac sack.
  • HELMET, ICE-AXE, & CRAMPONS
  • AVALANCHE BEACON, AVALANCHE PROBE, SHOVEL

Wilderness permits, summit passes, and pack-out bags are currently available at Bunny Flat, the Mt. Shasta and McCloud Ranger Stations and The Fifth Season outdoor store in Mount Shasta City. The Mount Shasta and McCloud Ranger Stations are typically open Monday through Friday from 8 to 4:30 PM. Check our climbing regulations for more details.

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 drinking water is available at the spring.  Caretakers are present five days a week for the climbing/hiking season.  If you plan on camping, there are two dozen dispersed sites 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 – dogs, horses, and other domestic animals are not allowed.  No drones.  Thanks!

Dogs

DOGS, AND OTHER DOMESTIC ANIMALS, ARE NOT ALLOWED IN THE MT. SHASTA WILDERNESS OR WITHIN THE SIERRA CLUB FOUNDATION PRIVATE PROPERTY (Shasta Alpine Hut).

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