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10-08-20 General Conditions & Climbing Information
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
Almost all the accidents on Mt. Shasta result from:
- Slipping and falling with a failure to self-arrest
- Glissading when the snow is too firm
- Glissading with crampons on
- Climbing into a whiteout
- Being struck by early-season icefall or late season rockfall
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 that can 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.
Many hazards exist in mountain terrain. Some of these include:
- Ice and rockfall
- Extreme weather
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 up slope 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 a 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 the 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 it's proximity to Interstate 5 and it's "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 be able to constantly evaluate the terrain, weather, and many other factors in order 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.
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 to 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 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), and allows plenty of time to descend before dark, and also allows a rescue effort to ensue before dark in the event one gets injured or lost.
Get an alpine start (2-5 am) and have a turn around time of 12 to 1 pm. Proper equipment, clothing, and training are a must. Helmets are recommended always and expect rock and ice 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.
Get avalanche training and know how to use your transceiver, shovel, and probe in the winter and spring.
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 fun on consolidated snow.
A winter climb of Mt. Shasta is possible, but 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 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 (Horse Camp)
Camping is currently prohibited on Sierra Club land. The bathrooms are open at the Sierra Alpine Hut and day use is permitted. The spring is flowing and water is available. The stone cabin and the surrounding property are owned and managed by the Sierra Club Foundation. The cabin is open year-round and all are welcome, however, one cannot sleep inside the cabin, except in emergencies. Make sure you close the door when you leave. In the future, if you plan on camping at Horse Camp, a nominal $3 bivy/$5 tent fee is asked. Lastly, the Sierra Club Foundation manages its property under the Mt. Shasta Wilderness rules - that means dogs are not allowed. Horses are also prohibited on the property. Please respect the rules. Thanks!
DOGS ARE NOT ALLOWED IN THE MT. SHASTA WILDERNESS OR WITHIN THE SIERRA CLUB PROPERTY BOUNDARIES (Sierra Alpine Hut).