From the Everett area, it is about a 9 or 10-hour drive to reach the trail-head at bunny flat. This is the start of Avalanche Gulch on Mount Shasta. Brandon and I decided that sleeping in shifts in the back of the car would be the fastest way for us to get down there. So, We left at 10:30 pm to avoid memorial day traffic. We managed the trip from Seattle with only one stop to change drivers and another for coffee.
Arriving at Bunny Flat around 8 am we stretched, changed, and stared in awe at the huge mountain before us. Within an hour of arriving in the parking lot we were on the trail headed for Avalanche gulch and Mount Shasta. The first part of the trail seemed easy. It climbs through trees until you enter Avalanche Gulch. From here the avalanche gulch picks up pace as it begins to climb up Mount Shasta’s south face. For navigation to Helen Lake follow in others’ footsteps. During climbing season there is a nice wide track that leads you right to the camping area.
The climb up Avalanche Gulch on Mount Shasta is not demanding of technical skills. Yet, it is a good test of your endurance. Everyone from the average day hiker to seasoned mountaineers was making the trek. Though I also saw a good number of people give up. Be prepared for a long hard slog in the sun.
At the top of Avalanche Gulch is the Lake Helen camp area and the start to the climbing route of Mount Shasta. There is a football field worth of space to spread out tents. The rangers will come around to check your Shasta Climbing permits so make sure they are out and visible.
When the rangers come by, be sure to ask them about the avalanche gulch route conditions. Brandon and I had been climbing all summer and preparing to be up at 1:00 AM for a summit push. The ranger kindly informed us that the route is in shade this time of year until 10:00 am. Had we left at 1:00 then the red banks would still be iced over. At the ranger’s advice we chose to wait to leave until 3:00 am. That would give us a better chance at glissading the Red Banks, but, still, have us leave before most groups.
If you are attempting the one-day ascent of Mount Shasta’s Avalanche Gulch then pass by the camping areas. You will want to head for the massive snowfield center-right of the peak. This is the area everyone calls the Red Banks.
The Red Banks is the first thing you will encounter during the day. Walking up a 2,000 ft hill first thing in the morning is demoralizing. There is a lot of steps to kick and I would suggest having an Ice -Ax. Though I did see people doing it with trekking poles and snowshoes. Either way knowing self-arrest techniques on this part is necessary. It is a several thousand foot fall if you can’t stop yourself. It was tiring enough that I overheard two groups at the top discussing their retreat plans at the top.
Once you crest the Red Banks, you will see short and misery hills. This is what most people see as the crux of Mount Shasta’s Avalanche Gulch route. If you have studied the route, you know what you're looking at isn’t the summit. It will look like it from here.
The Actual summit is 500 feet above the farthest hill. As I update this page I am thinking of all the other places I have now climbed. Still, the sunrise on the Red Banks along Mount Shasta’s Avalanche Gulch route is one of the best I’ve ever seen. (While editing this page due to a site update, I would have to say that there are far better sunrises in the cascades. My favorite is now on Eldorado Peak)
Though they crushed half of my spirit, short and misery hills were easy in comparison to the Red Banks. If you look up other trip reports for Mount Shasta you may find as I did, that these two hills are what stop most climbers. I can see why, but they did not feel as steep or sustained. The Red Banks are just a massive challenge that leave little energy for that last 1500 feet or so.
The last 300 feet to the summit is easy after the rest of this climbing route. A moderate grade walk after misery hill and a small push to the summit. We took about 15 minutes on top and then headed down as most groups were arriving.
Despite our best efforts to listen to the ranger and time the climb, we arrived back at the Red Banks to find it still frozen solid. We debated waiting for the sun to warm up the area so we could glissade, but, we also still needed to drive home. Ultimately we down-climbed it and it was a nightmare. Steep, slick and hard on the knees it was the worst part of the entire trip...
By trading off driving once again on the way home, we made it back to the Everett area Sunday evening. Altogether the trip took us a mere 51 hours from apartment to apartment. We never once sat in memorial day traffic. An epic feat for sure!