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Avalanche Gulch Update
Climbing and skiing conditions in Avalanche Gulch are good. Many climbers and skiers went to the summit on Saturday, 5/21/22, but not all descended without mishap. Snow conditions started off firm but softened by early afternoon due to strong solar input and light winds. The trail to Horse Camp is all dirt. There is patchy snow in the Climber's Gully starting around 8,500 - 9,000' but the approach to Helen can be done mostly on dirt and scree until about 9,000'.
The climbing route is straightforward from Lake Helen and ascends the ramp climbers' right of The Heart. There is a well-defined boot pack up the ramp to the base of the Red Banks. There are several viable options through the Red Banks above the ramp. All are steep and have consequential fall potential, especially if the snow is very firm. Be cautious in this zone and make note of which chute you ascend so as to descend the same one on the way back down. There are boot prints all over the place: Pay attention on the way up, look back every once and awhile to take a mental note, take a GPS track log, and don't rely on following boot prints or glissade tracks in the snow to find your way down. DO NOT GLISSADE ABOVE THE RED BANKS. Never glissade if you cannot see the entirety of your runout. Never glissade with crampons on your feet. Glissading can be a fun and efficient way to descend certain snow slopes, but it is also a very common cause of injury and death on Mount Shasta. If you haven't been trained on how to glissade properly, it is safer to walk down.
A SAFETY MESSAGE TO CLIMBERS: An ascent of Avalanche Gulch to the summit of Mount Shasta is not a "hike." This is a mountaineering climb with steep snow, ice, fall potential, high altitude, rock and ice fall hazard, and potentially winter-like weather. If you do not have prior mountaineering experience, please consider taking a mountaineering course, hiring a guide, and gaining experience on smaller mountains before attempting Mount Shasta. Rescue is not always possible and takes time to organize. Adopt a wilderness ethic of self-sufficiency while in the mountains. Know your abilities. Know how to use your ice axe and crampons and ascend steep snow. Wear a helmet. Bring emergency gear and know how to use it. Make a turnaround time and stick to it. Make sure you have enough energy, food, and water left to safely descend the upper mountain. Descents are where most accidents happen.
A SAFETY MESSAGE TO SKI MOUNTAINEERS: Ski conditions on the upper mountain are variable and for experts only. If attempting to ski above 10,000' on Mount Shasta you must be an expert level skier in all conditions, know how to assess snow conditions, terrain steepness, consequences of a fall, and most importantly, there are places that you must not fall. There are slopes where losing a ski or falling can result in injury or death. The snow does not always soften enough for a safe descent, especially if it's cloudy or windy. Be prepared to walk down with your skis if conditions aren't right. Most skiers ascend to the right of the Heart and then descend to the left of the Heart. This means they are "onsighting" the ski descent, meaning they don't have first-hand knowledge of the snow conditions and steepness of the descent because they didn't climb up the slope they're descending. This necessitates careful evaluation of the weather, steepness, consequences, snow conditions, and an honest evaluation of one's own abilities from the top down before committing to the ski descent. If you lose a ski or slip on the ski descent, what is your plan? Is your ice axe handy without taking off your backpack? Do you know how to transition on a steep slope? Do you know how to down climb a steep slope? These are the basic considerations you need to make before attempting to ski off of the upper reaches of Mount Shasta. This is not a ski resort. Ski mountaineering requires a variety of skills, including solid mountaineering skills, solid skiing skills, and thoughtful risk-management. The Trinity Chutes or "Left of Heart" in upper Avalanche Gulch is not the place to learn these skills. You need to have a solid skill set and experience level before attempting to ski Mount Shasta.