Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mt. Shasta (14,179') - Casaval Ridge - West Face

This past weekend Mitchell and I headed up to Northern California to climb Mt. Shasta. I really like Shasta, its a glaciated volcano the biggest of its type in California. I climbed it last spring from the north side , and I really enjoyed it. The classic line from the south side of the mountain is Casaval Ridge, so we set our sights on that route.
Mt. Shasta - South Side. - Our route of ascent, variation on the true Casaval ridge
We headed out for the 6 hour+ drive Sunday morning, and arrived at the Bunny Flat parking lot in the late afternoon, just as the busy weekend crowd was departing. Perfect. We loaded up our backs, and set off for the short hike to Horse Camp, our chosen base camp that sits at the base of the ridge.

Packing up
It was a short approach to horse camp, only a couple of miles, and about 1000' of elevation gain. We set up the tent, and enjoyed the warm sunny weather.

Home sweet home.
Its crazy how much snow fell on Mt. Shasta. Horse camp has a stone hut, composting toilets and piped water spring. All were partially buried in snow. The Sierra club spend more than 35 hours digging out the spring, and who know how long excavating snow to reach the entrance to the hut. 

Buried hut!

Excavated water spring!
We lounged around, enjoying the sun and the views. Excited for our upcoming climb. We set an alarm for 3 am, and heading off to sleep around 8-9 pm.

Mitch is ready to climb

Alpine starts are always a bit rough. I have a hard time eating, I drank half a cup of coffee, ate some cold muesli.  Head-lamps on then straight up onto the ridge. 

It was very warm, well above freezing. We slowly trudged are way up the snow slopes in the dark. 

Early morning approach to the ridge proper

 We traversed across a large snow "sidewalk" onto the ride proper. Cool spot.

Mitch on the sidewalk
We then traversed along the ridge, mostly sticking to the Western side of the rock fins and gendarmes. This was the fun part of the day. There was some steep, exposed traversing. Very easy but the exposure was really nice.

Mitch climbing a steep section
West Face and Misery Hill

Traversing the steeps

Ridge climbing. Photo credit - M. Quiring

As we got higher on the ridge, we had to decide whether to stay on the ridge proper, or traverse out to the West Face. We knew the catwalk (the crux of the ridge) was in rough shape from some rockfall, so we elected to traverse across to the face and finish the ascent there. 

Heading up - Photo credit M. Quiring
Mitch pauses for a break to admire the views
The ascent up the West Face was a slog. I think I would like to go back in another year and complete the entire ridge. It looked fun!

After what seemed forever we crested the top of the West Face onto the summit plateau. It was still a long way to the top however, more than 1500' still to go. We paused for a nap and enjoyed the brilliant warm sun. 

On the large summit plateau. Still a long way to go. Photo credit - M. Quiring
We traversed over to the base of Misery Hill, an 800 foot tall false summit. It was a hot, somewhat painful slog up that thing. I can see why its called Misery Hill!

Misery Hill --- ughh.
Misery indeed

Altitude really saps one's power. Going from sea level to 14,000' is always really rough, its impossible to move quickly. With great relief we crested Misery Hill, and had a relatively flat and easy walk over to the true summit. I think it took us about an hour to climb that final 600 feet. 

Heading towards the summit. Photo credit - M. Quiring

Almost there......

We shared the summit with a couple of skiers, one of whom was preparing to do a naked descent of the mountain. We chatted to our new naked friend, and boiled some water.

Summit selfie. Shiny eyes and all.

Summit - naked skier and everything.
I didn't linger very long to enjoy the very spectacular views. It had taken almost 8 hours to reach the top. I was pretty wiped, and since Mitch was skiing down, and I was going to walk, I wanted to get going. 

No time for the views.
I booked it down, descending back to camp in under 2 hours. Avalanche Gulch turned out to be an easy fast way down. I glissaded on my butt for probably 3000 feet - talk about quick!

We packed up camp, then to the car and for the long drive home.

I really enjoyed the day, great summit. I am looking forward to trying the complete ridge sometime in the future!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mt. Irvine (13,770') - East couloir

Its been months since I've climbed a real mountain. Spring conditions have arrived to the Sierra, so I headed out to climb something. I had not partner for the weekend, so I decided to go solo an easy snow route.

I chose the East couloir of Mt. Irvine. The peak is located near Mt. Whitney, but unlike its EXTREMELY crowded and popular neighbour, Mt Irvine and the mountains in the Meysan lake basin are very quiet.

Mt. Irvine - East couloir
The route is a 2000' snow couloir, followed by a few hundred feet of class 2/3 ridge scrambling. Perfect for a solo outing.

I drove up Friday night, slept in my car and woke up at 4:45 am. When I woke up, I had a flat tire :(. 

I changed the tire, made breakfast, and was on the trail by 6:30. Not exactly the early start I planned on. The approach begins on the Meysan Lake trail. The first few miles were snow free, but then I hit the snow line, maybe at 9,000' elevation.

Start of the trail

Snow on the approach
The approach to the base of the couloir was 4.5 miles, and gained 4,100' of elevation from the parking lot. A hefty approach! I was happy for cold front that hit the mountains on the weekend, despite my late start the snow was firm and consolidated.

There were many avalanche chutes on the approach, this is defiantly not a place to visit in mid-winter.  I know at least one climber was killed by avalanche on this trail last year. 
Lucky for me, conditions were settled, and the cold meant wet slides were unlikely.

Avalanche chute - on the approach

Eventually I found my way to the start of the couloir. I could see 3 other climbers off in the distance. The were heading up the east chute of the peak, which is a lower angle route on the other side of the buttress. 

The altitude was starting to affect me,  I as pretty slow and sluggish, but I started slogging up the couloir. It was not very steep, maybe 35 degrees at most. The snow was firm, so made for good climbing. I stopped and took a nap about half way up. The weather looked a bit dreary, and a whiteout blew in for a while, but no snow or rain fell.

My nap spot in the couloir

White-out forming

Eventually I got sort of sick of climbing the couloir, especially when the angle dropped. For some reason, I find climbing steep snow less tiring than low angle snow. 

I decided to move onto the east face, which was a loose 3rd class choss pile. I climbed up the loose rock, glad to be out of the snow for a while

Moving onto the East face, 3rd class choss :)
I took another nap on a ledge. Moving from sea level to 13,500' was starting to really sap my energy. I gathered my will power and finished the climb on the face to pop out on the summit ridge. I traversed over to the top, and signed the register. 

There were nice views of Mt Whitney and Mt. Russell from the top.

Summit ridge
Mt Whitney (left) and Mt Russell (right)

Low quality selfie

I boiled some water, took another nap (yes, 3 naps on this climb)

Melting snow for water
I then headed back down the couloir. The snow had softened up a fair amount, so the descent was easy. I did some glissading int he lower part of the couloir. 

Lots of post-holing, and with very tired legs I arrived back at my car by 5 pm. 

~ 10 miles, 6,500' elevation gain, 10.5 hours. 

Not exactly my finest performance, but I find I simply cannot move quickly above 12,000', if I don't have at least 1-2 days of acclimatization. One of the downsides to living at sea level!

Overall, a nice outing, the route was very similar in difficulty and character to the Mountaineers route on Whitney, minus the crowds. It was really nice to have a quiet day of reflection and solitude in the mountains.