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Casaval Ridge Climb
The Casaval Ridge line had become a nagging taunt over the last 14 months. Good weather and snow cover are a necessity on this one. Two conditions precedent that become surprisingly elusive during Mt. Shasta dry years.
Right now, this route is in. The overall condition is great.
On Friday February 18, after a long day of work, the stars had aligned. Bags were packed. Food was rationed. An unnecessary picket and climbing harness were thrown in. A super cool ultralight bivy sans sleeping bag from the 5th Season used gear sale was added. And then the immediate follow up, a 3 hour nap.
At 1130 the alarm blared. Two climbing partners had found their way into my home from Portland. They were roused from the couch and we made the short drive up to Bunny Flat. After some final packing, driving, and morning bathroom visits at the trailhead facilities we were ready to go. The step-off was 0100.
We averaged about 1000 ft per hour up to 10,300. The wind was not noticeable. Our snowpack was nice and firm during this first leg. We all wore single mountaineering boots without crampons up to the top of Giddy Giddy Gulch. Route finding to this point was obvious. The first leg involves the familiar trek to Horse Camp. At Horse Camp, the climber veers left and briefly follows the boot back leading to Hidden Valley until they quickly find themselves heading up the buttes enclosing the right side of Giddy Giddy Gulch. At around 9,800 we arrived at the top of the gulch. This is a flat section. Probably the best camp if you’re doing a 2 day ascent on this route. After a brief break we put our crampons on and headed up the ridge several hundred feet to gain Casaval ridge proper.
After obtaining the ridge we stayed climber's left of it as we began the 10,300 traverse crux. Snowpack was firm. We front-pointed some and were glad to have 2 tools. After a few hundred yards, the route mellowed and we continued the high traverse.
At about 11,800 we were below a series of rock towers forming a small wall. Heading up towards them we encountered 50 degree slopes on good snow. Heading towards the ridge line, the second opening in the rock tower wall to the left of the ridge presented a climbable couloir. After ascending we began the short approach to the catwalk.
The catwalk and “knife’s edge” sections of the route were fun but not particularly airy. Both these sections presented a wall on the climbers left and a steep drop off to the right towards Avalanche Gulch. After passing through both we came upon some final rock towers and climbed one just left of the ridge. After a brief 5th class scramble up we had a gentle descent off the tower down to some snowpack just above Whitney Glacier.
The glacier was skirted and we began the climb up to Misery Hill and the summit. After gaining the summit at 1100 we had an easy descent down avalanche gulch.
We took our time on this route and had several lengthy breaks. The entire trip took 15 hours.