Mt Shasta Climbing Information Blog

Mount Shasta Climbing Information Blog

Conditions Report: April 10 2024: The Spring Climbing and Ski Mountaineering Season has began on Mt Shasta!

April 10, 2024: Looking up the Avalanche Gulch route near Lake Helen at 10,500 feet on Mt Shasta.

April 10, 2024: Looking up towards the Heart and the Red Banks on the Avalanche Gulch route.

It’s mid April and on Mt Shasta it’s definitely starting to feel like spring has sprung here in northern California. After a slow start to the 2023/24 winter in California, El Nino ended up delivering a deep and moist snowpack to the upper mountain on Mt Shasta. Unlike last year, this year, the spring skiing and summer mountaineering season on the Avalanche Gulch and the West Face routes will go strong into late June. The best time for a summit climb or a summit ski descent is usually May through June. 

At the time of writing this, there’s currently more than 13 feet of settled snow at the weather station in the Old Ski Bowl at 7,600 feet.  Earlier this week, I spotted a small high pressure ridge build as a northerly flow moved past California to the east. This was the change in the weather I was looking for and I decided to climb high on Mount Shasta to check out the conditions. 

With higher snow levels this past winter due to the warm and wet El Nino, access to the mountain’s other trailheads at Creek Clear, Brewer Creek, and Northgate will also become passable sooner because there is less snow at the lower elevations on the mountain.

On Wednesday morning, I left the Bunny Flat trailhead on my skis at approximately 7:30am with the goal of skiing one of the bigger faces on the upper mountain. I skinned up the standard Avalanche Gulch climbing route to about 11,000 feet before switching to boot crampons. From my previous 15 years of experience on Mount Shasta, I was very satisfied with the state of the snow conditions I observed on the upper mountain.  As continued to climb higher on the Avalanche Gulch route and to the right of the Heart, I observed a total of six skiers and snowboarders all descending the climbing route. Please, please, please do not ski down the standard Avalanche Gulch climbing route near the Heart or through the chimneys in Red Banks. The snow surface conditions on the upper part of the standard climbing route are usually firm, and scoured with rime ice. This firm snow usually makes for great crampon and climbing conditions, but also means that the snow in this area is almost never appealing for skiing. It is also dangerous for those below you and creates an overhead hazard. The large surface area of your skis will push large projectiles of rime ice and rock down onto the climbers below you, often out of sight and around the corner. For better and safer skiing routes, check out the entrance to the climber’s left of the Red Banks, Trinity Chutes, West Face, or many of the other options that the upper mountain provides. 

April 10, 2024: Looking west towards upper Casaval Ridge and the Trinity Chutes.

As I climbed higher up the Avalanche Gulch route, I saw that the area of upper Casvaval Ridge, the Trinity Chutes, and the Left of Heart/Red Banks routes all looked to be in perfect skiing conditions with smooth snow surfaces that began to soften in the afternoon sun around midday. I have skied all of the Trinity Chutes now more than once in a variety of conditions (yes there are three, hence the name) and my favorite by far is the right “Right Chute” (this is the looker’s left). The Right Chute is wide enough to make large turns and usually holds the most consistent snow surface conditions.

Continuing up on the standard climbing route and nearing the Red Banks, I elected to take a route through a chimney in the Red Banks – climbing through one of the standard chimneys. The other six skiers I saw on the mountain I believe chose to climb via The Thumb – going this way essentially bypasses the Red Banks by circumnavigating the cliff band to the east/right.  Prior to arriving to The Thumb on the standard climbing route, there are a number of chimneys to choose from that allow you to climb directly though the Red Banks. Usually, the second one that you arrive at is the best at this time of year – not too steep and not too narrow.  Perfect. As I climbed higher,  I was pleasantly relieved at the departure of conditions from last year. There is a lot snow around the Red Banks and this is great news for the summer climbing season. Once cresting the Red Banks, I also observed that the bergschrund on the top of the Konwakiton Glacier is well filled in. This bergschrund is on the back side of Thumb Rock along the the standard climbing route. This is also good news for the summer climbing season.  

April 10, 2024: Looking down one of the many chutes that lead through the Red Banks on the Avalanche Gulch route.

Once I arrived at the plateau just below Misery Hill, I decided I would have a look at the Trinity Chutes as it has been a number of years since I have skied them and they looked to be in great condition. However, as I got closer and out of my peripheral, the conditions of the West Face caught my attention.  The entrance and the upper slopes of the West Face are in great condition! I have skied the West Face close to maybe ten times now and the conditions on this day are some of the best I’ve found them in.  At about 2pm, I clicked into my skis and skied smooth, edge-able, and fun windbuff snow for the first 500 vertical feet. Below this, the snow surface gives way to 4,000 feet of soft and playful corn snow all the way to the valley floor below. I did not regret my decision and I felt lucky to have this entire side of the mountain to myself in such great conditions. 

The 2024 spring skiing and summer climbing season on Mt Shasta is going to be a good one and this is definitely the year to achieve your climbing goals on Mt Shasta! While I was lucky to find good conditions in April between intermittent periods of unstable weather, May through June is typically the best time to plan your climb as that good ol’ reliable and sunny California weather begins to settle in. 

Mt Shasta is without a doubt a special place and as the climbing season approaches, I’m looking forward to sharing my love of this wild and beautiful mountain with you! If you’re interested in hiring me as your as your guide, I still have some availability for skiing and climbing trips this spring and summer.  


Beginner mountaineering trips:
Summit ski descents:

April 10, 2024: Looking down the 4,000 foot slope of the West Face of Mt Shasta in perfect corn snow conditions. The location of this photo is near the top of the face at approx 13,000 feet.
April 10 2024: The West Face of Mt Shasta from Hidden Valley. If you look closely, you can see my ski tracks.
Picture of posted by Shane Rathbun
posted by Shane Rathbun

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