Intro to a Cascadian Volcano road trip: Mt Shasta

Installment 8 from Kyle Miller’s 08-09 touring season:

Sleep should have been inevitable as I laid nestled cozily in my sleeping bag atop a thermarest and concrete parking lot, yet the continual sounds of people rustling their gear as they headed off in fifteen minute intervals kept me tossing and turning through the dead of night. As I laid there, half-asleep, my mind kept returning to what was in store for the week ahead of us.I felt fortunate to join Amar Andalkar on one of his Cascadian road trips. Both mine and Amar’s only goals for our California road trip were to climb as many Volcanoes as our legs would allow. With our only constraint being time (9 days), we decided to begin with Mt. Shasta.

In the early morning, the alpenglow began to light up our potential climbing route. I began moving as much as I could to warm up my chilled body. Since most of the climbers who hadn’t planned on sliding down on the descent had left in the middle of the night, the parking lot now appeared lifeless. We were the last group to head out. While climbing parties prefer the firm snow conditions of early morning we had other plans in mind, having come to ski Mt. Shasta from the summit, and descend down the south-facing Konwakiton Glacier in the early afternoon.

The wind increased in voracity as we skinned up the standard south-side climbing route known as Avalanche Gulch. Its increasing velocity pelted us with coin-sized ice chunks before we were forced to take cover in some partly melted rock that would provide purchase for our feet. From here, the slope was too steep and the snow too firm for skinning, so we chose to switch over to crampons for the final 4000′ feet between us and the summit proper.

By now, Amar and I were both familiar with each other’s climbing techniques, so we swtich-backed up the slope and took full advantage of the firm bootpack put in by a group of two who were climbing several hundred feet above us. As we climbed, we could momentarily make out yells from the group ahead, which became more and more recognizable. When we got closer, we figured out that the group ahead were none other than Christy Kinney and Jason Hummel, two friends also intent upon taking advantage of the fabulous corn snow and perfect California conditions!


Our team climbing at the base of Misery Hill

From there on out, our group doubled in size, and the good times doubled, as well! After the last fifteen hundred verts, known as “misery hill” our group found ourselves atop Christy’s first fourteener amid the overwhelming smell of sulfur dioxide.


The final few steps to summit proper (Photo by Amar Andalkar)

Celebrating the summit and waiting for the snow to soften, we drank some water and prepared a snack. The route we had planned for the way down was the Konwakiton Glacier, which boasts 3000′ of perfect fall line, before a traverse to the final 2000′ vert.


Our first turns on the Konwakiton Glacier (photo by Amar Andalkar)

We dropped in to find that the corn was soft and the conditions, joyous. We ripped down the slope, one at a time, enveloped by the seemingly foreign glacial terrain. Below us, California’s arid mountains were spread out across the horizon for our viewing pleasure.


Jason dropping down the steep face (Photo by Amar Andalkar)


Putting up some spray (photo by Amar Andalkar)

Our legs were burning when we finally reached our low spot. After much-needed rest, we began traversing to a low col, which brought us to our traverse from earlier in that day.

All that stood between us and the parking lot was the final thousand feet of low-angled glades and gullies now covered in boot prints and bootpack from climbers returning from their summit attempts.


Last few turns in alpine (photo by Jason Hummel)

We carefully navigated through the maze of terrain back to our motorized vehicles. It had been a long day but we were overwhelmed with the joy that accompanies an all-around successful tour. That night, we said our farewells to Jason and Christy over some well-deserved and insanely delectable Mexican cuisine.


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