May 03 2012

TR: Sick trip to Shasta’s N-side.

Mt. Shasta and Shastina's north sides beckon to backcountry skiers.

Mt. Shasta and Shastina's north sides beckon.

The summer ski season has started!  Headed to the north side of Shasta.  The North Gate TH is still blocked by snow drifts, but I had a different plan.  Drove up Tuesday afternoon to camp overnight and ski the next day.  I was looking for a more straight-forward approach.

I like the Brewer Creek TH for the skiing which follows the fall line right down to the vehicle. There is a way to do the same thing with the north side.

Drove up on Tuesday afternoon.  The mountain looked good from the south.

The classic view of the Shasta's south side from the view point on I-5, just before Dunsmuir.

I drove up highway 97 to Military Pass Rd. One mile after the road goes under the railroad tracks, road 42N18 takes off to the right. You can’t miss this road, there is a large, white circular sign on the left.


There are several roads that branch off. Took the wrong turn on one of them and turned back after about half mile, but the main road is not too hard to follow.

At first the road condition is excellent — soft, smooth sand, but it got progressively worse (better for me!).  The last 1.5 miles, I was glad I was driving a Jeep.  Drove for 8 miles from Military Pass Rd, including my 1 mile wrong turn and parked at 7000′.

Nice views from road 42N18.

The north side of Mt. Shasta. Hotlum Glacier to the L, Bolam Glacier to the R.

The map I was using is shown below.  The main route to the North Gate TH is penciled in from Military Pass Rd.  I drove in on 42N18 to 42N33.  Parked the Jeep at the ‘A’.

On the way back I took 42N34 to the main route.  Drove up to the North Gate TH to scope out the road conditions.

Parked the Jeep at the 'A' - snow drifts block the road to the North Gate TH at the 'B'

I got to 7000′ in the Jeep just before dark. Attempted to drive over one drift, but was denied. Had to bust out the winch to get over the top. Only drove about one minute more and found the road completely covered with snow. Headed back to a small ridge between two drainages. The temperature was 35° at 8:30pm. I was too lazy to set up my tent, so spent the night sleeping under the stars. Woke up around midnight and found the temps had dropped to 15°. Plenty warm though, all wrapped up in my -30° Camp 7 down sleeping bag.

I awoke in the morning and prepared to get my jib on.  I made some breakfast, which included some potatoes and yellow squash that I had pre-cooked.  I diced them up and put them in a can of stew I had brought with me.  About 20 minutes later, I started to feel ill.  Next thing I knew, my breakfast came back up.  Great… now I have no food in my stomach.  Any nutrients I had and needed were now all over the manzanita.  I sat in the Jeep for awhile and closed my eyes.  After a 15 minute nap I felt better.

Not wanting to waste an 11 hour round trip drive, I decided to keep to the plan.  I was hoping I could eat the two sandwiches that where in my pack later and see if I could keep them down.

I headed up through the woods and found skinnable snow in the first 15 minutes.  The temps had warmed up to 22° by 6am, but not warm enough to use the scales on my Rossignal BC 110′s.  I went to skins immediately.  I was pretty slow.  Feeling woozy and dizzy from the lack of nutrients, I jibbed on.  The fact that this was only my 5th day of skiing since last summer didn’t help either.  After about an hour, I needed to change some layers, so I took a break.  I then lay down and took a nap.  Woke up about an hour later feeling better and continued jibbing on up the mountain.

Right where I wanted to be.

Finally got to treeline and found I had nailed my line.  Directly under the route to the upper mountain.

I did not bring crampons or an ice axe.  I figured that the steep, upper slopes where not going to soften enough to ski, so was more interested in checking out a different vehicle approach and skiing some of the lower slopes.  Turns out, my plan seemed to all come together considering my condition.  I was still not feeling very well.  But the weather was co-operating.  Like me, the corn window was taking it’s time – if it even happened at all.  Just barely above freezing at treeline with rock hard snow.  Hardly any wind.  The weather report was calling for rain/snow by the end of the day and the sky was slowly being overtaken by high clouds.

Looking back just before treeline.

I made my way slowly up through the small trees and firm snow.  I kept looking back to get a view of my return.  I wasn’t even leaving tracks in the icy snow.  It turns out I wasn’t the first person to be here this spring.  Found some tracks that were made on a warmer day of some snowshoers and what looked to be some skinny touring skis crossing the slope at treeline heading east-west.

Skinned up the ice and into the bowl that leads to the base of The Step higher up on the mountain.  I kept stopping to rest.  I didn’t have an appetite for the sandwiches I had brought, so had nothing to eat all day.  My goal was to get to the base of the steeps just above 9500′ which were too steep for skinning on this icy snow.  Besides, I needed to turn around and ski during the heat of the day for the best snow.  I was pushing for a noon turn-around, wherever I ended up by that time.

…continued on page 2.