Last month my good friend Paul turned 30 and wanted to do something big. Being that he's now living in Redding and stares at the peaks of Lassen and Shasta on a daily basis, the 14K foot Shasta became the obvious choice.
Paul and his two buddies, Vlado and Jeremy, met with one of their contacts who used to be a Shasta guide and once summited the lone peak something ridiculous like 16 times in a 24-hour period. I'm not certain on that specific number -- just know that it was something ridiculous and, no, the mountain is not that easy. It's a big mountain with snow year-round and is infamous for creating it's own weather patterns. Shasta has 7 glaciers and many of the routes have dangerous crevaces that require real mountaineering knowledge and experience -- most of which I lack completely.
The route discussed was the south-western route, the popular route, up Avalanche Gulch and up through the notorious Red Banks. I have a backcountry ski and snowboard guide book, however, that recommends the eastern route instead starting from the Brewer Creek trailhead. The snowboard descent from the summit is one long continuous run that descends 6 miles and 7K vertical feet; and is considered by many to be the best ski and snowboard descent in all of California. I sent Paul some emails, text messages, voicemails probably, trying to sell the Wintun-Hotlum Ridge route (in between 2 of Shasta's 7 glaciers) after they had their plans already in place. It wasn't hard to sell and they jumped on board.
I met up with Chris Gallardo from Splitboard.com at his home in the foothills, packed up the sled in the back of his truck, and headed out. Chris became the selling point for this trip because he was the only one with experience on the mountain and with the Brewer Creek trail-head specifically. The road to the trail-head was still snowed in so we brought his snowmobile to shuttle us up to the forest boundary. We shared some laughs and a few "take aways" from the car ride before meeting the other three guys in the town of Mount Shasta. After renting crampons and axes, and filling our bellies with a burger and a pint, we headed for the trailhead. Oddly enough, Chris had me navigating because he didn't know how to get there -- having been there twice you can bet I gave him a hard time about that.
(For the best viewing experience it is recommended to use a computer, as a mobile device won't allow viewing of photo descriptions).
On a rock near our camp at Brewer Crk trailhead. From Left to Right: Chris, Vlado, Paul, Me, and Jeremy From L - RChris, Paul, Vlado, and Jeremy [Tangent] I want to make a quick mention that this was my first time meeting Chris. Splitboard.com has a great forum where you can read trip reports and also meet others in the split-board community to join or invite on trips. Chris and I met, however, through a different online community -- Instagram. I know a lot of people are sick of all the social media platforms out there and the level of narcissism in our society has reached an all-time high; it gets a little tiresome and obnoxious, I agree. But Instagram, for me and other photographers, has turned into this place of community that serves as an inspiration for creativity. Anyhow, that's how I met Chris and I think it's pretty cool. I hope to do more trips in the future with him and others in the photography and split-board community.
Back to Shasta: Shortly after arriving to the point of going no further in the truck (which was about a mile from trail-head to where we would set up camp) we learned we weren't alone on the east side; 4 Irish guys from the bay arrived with the same plan to summit the next day, and we were the first groups of the season to climb and ride the east side. We woke at 1:30 to boil water for coffee and oatmeal before breaking trail. The Irish guys passed our camp just as we began to break trail and we stayed pretty close to each other all day.
We were blessed to have clear skies all night and the stars became the focal point for the first 4 hours of hiking. After we came out from tree-line the show in the sky was lit up and on center stage. The challenge for me was capturing it enough without stopping too long and losing time. I could have photographed there for hours until the sun came up but we had a mountain to climb. Chris, Paul, Vlado, and Jeremy ascending on splitboards. Jeremy is not visible in the back because no one was behind him with a headlamp to light him up. In all of my photos I try to process them in the way that honors the setting. And for me that means keeping it as realistic as possible. It's so easy to get carried away sometimes in post-processing but I generally like to be "safe" with it and not over do it; and more often than not I error on the side of not doing enough instead of over-doing it. I assure you that the night sky as we climbed Mt. Shasta was the most impressive one I've ever seen. I live in the Tahoe basin and see stars and the milky way on a regular basis and it's always impressive, but this morning on Shasta was like nothing I've seen before. It was magical.
Two groups ascending Mt. Shasta under the Milky Way. Chris Gallardo splitboarding up before dawn on Mt. Shasta. Chris and the others taking a breather just before sunrise. Chris, Paul and Jeremy ascending before sunrise as the trail steepens. Vlado and Chris ascending at sunrise. Chris. Chris psyched on the sunrise and the instant warmth it provided. Chris Gallardo looking back underneath Mt. Shasta. It's further and bigger than it looks :(. The Irish crew is up ahead of him. Downhill is Vlado, Jeremy, and Paul. At another break spot, I relax and re-fuel as Chris looks at what lies ahead. Steeper, higher, and harder. This is where I break the sad news that we did not summit. And it pains me to say that :(. It was due to a couple factors really; the wind had us pretty gripped at times where we would be hugging the slope and holding on for sometimes minutes on end it seemed. We would wait for the gusts to subside and then continue climbing. As we got higher, however, I think we wasted a little time and energy hiking to a point we didn't need to hike to. The snow became harder to kick into and every step became that much more stressful with the windy conditions. And maybe more than anything else, I was absolutely 'knackered', as the Irish say. It was the hardest thing I've ever done and it was also my first time using crampons and an ice-axe. I think my inexperience made each step more stressful then it should have been and I ended up burning more energy and focus than necessary. The other factor was that we were the first group of the year to ascend that particular route meaning every step we took was the first one and breaking in a trail is significantly harder than hiking in a well used boot path. We got to a point with about 1K vertical ft. under the summit that only covers a distance of 400 meters, or something like that. It was straight up and that last section would have taken 2-3 hours alone. It would have left us summiting around 3 or 4pm which was a little too late and we opted to end it there and save what energy we had left for the descent -- which was awesome by the way! I'll let the photos speak for themselves from here on out.
A quick capture of the view downhill from where I snapped some photos of Chris descending. Chris Gallardo came ripping out between the rocks. Birthday boy Paul Kennedy having some fun and leaving his mark on Shasta. Fergal, from County Mayo in Ireland, having fun on the descent.
Chris and I traversed over into a fun wave and couloir section and I'm so glad we did! Here's Chris with a big entrance turn. Chris Gallardo is all smiles through 5K verticle. My smile was just as large behind the camera!
There's a few photos I would like to post on here that Chris took and as soon as I receive them I'll update the blog. Climbing Mt. Shasta was one of the more difficult things I've ever done, but the reward is second to none. I hope this trip marks the beginning of a new tradition for me because I can't wait to do it again.
*Update on July 7th, 2014:
Here's some photos of me, from Chris Gallardo via Splitboard.com"