Saturday, June 27th, 2020 - Arrived Mt. Shasta, CA/Ascended to Horse Camp.
I stopped at The Fifth Season right as it opened at 9:00 in order to buy fuel and a hat. The rental counter was busy and there were several customers, but it did feel a little light for a Saturday morning. Everyone wore masks and did their best to spread apart. The same was true down the street at Yak’s where I grabbed a breakfast burrito.
After a poor snow year, the snow line in Avalanche Gulch reached below Helen Lake, but only by a few hundred feet, if that. 50/50 and below were completely clear of snow. Due to the one-two punch of a cold front and high winds in the forecast, I chose to hike only as far as the Sierra Club cabin at Horse Camp and spent the night there. And I was in good company, my tent flanked by two or three guided groups and a pair of climber-rangers. I did take advantage of the late sunset to hike up to 50/50 before dinner.
Sunday, June 28th, 2020 - Ascended Avalanche Gulch to Summit
As planned, I headed out at 2:00 AM for the summit. The pre-dawn forecast for the summit was a low of 17 F with winds 29-39, gusting to 85. Climbing to Helen Lake was uneventful, but that changed as soon as I started up the “bowling alley” of the lower Gulch. A repeated cycle of gust, face full of gravel, and rockfall began in what felt like 5-10 minute increments. I kept to the edge of the snow, out of the trough, and watched small groups turn back at the base of the Heart. I stopped every ten minutes or so to reassess, and only proceeded when I was sure that both my traction remained solid and I was out of the line of fire. No one attempted to head all the way right to the Thumb, and the few moving on all chose a route through about the center of Red Banks. Ironically, Misery Hill felt better due to the lack of rockfall and the higher, but generally more sustained winds. Although I kept my crampons on and sought a path on the snow, it was technically possible to reach the summit from above Red Banks without them as dirt and rocks were exposed almost the whole way. The winds absolutely roared at the top.
The descent was a laborious walk through deteriorating conditions. The snow did not soften nearly enough for anyone that I saw to even attempt a glissade, also somewhat unusual for the Gulch at this time of year. I encountered a climber-ranger just below the heart who was almost surprised when I offered to show him my permit. I continued my walk back down and was back at Horse Camp by 9:30 or so where I packed up and hiked down to my car. As I reached the last half mile, I crossed paths with a climber-ranger rushing uphill in response to either a fall or a rock strike. There was zero prospect of helicopter rescue.
For anyone considering Avalanche gulch as a break from the pandemic, I would say that it would really be best to way for a better snow year to go all the way up. The mountain is beautiful, however, and I did very much enjoy both of my ascents to 50/50 and my night near the cabin and its delicious spring water.
Stay safe and stay sane.
Last edited by Goose; 07/01/20 07:50 PM.