Mountaineering can test your physical abilities and determination by climbing the second highest volcano in the United States, Mt. Shasta. June and July are the favored months to climb this challenging strenuous hike to 14,179 feet elevation. It is recommended to carefully plan your trip, carry an ice ax and crampons to traverse hard snow and ice fields, and arrange for a guide or mountaineering instruction in safe backcountry skills. Register and obtain Wilderness Permits and maps at the Mt. Shasta District Ranger Station.
“The mountains are fountains not only of rivers and fertile soils, but of men. Therefore we are all, in some sense, mountaineers, and going to the mountains is going home..”
— John Muir, 1888
- The Fifth Season, (530) 926-3606
- Shasta Base Camp, (530) 926-2359
- Mt. Shasta Climber’s Guide
- Shasta Trinity National Forest, Mount Shasta Ranger Station, 204 West Alma, Mt. Shasta, CA 96067 – (530) 926-4511 – (530) 926-4512 (TTY-TDD)
Climbing Mt. Shasta
Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about climbing Mt. Shasta. The answers are geared for the novice mountaineer; someone looking for a nontechnical climb.
What is the best time of the year to climb the mountain?
Most people climb from May to September. The weather tends to be more stable during this time, temperatures less frigid, winds less extreme. From May till midsummer, the snow on the south side (nontechnical routes) tends to make the climbing and descending easier. In late summer, when the snow is apt to be patchy or gone, the loose ashy and rocky volcanic soil does not provide solid footing, and the danger of rockfall increases.
Where do I find the trail to the top?
There is no trail to the summit of Mt. Shasta. All climbing is done by cross-country routes. However, by mid to late summer you may find apparent paths made by preceeding climbers, particularly along the very popular Avalanche Gulch route.
Which route is the easiest?
Avalanche Gulch route is the easiest, although the Hidden Valley and Clear Creek routes are generally suitable for the nontechnical climber. The Avalanche Gulch route can be accessed from Everitt Memorial Highway, the only paved road to timberline on Mt. Shasta. Three trailheads along this road give access to the Avalanche Gulch and Hidden valley climbing routes: Sand Flat at 6800′ elevation, Bunny Flat at 6950′, and the Old Ski Bowl at 7800′. Both the Sand Flat and Bunny Flat trails lead to Horse Camp, where drinking water is available.
Do I need any kind of special equipment?
The equipment you need depends on the route you select and the time of year. On the Avalanche Gulch route for most of the year crampons and an ice axe are a necessity, as are proper clothing, boots that will carry crampons, and water. In late summer if most of this route is free of snow it may be possible to omit crampons and ice axe.
How long does it take to climb Mt. Shasta… and how many miles is it?
The distance from Bunny Flat to the summit is about 6 miles, but the elevation gains over 7000 feet. How long it takes to climb depends on the route selected, the physical condition of the climbers, and the purpose and needs of the climb, and the conditions. For most people in good physical condition with good weather, 8-10 hours for the ascent should be sufficient. Four to five hours should be expected for the descent back to trailhead.
Can a person make the climb in one day? Can you camp along the way?
A person in good physical condition can make the climb through Avalanche Gulch in one day with cooperative weather and conditions. However, more people are successful in reaching the summit when they take two days. Most people like to go part way up and spend the night to accustom themselves to the elevation.
There are three principal camping location on the Avalanche Gulch Route. One is the Sierra Club Foundation property at Horse Camp (7900′ elevation), where there is good drinking water, toilet facilities, and a knowledgeable caretaker during the climbing season who can answer some of your questions and offer good advice. A small camping fee is charged for this private, backcountry campground.
Another popular camping area is Lake Helen, a (usually) dry or snow filled tarn at 10,400′ elevation. If you camp here, take plenty of drinking and cooking water and/or carry extra stove fuel for melting and boiling snow. The plus for camping here is that you are ready to accomplish the steepest part of the climb fresh from a night’s rest. The problem is that the ground at Lake Helen is rocky, the winds generally strong, and the temperatures cold.
The third option for camping on the route is the upper Ski Bowl. Drinking water is available from springs to the west of the trail in the lower part of the bowl. In the morning you have a hike over the ridge to the vicinity of Lake Helen before joining the Avalanche Gulch route.
What will the weather be like?
Because Mt. Shasta stands so tall and so solitary, it tends to draw incoming weather systems to it. It also tends to create its own weather. For this reason, always be prepared for storms. At the higher elevations it is not uncommon to go from perfectly clear skies to ground zero clouds in just a few hours. In addition, no matter what the weather, temperatures will drop approximately 3 degrees for each 1000′ elevation gain. Winds generally increase as you ascend. As a rule to thumb, travel prepared with extra food, extra stove fuel, and a good shelter. No matter what the weather forecast, carry extra clothing. It’s better to carry it than to turn back because you don’t have enough. And speaking of turning back, if clouds, rain, or snow start settling in, do retreat. Storms can be awesome and last for days at the higher elevations, and it’s easy to lose direction when the clouds settle around you. A good source of information on recent conditions is the Mt. Shasta Wilderness Backcountry Report, maintained by local wilderness rangers.
Do we need permits, passes or reservations?
Both wilderness permits and passes are required. Most of the area above tree line and some of the area below treeline are located within the Mt. shasta Wilderness. Permits are required for entry into the wilderness area at all times of the year, but there are no quotas or limits on the number of permits available, nor are reservations required. Permits are issued at the Mt. Shasta and McCloud Ranger District Offices, or may be self-issued at the trailheads. Permits may be self-issued at the station outside the front door of the Mt. Shasta District Office after business hours.
How much are the passes?
- Standard Mt. Shasta Summit Pass: $15.00 per person
- People under 16 years of age are not required to purchase a Summit Pass
- Shasta Trinity Annual Pass: $25.00 per year
The Human Waste Packout System
There are health, aesthetic and environmental problems associated with the disposal of human body waste on climbing routes in the Mt. Shasta Wilderness. Wilderness rangers and climbers together have developed a Waste Disposal System in an effort to decrease and eventually eliminate such problems. Your participation in this system helps minimize the impact on the mountain. Packout bags are available at the Mt. Shasta and McCloud Ranger District Offices and at Bunny Flat.