Friday, June 10, 2011

Mt. Shasta - Avalanche Gulch Route

On June 8, 2011, G.H. and I drove to Mt. Shasta for a summit attempt via the Avalanche Gulch Route. This was the most physicaly challenging event I had tried, although G.H. had climbed Shasta several times, once requiring an emergency airlift when he broke his ankle hoping across the rocks. . 

Once in the city of Mt. Shasta we had lunch at the Black Bear Diner.  This restaurant was the first of what is now several that have been built around California.  The food was not particularly good.  G.H.'s hamburger was oddly raw around the edges.  My chicken sandwich was okay.

We then went to the Fifth Season to rent my mountaineering boots.  I had used their online reservation system to reserve boots, crampons, gaiters and an ice ax.  When I got there I learned their boots did not come in half sizes.  I found the 12" too small and the 13" too large. I decided on the 13"Koflach boots.  While I had no better choice, this boot would be the reason my summit attempt was not completed.  They told me they did not have gaiters for me, but did find a pair that were slightly damaged, but workable.

We then drove to the Bunny Flat parking area.  This is as far as the road is cleared.  There was quite a bit of snow, as we expected.   We set up our two tents just above Bunny Flat parking area.

Our tents at Bunny Flat with Mt Shasta in the background.

We went back down to town for dinner.  We ended selecting the Piemont Restaurant.  This is a was nice small town Italian restaurant with good food.   We went back to camp to get things organized for a very early start.  The evening was cold, but the sky was clear and there was only light wind.

We awoke at 3:00 a.m. with the goal to hit the trail an hour later.  It took longer than I thought to get ready.  I taped moleskin to my feet using Leukotape P sports tape.  I used silk liners and wool mountaineering socks.   We started off at 5:00 a.m.  The advantage to an early start is that the snow is frozen.  It was nice walking on the snow, and I thought it present less wear and tear on your feet than a standard rocky trail.
The nearly buried Alpine Lodge at Horse Camp. 

We made it to Horse camp just as the sun was coming up.  The stone hut owned by the Sierra Club was largely covered, but the doorway was dug out for access.  We found two campers in the hut, inside of two tents they had set up. The interior was dark, dank and cold.  The hut is only supposed to be used in emergencies, and I think it would have been more pleasant outside. I adjusted my boots and reset my crampons at a table inside.  We then headed to Lake Helen.  The elevation increased as we approached the frozen and buried lake.  G.H led us straight up the middle, instead of taking the more gradual grade to the left.  The steep angle of this climb wore into my heels with each step.   I could guess I was developing some nasty blisters.  When we made it to the top, we took a short break.  There were a few tents set up, including a Ranger tent.  I could not tell if a ranger was actually inside. 

G.H. leaving Lake Helen.  Note the tents.

We then began the long steep ascent up the gulch.   We passed lone guy carrying skis.  We never saw it, but I imagine it was an incredible ride down. 

Now that the sun was out the snow because to get softer.  Be fire I was able to walk on the snow and only crunch it down a couple inches.  The higher I climber the deeper my feet sank.  I tried to search out areas that looked more solid, but those patches became fewer and fewer.  My feet would often sink down to my knee.  

A view of the Red Banks along the ridge.  Note the glissade trails down.
As the climb became steeper, the snow became softer.  Add to that the thinner air and it was quite a physical challenge.  Additionally each step caused sharp physical pain.  As the climb went on, I felt the pain change.  I experienced a burning electrical-like charge in my heels with each step. I knew I had deep blisters that had somehow developed through the moleskin and sports tape I had affixed to prevent them.  I was concerned I might do some long-term damage if I went on.  I signaled to G.H that I was done.

A look down from where I stopped.
I really feel that I could have completed the climb, but decided to end it early.  I took out my cell phone and called my wife and told he I was coming down.  I took some Advil and some pictures.  A mountaineering class of four guys and an instructor came by.  I watched their technique for stomping down the hill and found it was a lot easier going down than up. 

A look at the Red Banks from where I stopped. 

The spot where I decided to turn back. 
We made it back to camp at about 3:45 p.m. When I pulled off my boots, I found blood in my socks.  G.. was gracious about the whole thing and said it was a good call.  We didn't want to have to spend another night there if we didn't have to.  We hurried to break down our camp so that we could get to the Fifth Season before they closed at 5:00.  We made it into their shop at five till, returned the equipment.  We grabbed at bite at Burger King and then made the drive back to Sacramento.  

On the way back down. 

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