Mt. Shasta, CA via Casaval Ridge
A guest post from Brandon Arrastia of BrandonClimbs.com
Mt. Shasta Facts:
• It’s the second highest peak in the Cascades next to Rainier (No.1)
• Over 15,000 summit attempts are made every year with only a third being successful.
• Most of the climbing is done via the popular Avalanche Gulch
• Casaval ridge has an elevation gain of approx 7,300′
Shortly after arriving home from my Rainier trip I was eager to redeem myself on another mountain. Although I had summited, the ass-kicking I received really humbled me and opened my eyes to all the areas I needed to improve on for my next going. After much searching, I came across Mt Shasta and instantly knew this one would be next. I booked a winter trip via Casaval ridge, I prefer going on the less popular routes to avoid the crowds. This time around I convinced my good friend Yen to join me which made me that much more excited knowing one of my good buddies was joining me for the adventure. The lead up to this climb was especially difficult and there where times when I considered cancelling the trip, I had lost my grandfather to cancer a month after booking the trip and two months before the climb my younger cousin died of an opioid overdose (Please see passion & purpose for more on this and how I’m using my climbs to raise awareness on opioid addiction). These were very difficult times for me personally and made my summit all the more emotional.
Things were much different this time around. I gave myself considerable amounts of time to train (7 months) and I took my training much more seriously. I trained hard and frequent. I ran 4-5 times a week 5 miles/day on average and did lots of leg workouts, especially exercises that would target my hamstrings and tibialis (downhill muscles). I got on a strict stretching regimen to make sure I had no tightness in my muscles and the best possible range of motion. A good diet got me much leaner and faster for this trip. I had learned my lesson and I wasn’t about to commit the same mistakes that nearly prevented me from getting to the summit on Rainier.
Mt. Shasta California
After 7 long months, February finally came around and I was all packed up and ready to go. I flew to San Francisco, spent a few days getting to know the beautiful city before renting a car and heading up north. On route to Shasta, we were able to enjoy the amazing ride, taking in all the scenery that surrounded us completely topped in fresh snow. We got to Shasta in the midst of some crappy weather, it was all cloudy and the visibility sucked. So we opted to head to a local restaurant to have one last solid meal before heading up for the climb the next day! We had pasta, steak, and potatoes, it was a feast! We were making sure our bellies were completely satisfied before the big day. We were so stuffed we could hardly walk but when we stepped outside, the weather had cleared and Mt. Shasta’s massive presence was towering over us in the most incredible of ways. It really was a sight to be seen. At that very moment, I knew we were in for a treat!
The next morning we all met at the SWS office and introduced ourselves. This time around I was one of the few that had some past mountaineering experience. Despite all my training I was still a bit weary and intimidated by the mountain. To my surprise the guides let us know that due to the bad weather conditions, no group from SWS had reached the summit this winter. But luckily we had a very narrow window where we might be the first to make it up (fingers crossed). After a quick pow-wow, gear check and poop bag course (poop bags vary from mountain to mountain, not all poop bags are created equal!), we loaded up our packs and headed for the bunny flats.
Upon arrival, we quickly realized the snow was soft and deep thanks to a heavy fall the days before. We strapped on our snowshoes and began breaking trail. The weather was nice and cool and the mountain was as if you were looking at a virtual reality postcard, it was perfect. We slowly started making our way up to what would be our camp for the next two days. It was a very pleasant day on the mountain and I was feeling great, absolutely no exhaustion or leg pumps. Every hour or so we would stop for a break and a chance to take in the breathtaking views. The last 90 minutes consisted of ascending a fairly steep snowfield and before we knew it we had arrived at this ledge that would be our camp for the next 2 days. Everyone dropped their pack, pulled out the shovels and automatically started digging out the tent platform. We dug about 3’ in the deepest section and were able to get some nice cozy spots for the tents where they would be protected from the wind.
As the sun came down, the temperature started dropping quickly and in a blink of an eye, it got very very cold. Even with my mitts on, my fingers were so cold they hurt. I figured it was a good idea to get warm so I quickly tucked myself into my sleeping bag and “tried” (hardly a truth when mountaineering) to get a good night’s sleep. This proved very difficult due to the winds pounding on the tent all night long. It was also Yen’s first time on a mountain so he was so excited he wasn’t having any sleep either. What seemed like 15 min after I was finally able to close my eyes, the guides were shining their headlamps on our tents to wake us up.
It was 2 am, extremely cold and it took some serious willpower to get moving. We drank hot cocoa, got our gear on and set out to conquer the summit. It was dark out and windy while we roped up and started on the ridge. The wind was picking up the snow and spraying it on my face making for some nice frozen snot. We kept moving along waiting for the sun to rise and warm us up a bit. Eventually, it did and we got the most incredible views of Mt Shasta’s shadow cast upon the surrounding landscape. We were also able to get a good view of the ridge we were climbing. It was amazing, full of these huge red rocks protruding from the snow forming what’s really the most aesthetic line on the mountain.
We were roped up in two groups of four. By sunrise our group was moving at a considerably slower pace than the other, so we started to worry we wouldn’t make it to the top on time. We had been at it for nearly 6 hours and had yet to make it to Shastina (Shasta’s little sister at 12,335’) and we still had 2000’ of elevation gain to go before making the summit. I was feeling great, my training had proven to work and I was ready to pick up the pace at any moment to race for the top. The problem was my group members were having a hard time keeping pace and were giving in to exhaustion. By just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other for few hours, we eventually made it to the famous Misery Hill. By now I could see the first group already making it to the top of the hill. Matt, our group guide sat us down for a second to let us know that our summiting window was closing. We had a choice, either call it a day and start making our way down or haul ass to the top, each one at his best pace and one of us summits on time. At this point we un-roped and he let us know that we had 45 minutes to drop onto Misery Hill and make it to the top (this is where my training really kicked in).
After all the events that happened leading up to this trip and how emotional it was for me, I had to summit one way or another. So I kicked it into high gear and started working my way down onto Misery Hill on my own and then raced up to the top at a frantic pace. I was able to catch up with the first group just at the beginning of the summit plateau. I felt some guilt leaving my partner to climb up at a slower pace knowing he probably wouldn’t make it but knowing he was safe and accompanied by the guide, I decided to push on since this climb meant too much to me. Once I met with the other group, I got a quick drink of water before setting out for the summit pyramid. It was gorgeous once at the plateau, you really get to see how massive of a mountain Shasta really is. Then it’s a short hike before getting to the true summit. We had made it!
We took some pictures, signed the summit log and hung out for a bit before heading back down to camp. Just as I started making my way off the summit I saw Yen, my climbing partner approaching the top. I raced down to where he was and took the final steps with him. I was ecstatic he had made it and that we were able to get a summit picture together.
At this time we really had to start heading down in order to make it to camp before sundown. We descended down the side of Avalanche Gulch in a long and boring slog in knee deep snow. It took about 4 hours to get back down. Once at camp I took off my boots, organized my gear inside the tent and went straight to sleep. After a long day, when I finally laid down on my sleeping bag I was so tired it felt like I was laying on a Tempurpedic and in a matter of minutes I was out cold. The next morning, we were up around 7 and quickly began packing up since a storm was working its way onto the mountain. We wanted to be out as soon as possible. After a quite uneventful descent, we had finally made it back to Bunny Flats. Spirits were high and we were all eager to have a decent meal and get some rest.
All in all, even though my physical conditioning was a lot better on Shasta, I still consider Rainier to be much harder both physically and technically. That being said, this is a beautiful mountain with amazing features. I really enjoyed climbing it in the winter since there wasn’t anyone else on the mountain at the time. Despite the sun beating down on us the whole summit day, it was still cool enough to where we didn’t feel fatigued by the sun. I definitely wouldn’t mind coming back and climbing it again, maybe try ski mountaineering it instead!
HERE’S A LIST OF THE GEAR I USED, THE PLACES I STAYED AND THE COST BREAK DOWN OF THE TRIP:
Shasta is pretty much far from everything, you don’t have many options other than renting a car. Plus the drive is well worth it (amazing scenery). Your nearest airport is Sacramento which is about a 3-hour drive. Once at Shasta, your best bet is to stay at the SWS bunkhouse. There are plenty of restaurants in the area to satisfy your pre-climb cravings. From the SWS bunkhouse, it’s about a 30-min drive to Bunny Flats, where you will begin your climb.
•SWS mountain guides – $825.00 (+ guide tip)
•Car rental – $235.00
•Hotel – $166.00 (2 nights)
•Pre-climb food – $74.00
•Snow Shoe Rentals – $40.00
Total: Approx $1340.00
•La Sportiva Baruntse
•Point 6 Mediumweight Socks
•Point 6 Heavyweight socks
•Smart Wool base layer
•Mountain Hardware ChockStone pants
•Arc’teryx Alpha SL Pant
•Bight Gear Solstice Hoody Men’s (base layer)
•North Face softshell hooded jacket (**Highly Recommended)
•Mountain Hardware ghost lite jacket
•Mountain Hardwear Micro Dome (insulating warm hat)
•Marmot Men’s Windstopper Glove (lightweight)
•Marmot Men’s Randonnee Glove (medium weight)
•Marmot Mens Mit
•Julbo Monte Bianco Glacier Glasses
•Black Diamond Climbing Helmet
•Black Diamond Couloir Harness
•Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe
•Black Diamond Sabertooth Clip Crampons
•Osprey 85 Pack
•Mountain Hardware 3 degrees sleeping bag
•MSR Snow Shoes