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Every climb is different

Each year I enjoy guiding a group to climb Mount Shasta.

At 14,179 feet tall, Mount Shasta is one of 96 "fourteeners" in the United States, peaks that are more than 14,000 feet tall. Although I have now reached the Shasta summit 12 times, each time is a different experience. The snow conditions vary, the routes change, and the climbers are never quite the same.

This year 14 of us met at the Winco parking lot in Medford at noon Friday, July 7. From there we drove to Mount Shasta City, where those not having the necessary gear rented helmets, ice axes and crampons, and we purchased our $25 climbing permits and visited the Forest Service office to obtain our free wilderness permits and learn the latest news of the mountain, including best water sources and snow conditions.

We had a group dinner at Black Bear Diner in Mount Shasta City, then drove to the Bunny Flat trailhead (6,900-feet elevation). We slept (or attempted to sleep) there until midnight. We then got up, assembled our gear and were on the trail by 12:50 a.m.

We hiked several miles to the Horse Camp hut, where we topped off our water bottles by the light of our headlamps. We then turned north, gaining elevation and continually encountering patches of deep snow over several miles until we reached Hidden Valley.

As we entered Hidden Valley, at about 9,500 feet, the snow had turned to ice in the early-morning cold. There we put on our crampons and began ascending the West Face route. In using this route, it is necessary to cross a rocky ridge, which is the most dangerous part of the climb. As we ascended the ridge, the crampons of one of the climbers lost purchase, and she slid down the ice and snow about 150 feet. She was scraped up a little but otherwise not hurt. To her courageous credit, she got back up and, with help from one of the other climbers, ascended again as we waited for her in the moonlight at the top of the ridge.

The route to Alison's Blunder, a false summit that beguiles climbers into believing when they reach it that they are on the summit, is not always clear on the West Face route. This year I miscalculated this marker by about 150 yards. My mistake caused us to climb higher than we needed to and then descend to make the traverse to the bottom of Misery Hill.

Part of Misery Hill was free of snow, so we removed our crampons at its base, but kept them in our backpacks in case we needed them in the final summit assault. We slowly made our way up Misery Hill, then over the Whitney Glacier, through the Baseball Field, and finally reached the summit at noon. Of the 14 in our group, 10 made it to the top, including several teenagers and the woman who had earlier fallen.

Three views that I have come to cherish each year are the alpenglow on the western horizon as the sun rises in the east; the giant shadow cast by Mount Shasta as the sun rises, and the 360-degree summit view.

Each year as we begin climbing, I wonder why I am subjecting myself to such misery again, and then on the way down, we are planning next year's climb.

— Kelly Andersen lives in Medford.


The alpenglow in the western horizon at dawn, as seen from about 10,500 feet up on Mount Shasta. [Photo by Kelly Andersen]
Dan Ethridge and Mike Marshall are all smiles on the summit of Mount Shasta. Ten climbers in their group of 14 achieved the summit July 7. [Photo by Kelly Andersen]