Mt Shasta (4,322m) is the highest peak in northern California and
the fifth highest in California.
Here i only list the routes that can be done without ice equipment.
At least one (Clearcreek) can be done without crampons in the right season.
Personally, i have never used crampons on Avalanche Gulch but i would
recommend using them if you want to live a long life.
(Click to enlarge)
The Avalanche Gulch route
This is the most popular route, although neither fun nor spectacular.
The trailhead is at Bunny Flat, about 20 minutes from Shasta town.
The elevation of the trailhead (2300m) is relatively low, which means that
you have a lot of elevation gain in front of you (almost exactly 2000m).
From the parking lot the trail (covered by snow till june or so) veers left
towards Horse Camp (2600m, 3.5 kms), that has the last drinking water. This
is the beginning of the "Oberman causeway", a more or less paved trail that
eventually turns into a series of switchbacks leading to Helen Lake (3169m).
You are unlikely to ever see any water in this lake: it is usually covered
by snow. You are now in the middle of Avalanche Gulch. Above you are some red
formations: Red Banks. To their right is a thumb-shaped rock which is
appropriately called Thumb Rock. Your "hike" consists in going up vertical
towards Thumb Rock. If you don't have crampons, use the footprints of previous
hikers as steps to ascend this very long staircase. When you have Red Banks
in front of you, bend right around it and climb up the mildest of the many
gullies: it coasts Thumb Rock to the left. You have to use your hands to
lift yourself above Red Banks, and this is the gully that requires the least
amount of climbing. The top of Red Banks turns out to be a slippery slope.
Use trails take you to a mini-plateau in front of a hill: Misery Hill.
Switchbacks take you to the top of this one, and finally you'll see the
summit block in front of you. In between is a glacier, but at least it's
flat, and usually hikers have created a groove in the middle that you can
At the other hand of the glacier you should see a little glacier (very visible
in spring). The trail to the top starts about here and it's usually very
visible (or you can just scramble up the rocks).
Picture of Misery Hill in may
Picture of Avalanche Gulch in may
Picture of Misery Hill in august
Picture of Avalanche Gulch in august
On the way back, it is popular to glissade on your butt taking advantage of
grooves made in the snow. Just make sure you know how to brake. And that the
groove does not end suddenly against a boulder (the majority of injuries that
i've seen). You may glissade straight down all the way to the fields above
the parking lot (the trail would instead take you slightly right of it to Horse Camp).
People get seriously injured and/or die on this route every year.
This is the most popular route to the top, but hardly the prettiest: there
is literally nothing to see other than snow. The views are mainly views of
towns and freeways. In the summer see the Clearcreek route below (safer and
Directions to Mt Shasta town
From the Bay Area:
When you take the exit for Mt Shasta town, eventually you have
to turn right into Lake St and then left into Everett Memorial Hwy to reach
Mt Shasta (the mountain, not the town).
You have beautiful views of the mountain from the road BEFORE entering
Mt Shasta town.
- Berkeley to Vacaville: 80 kms (45')
- Vacaville to Williams: 100 kms (1h)
- Williams to Red Bluff: 120 kms (1h)
- Red Bluff to Redding: 50 kms (30')
- Redding to Mt Shasta: 110 kms (1h)
Directions to the Avalanche Gulch trailhead
The Avalanche Gulch route is the most popular and straightforward, and also
the easiest to find.
Entering Mount Shasta town,
turn right into Lake St and then left into Everett Memorial Hwy.
Continue up on Everett Memorial Highway until you reach the end of the road,
the "Bunny Flat"
parking lot. You can self register at the "Bunny Flat" trailhead.
Trails are only partially marked. Follow directions for Horse Camp, a very
popular destination, and Helen Lake. Once you are on Helen Lake (it's covered
with snow most of the year), you just go up vertically.
(in parenthesis the 2003 and 2006 intermediate times)
- Bunny Flat trailhead (2300 m)
- Horse Camp (2600m, 3.5 kms), last drinking water (30', 41')
- End of causeway (x, 58')
- 50/50 Flat (1h 30', 1h35')
- Helen Lake (3169 m, 3hrs, 2h50')
- Head straight up Avalanche Gulch to Red Banks, but bear right of the "heart" as if aiming for Thumb Rock (usually, you can see a groove for glissading: just follow it up)
- when you are about to hit Red Banks, turn right and head for Thumb Rock (3962 m, 5h30', 6h5') (if you have crampons, you may go straight up the ice and head for any of the rocky chimneys, a shortcut that may save you some time, but it will be much steeper and icier: the chimneys to the right are the shortest ones) - be careful there might be bergschrund past Thumb Rock (although a popular route for people who don't feel like going up the chimneys)
- whichever way you go up (chimney, Thumb Rock or bergschrund), scramble your way up Red Banks (x, 6h55')
- the view south: Castle Crag park, Black Butte, a lake
- hike up Misery Hill (4200 m, 6h45', 7h38')
- the view from here: the summit (finally!) and (other side) Lassen all the way east
- cross the 1km snow field which is relatively flat (4200 m, x, 7h50')
- at the end of the snow field on your left is the sulphuric area and on your right is the rocky summit, reached through five steep switchbacks (4317 m, 7h 6', 8h6')
- The total hiking distance is 13 kms.
(This is probably an exaggeration, since the elevation
gain is 2 kms and your "trail" is basically the height of the mountain at a
very steep grade).
- Coming down takes about 4 hours: 45' to Thumb Rock, 30' to the bottom of Red Banks (this takes a while because it's so dangerous), 1h to Helen Lake, 1h15' to Horse Camp, 30' to the parking lot.
- By far the most difficult part is getting on Red Banks and then getting down from Red Banks. There are three main ways, and a lot depends on the snow/ice conditions. First, you can just head straight for one of the chimneys. If it's spring, they all have snow. If it's summer, it is likely that the easiest one to climb has no snow, and it requires easy class-2 climbing. Second, you can coast Red Banks till you get to Thumb Rock, then (keeping Thumb Rock to your right) turn left onto the glacier and walk about 50m until you can easily walk up Red Banks (needless to say, this is a bit scary because you are walking on a glacier, but this is probably the most popular route because it involves no rock climbing). Third, you can walk to Thumb Rock but climb the rocks on your left (at any point). I hiked this route in the summer when there is little snow on Red Banks: going up i used the first chimney with no snow, that felt easier and safer for climbing, and coming down i used the little hole at the very eastern over Red Banks and then climbed down into the same chimney.
- Pictures and Maps (click on Shasta)
Southeast route (Clearcreek)
In the summer, when the snow has melted and loose rocks are not a chance but a certainty, the rangers recommend a different route than Avalanche Gulch: Clearcreek.
This ascends the southeast slope of Mt Shasta. The elevation gain is bigger
(because the trailhead is lower) and the route is longer.
This route also affords the most scenic views of Shasta (especially the
ones overlooking the Mud Creek Canyon and its Falls)
The worst part of the hike is the drive to the trailhead.
From I-5 just south of Mount Shasta
take highway 89 east to the town of McCloud and continue for about 5 minutes.
Then turn left into Pilgrim Creek road, or road #13.
After about 8kms, turn left onto dirt road #41N15, Widow Springs Rd and follow
signs for "Clear Creek Trailhead". The signs are big. You will go through
one major junction and will make only one real turn: a left turn after that
This dirt road gets increasingly bad after that left turn (3kms from the trailhead) and it's very sandy at the end. Low-clearance cars are advised to park
just 100 meters before the trailhead to avoid the last super-sandy ramp
(there is a convenient opening to the left).
I don't know where the official trail ends and where the use trail begins:
de facto, there is a trail all the way to the top.
The trail is an almost straight line from the parking lot to the summit of
Mt Shasta, with a constant elevation gain. There is only one major turn:
a right (north) turn after Clearcreek meadow. The trail begins in a forest
and after 20-30 minutes follows the northern ridge of Mud Creek Canyon.
On the left
side there are great views of Shasta on top of the canyon. The trail eventually
reaches the meadow and crosses it diagonally. It then climbs and turns right
(north) around the rocky wall that creates the western border of the meadow.
That is the worst part: the trail is very sandy. Going up is hell. Coming
down is a breeze. To the left one sees a prominent striped cliff (do not
head for it, just use it as a reference point as you are going straight up). Once
the "trail" reaches its elevation, the "milestone rock" becomes very visible.
Head for that stone and stay to its left. The trail leads to the bottom of
the fort-like red rocky formation that towered all the time over your head.
Climb that "Fort" whichever way is easier (the rocks are a lot more stable
than the gravel, of course).
At the top of this Fort, there is a sloping
plateau. The trail coasts its eastern edge and leads rapidly to the top
of Misery Hill. From there it's a short distance to the summit plateau.
Usually in the summer you can walk high enough that you never touch the ice/snow. When you
are under the summit block, you need to pass it and then climb
it from the west, either following a sandy trail or simply scrambling up
the rocks. The summit register is not on the highest peaklet but between
the two highest peaklets.
- Clearcreek trailhead (1975m)
- Ridge of Mud Creek Canyon 25'
- Clearcreek meadow 1h 10'
- stripes 4h 10'
- Milestone rock 5h
- Bottom of fort 5h45'
- Top of fort 6h15'
- Top of Misery Hill 6h40'
- Bottom of summit block 6h50'
- Summit 7h
- Clearcreek meadow 9h
- Trailhead 12h20'
There are several variations on the Clear Creek route: following the
Wintun Ridge from the Clearcreek trailhead, or following the
Hotlum-Wintun Ridge from the Brewer Creek trailhead (near the Clearcreek trailhead), etc.
Other hikeable routes in the summer (class 3 or less) include (these are not
instructions for people climbing with crampons):
- Cascade Gulch via Shastina from Bunny Flat. This is a deadly route although
many still describe it as the easiest. It starts from Bunny Flat just like
the Avalanche Gulch route but you leave the trail at Horse Camp and head
straight north towards Hidden Valley (2800m). From here there is an obvious
gulch (Cascade Gulch) that climbs towards Shastina Peak
(the prominent peak on the north of the gulch). You want to aim for the
prominent Shastina-Shasta saddle to the right of Shastina. There is
only one brief steep section that you can probably avoid by climbing rocks
if the snow has already melted. Coast to the left of the (west) ridge of Shasta
and you reach the outskirts of the Whitney Glacier. That is the problem.
Because of the widening bergschrund of the Whitney Glacier,
you need to climb the ridge to your right and hope to find a climbable route.
There is no easy way to cross the Whitney Glacier but you need to cross it left
to right. There is always ice in this section. If you don't have crampons,
you need to find a clean, safe route over the rocky ridge, which might lead
you west (left) and even south (back).
Depending on where you manage to cross the glacier,
this route takes you directly to the summit plateau or on Misery Hill.
- The Green Butte Ridge to the right of Avalanche Gulch: start at Bunny Flat
but ignore the trail and head up the gulch and find a safe way to climb the
ridge to your right. This ridge eventually merges with the Sargents Ridge.
(Personally i think this is a pointless route: just use the
Sargents Ridge route).
- The Sargents Ridge. This starts from
the highest trailhead, Old Ski Bowl, about 5 kms past Bunny Flat
(N41.36174, W122.21092). Just follow the ridge from that trailhead
and you will pass a false summit
(N41.384876, W-122.193897), Shastarama Point (3384m).
Sargents Ridge meets Green Butte ridge at about 3600 meters of elevation.
Up to here it's easy. Now head for the prominent cliff (Thumb Rock) and
pass it on the left. Now you need to climb on top of Red Banks and you have
the same quandary as those coming from Avalanche Gulch: use one of the chutes
of Red Banks or go around it over the bergschrund. Either way you are now on
top of Misery Hill.
If you ask the rangers which one is safest for "hiking",
they will tell you that none of these should be attempted without crampons.
So hikers take their chances...
Pictures and maps of these hikes
Mt Shasta home page
Tourism around Mt. Shasta
Mt Shasta weather
Mt Shasta advisory
(4322m), one of the
highest mountains in California,
is a glacier, so the mountain is snow-capped year-round, and the
hike is chilly even on a sunny summer day. In July and especially August
you are likely to find days when the temperature stays warm enough most of
the hike, but the top will still require warm clothing.
Best time to hike for people who use crampons is late spring (usually, end of
may to second half of june, but it depends on how much it snowed), when the
snow is not
too icy but still holds the rocks together, and you can glissade
down the slope of Avalanche Gulch on your butt! Later in the year the rangers advise against hiking up Avalanche Gulch because the
danger of falling rocks increases dramatically.
Shasta is 1,000km north from the most famous Sierra mountains. Thus it
is a totally different kind of mountain.
This is the Mt Shasta "hike":
You walk straight up on snow. Unless you are as irresponsible as me,
you need crampons. There is nothing but snow all the way up the Avalanche Gulch route
(no lakes, no waterfalls, no creeks, no wildlife).
The view at the top is just a view of minor mountains:
And not as pretty as the mountains of the Sierra peaks
(that have lots of lakes and lots of vegetation).
And usually there is no view anyway because it is cloudy.
I must admit that Mt Shasta itself (viewed from the freeway) is an
impressive view, but once you are on it, the view is pretty much the same
all the way to the top.
There are snowstorms even in the summer (again, it is 1,000 kms
north of the Sierra peaks, same latitude as the Alps) and avalanches.
Most people start "hiking" before sunrise, which also means that the
snow is icy.
All in all, Shasta is much more dangerous than the Sierra peaks (where the
snow usually melts by july, and avalanches are extremely rare).
And i am the only person i know who has done it without crampons.
Therefore, i wouldn't call it a "hike" at all. (And certainly not a pretty one
by the standards of the Sierra peaks).
Wear a three layer clothing with something wind proof on top.
Hat and gloves are a must.
Above 3.400 meters it is recommended that you use
crampons (spiked shoe which is tied on to your boots) and an ice-axe.
There is no water on the mountain.
There is lots of sun reflected by the snow.
Long waterproof pants (to protect from sun and for the cold part) and
a kayaking foam cushion (for glissading down on the snow) are useful.
Gloves (no matter which season) are indispensable.
As of 2008, you have to self-register at the trailhead and pay $20 if you want
You can sleep at the trailhead for free.
Warnings for summer hikers
In the summer months the snow melts but the hike to the top of Shasta is tricky.
- The Avalanche Gulch route is a technical hike, that requires some skills and presents some obvious dangers.
- Falling rocks all over the place (in August 2001 it was impossible to hike beyond Helen lake, in july 2005 a huge avalanche covered most of Avalanche Gulch). When you are hiking up, you can see the rocks falling, but when you are coming back down the rocks will be behind you.
- The "trail" lends itself to all sorts of serious injuries if you are not careful. Besides some permanent snow, it is extremely steep. You will have to climb up Red Banks, and whichever chute you choose it will be tough both climbing up and climbing down (the further east/right you go, the lower the gap to climb to get on Red Banks). Once on Red Banks, the trail is slippery because of very loose gravel. When walking down, walk backwards on every stretch that is very steep and slippery. Almost nobody can go all the way up and come down without slipping and falling at least once. Since the terrain is mainly a mixture of snow and gravel, you will not break any bones, but be prepared for cuts and bruises.
- Without crampons, you can hike up Avalanche Gulch to Red Banks only in the summer, and, of course, it is not easy. Unfortunately, this is also the time when falling rocks are the main danger. So you have to be lucky enough to find a day when you can already hike without crampons but falling rocks are not yet a serious risk to your life. The trick is to use footprints (that freeze during the night) as steps to go up: look for the groove that people use to glissade down, and most likely you'll see steps made next to it. This generally works all the way to Red Banks. Later into summer, the long straight Avalanche Gulch is like terraced by the rocks, so you can work your way up using the rocks as steps. The only tricky part is getting on Red Banks. Whichever route you decide to follow, you have to climb up rocks (chimneys) or gravel (Thumb Rock), which is a lose-lose proposition.
- Until the end of May it is very popular to glissade down on your butt (you will see grooves created by previous sliders), and you can come down from Red Banks to Helen Lake in minutes instead of hours, but after May this gets dangerous because the groove is melting and may end suddenly: you will slide down at very high speed for a few minutes and then end up against a rock.
- Sunscreen is essential as the snow reflects light. You will get badly sunburnt even if you have a good hat.
- For most people, three liters of water are needed to get to the top. In the summer, there is drinkable water at Horse Camp (very beginning) and then a little bit of flowing water at Helen Lake, but the rest is barren. Eat snow that is still white white white if desperate. Food depends on how hungry you get. But water is essential because your body consumes a lot of water at high altitude.
- Consider the Clearcreek route in the summer (safer and prettier)
Idiots abound. People have almost died of dehydration (there are no creeks,
waterfalls, lakes on this mountain), frozen to death (it is a glacier,
1,000 kms north of Whitney), been hit by falling rocks (when the ice melts,
rocks are loose) and risked their lives in
If it gets cloudy in the summer, remember that this is a bare mountain
(not your typical Sierra hike with plenty of forests): you are the only
electrical object on a mountain that is famous for lightning.
Unlike the Eastern Sierra mountains (that feature some of the most annoying ranger bureaucracies in the world),
Shasta is blessed with reliable and experienced rangers. Trust what they
tell you. Every ranger has a vested interest in exaggerating the risks
(if you get hurt, s/he's the one who has to rescue you), but i found the
rangers on Shasta to know what they are talking about.
In the vicinity