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03-17-17-Overall Climbing Conditions

Submitted by nmeyers on Fri, 03/17/2017 - 12:00am
Overall Climbing Conditions: 

Hello, and thank you for visiting! You have arrived at the best place on the internet for avalanche, climbing and weather information for Mt Shasta!

Full Winter conditions are in effect on the mountain currently and climbing conditions are looking good! We have 173 inches of snow at 8,000 feet and the upper mountain is plastered in snow and rime ice. We've seen a few nice weather windows recently and a select number of climbers have been making summit attempts, some successfully, some not. Our climbing season is only just getting going. Usually late April, May and June are the best. The road is plowed to Bunny Flat on the south side, but the gate is closed. Parking is extremely limited. Please consider carpooling, shuttling and please park responsibly. Snowmobilers with trailers will have a tough go of it. Consider other options. The gate at Bunny Flat will likely stay closed at least until July. All other trailheads are closed on Mt Shasta. They will remain closed until snow melts and access is gained. Keep posted to our website and trailhead information section for status updates. The Mt Shasta Avalanche Center has closed it's doors for the season and issued a spring statement on April 16th. 

If you choose to head out into the winter/spring backcountry this season, as always, you need to have the proper equipment and training to stay safe. An avalanche beacon, shovel and probe and the ability to identify avalanche terrain and snow stability is absolutely necessary. 

Considering climbing the mountain? The BEST time to climb Mt Shasta is in the Spring. A winter climb of Mt Shasta is within reason, but is more difficult and dangerous: extreme weather, short days, avalanche danger, falling ice and potential post holing up's the ante on all routes. A climb of Shasta should not be taken lightly. Every year, many climbers become lost, injured or killed while attempting Mt Shasta. Many of these accidents could have been prevented with a little bit of pre-planning and training. Full winter conditions exist currently and YOU need to be sure to come prepared. 

Almost all the accidents on Mt Shasta fall into the same catagories:  Slip & fall and failure to self arrest, glissading when the snow is to firm and/or glissading with crampons on, climbing into a whiteout, late season rockfall. Many accidents are easily preventable.

Mt Shasta is a 14, 179 foot volcano with steep slopes, avalanches, glaciers, rockfall, altitude and extreme weather. Some may feel like Mt Shasta is "safe" due to it's proximity to Interstate 5 and it's "easy" climbing objective connotation. This is false. One should still expect cold, winter like conditions any time of year. One needs to have the appropriate gear AND skill level. Mountaineering is dangerous and climbers must be able to constantly evaluate the terrain, weather and many other factors in order to have a safe trip. One should also not expect immediate rescue. Many factors can prolong rescues. Thus, it is absolutely necessary, no matter what mountain of the world, that you be prepared for your adventure and potentially any mis-adventure. 

Please, wear a helmet, and know how to use your ice axe and crampons any time of the year. Be careful not to kick rocks down onto others. There is always potential for thunder storm activity during the summer months that can shroud the mountain in clouds, limiting visibility.  Climbers becoming disoriented on the upper mountain in white out conditions, and subsequently descending the wrong route is not uncommon. These kinds of scenarios have resulted in many searches over the years. It should go without saying, but we will say it as a solid reminder: Check the weather before you go and more importantly, monitor the weather as you climb. DO NOT CLIMB INTO A WHITEOUT!  Being caught on the mountain in any type of weather can compromise life and limb. 

Please note that dogs are not allowed in the Mount Shasta Wilderness. Thank You.

Our weather tab hosts numerous resources on weather. While the weather at lower elevations around Mt Shasta area can be decent, it's often that we'll get a cloud cap on Mt Shasta itself. We will say it again: Never climb into a white out as many climbers have become lost or died in similar conditions.  Many routes from all aspects of Mt Shasta converge on the upper mountain (>12,500 feet). During limited visibility conditions, climbers have descended the wrong side of the mountain. Keep an eye to the sky as you climb, turning around if clouds begin to build on or near the mountain. Check the WEATHER FORECAST before coming up onto Mt Shasta!

Ice fall and rock fall are possible year round. It's a simple equation: as snow melts, rock fall increases. Further, if rime ice is seen plastered to exposed rocks above, it will eventually flake off and fall onto climbers at some point, guaranteed.  Wear a helmet and keep your eyes up slope as you climb. Pay attention to other climbers: rock fall is often caused from climbers resting in melted out areas and accidentally dislodging rocks onto slopes/climbers below.

At a height of 14,179 feet Mount Shasta is a high altitude peak, and it is common for climbers to experience acute mountain sickness (AMS) with signs and symptoms of nausea, headache, and lightheadedness. Despite being a common condition, AMS should not be taken lightly.  It can quickly develop into the much more serious, and potentially deadly pulmonary or cerebral edema.  Stop and take a break. If symptoms do not improve, your only choice is to descend, descend, descend!  SELF RESCUE IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED should one become injured or sick.

The bottom line: BE PREPARED for full mountain conditions at any time. Do your research! ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET and KNOW HOW TO USE YOUR ICE AXE & CRAMPONS!  Our goal is to ensure you have a positive wilderness experience and come home in one piece! Remember, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY.

YOU WILL NEED THE FOLLOWING MANDATORY ITEMS TO CLIMB MT SHASTA: **Wilderness Permit, Summit Pass, Human Waste Pack-out bags.

Wilderness Permits, Summit Passes, and Pack-out Bags are currently available at the Mt Shasta and McCloud Ranger Stations for self issue and inside the building (maps available) during business hours. The only trailhead open currently is Bunny Flat. The remainder of the trailheads are closed. You may still access the closed tralheads and the bathrooms are open/packout bags available, but you must get your summit pass ($25) and wilderness permit from either ranger station.  Annual passes ($30) are only available at the ranger stations and at The Fifth Season in Mt Shasta. The Mt Shasta Ranger Station is open Monday through Friday from 8 to 4:30pm. The McCloud station is open 8-4:30, Monday through Friday as well. Check our 'climbing regulations' section for more details.

HORSE CAMP: The bathrooms are CLOSED at Horse Camp and WATER is NOT available. One must melt snow for water, so bring extra fuel.  The Horse Camp cabin and the surrounding property are owned and managed by the Sierra Club Foundation. The cabin is open year round and all are welcome, however one cannot sleep inside the cabin except in emergencies. Make sure you close the door when you leave. If you plan on camping at Horse Camp, please make sure to pitch your tent on either an existing tent site or on snow. Please DO NOT camp anywhere snow has melted, near tree wells, or where a tent site is not obvious. There is not a caretaker on duty currently. A nominal $3 bivy/$5 tent fee is asked if camping at Horse Camp.  Lastly, the Sierra Club Foundation manages their property under the Mt Shasta Wilderness rules - that means dogs are not allowed on their property either. Please respect the rules... Thanks!

TIPS and NOTES: Climb early and descend early. This limits exposure to inclement weather (afternoon buildup of clouds is common), allows plenty of time to descend before dark, and also allows a rescue effort to ensue before dark in the event one gets injured or lost.

Avalanche training along with a transceiver, shovel and probe are recommended in winter and spring.

Get an alpine start (2-5am) and have a turn around time of 12 to 1pm. Proper equipment, clothing and training are a must. Helmets are recommended always and expect rock and ice fall at all times.

Mt Shasta is a 14,000 foot lightening rod and is frequently hit by lightning (usually in summer and fall months), so don't push your luck with building thunderheads.

Do not expect to be rescued. Rather, prevent rescues from happening in the first place, and be prepared to handle rescues within your own climbing party should something happen. Nature sets its own terms and YOU must judge how much risk you are willing to accept. Extra warm gear (like a down jacket, balaclava and extra gloves) are a good idea in winter, spring and fall as climbers often develop superficial frost bite during strong winds. The wind chill temperature near the summit in winter and spring can be well below zero. Anchor your tent well wherever you camp. Tents can and do blow away frequently. Do not plan to camp above treeline if you do not have anchor lines for your tent. 

The best time to climb Mt Shasta is generally from late May to mid July on the south and west sides of the mountain when summer days are longer and the weather is generally stable. However in dry years, the thin snow pack creates the best climbing conditions in April, May and early June. When the snow melts, you are left with 7,000 feet of scree, talus and boulders. In heavy snow years the climbing season extends to August or September. There is NO trail to the summit. Climbing is much more safe and fun on consolidated snow. The routes on the north and east sides are not recommended for un-guided novices; glacier travel and route finding skills are prerequisites. Spring and summer can bring the chance of thunderstorms. The TEN essentials keep you and your party out of search and rescue statistics by using common sense and carrying the following: map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra food and water, extra clothing, head lamp/flashlight, first aid kit, matches/lighter, stove, knife/multi-tool and a bivy sack. If you choose to climb: Solo climbing is not recommended. Traveling with an experienced grouped is a good idea, and remember - do not split up the group! Wear a helmet, know how to use your equipment and use common sense and carry the ten essentials. The mountain has extreme weather changes. Be prepared, pay attention!

A note on wind... Mount Shasta stands by itself in the atmosphere. There is nothing anywhere near its height for over a hundred miles. Because of that, Mt Shasta creates a lot of unique wind conditions. Especially during the winter, spring and early summer, the snow covered mountain provides very little friction for accelerating winds bending around and over this topographic anomaly. Winds over 100 mph at tree line (8,000 ft) are common. It's anyone's guess what the winds at 14,000 feet could be when instruments measure 150 mph wind speeds at lower elevations on the mountain. Winds of 40 mph can knock you off balance. Winds of 60-70 mph can force you to crawl (and cry!). Hurricane strength winds (>74 mph) can make it nearly impossible to stand and destroy well anchored tents. The strongest winds occur with big pressure and temperature gradients in the atmosphere and tend to occur in front of, and behind storms. The lowest winds occur when the center of a high pressure is over the Mt Shasta area. Take this seriously as wind has resulted in searches, injuries and fatalities. 


THANK YOU and see you on the mountain!

The Mt Shasta Climbing Rangers

Nick, Forrest, and Andrew