Mount Shasta – Avalanche Gulch
May 27, 2017
May 28, 2017
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May 27, 2017

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.

bunny flat trail head mount shasta california
bunny flat trailhead
waterboy in the bunny flat parking lot
waterboy ready to climb

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.

waterboy in avalanche gulch on mount shasta
waterboy in avalanche gulch
brandon climbing avalanche gulch on mount shasta
brandon in avalanche gulch
helen lake camp site mount shasta california
helen lake camp site

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.

diggin out a tent pad near helen lake campsite
digging a tent paltform
climbers training near helen lake campsite
climbers training near camp

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.

umbrella man arriving at helen lake
umbrella man
looking up the red banks from lake helen
looking up the red banks
helen lake camp site mount shasta california
helen lake camp site
May 28, 2017

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.

waterboy climbing the red banks on mount shasta
waterboy at sunrise
sunrise from the red banks on mount shasta
sunrise from red banks climb
short and misery hill mount shasta california
short and misery hills

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.

summit block of mount shasta seen from top of misery hill
summit block of mount shasta
final summit push on mount shasta
final summit push
brandon walking down the summit ridge of mount shasta
summit ridge
waterboy on the summit of mount shasta
triumphant summit pose
summit ridge of mount shasta in california
summit ridge from true summit

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!

looking down the red banks toward lake helen
looking down the red banks
mount shasta brewing company truck
mount shasta brewing company

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