Shasta Blasta

5 Jun 1999 - by Mark Adrian

Major bummer! Extremely high winds, low clouds and a discouraging ranger report stalled our Shasta attempt this past Saturday (6/5) at the Hut at 8,000'. We heard numerous first hands reports of extreme winds at and above Helen Lake from several teams that aborted at Helen Lake and/or The Heart and that some had descended off the mountain with shredded tents. Some teams camped near the Hut had descended the night before because of the high winds. The weather forecast was for more of the same for Sunday (today) and the ranger (Mark at the Hut) said that summitting chances were very slim. He also cautioned that determined climbers take ample bivy gear in case of likely white out conditions above Red Banks. So, based on this evidence and advice, we aborted our attempt at the Hut. We noted several guided groups and private groups continuing up to Helen Lake despite all we had learned and seen. Climbing into deteriorating weather was, I thought, one of the fundamental conditions for abortion. Perhaps not, for some, anyway.

Anyway, the road is plowed to Bunny Flats only and you can get permits and poop bags there, NO water, but there's snow right out of your car's door. The dirt road to Sand Flats campground was still mostly under snow and not drivable more than 50' from the pavement. Camping is poor/noisy at the Bunny Flats, so we found a much nicer spot 0.9 miles below the parking lot on the south side of the road where there's a small pullout. Walk about 100 feet south of the road to quiet flat tent spots.

After Shasta's abortion, we headed over to the trailhead for Lassen and it was totally under clouds too with collapsing weather at the parking lot. Discouraged again, we gave up and camped lower in the nearby National Forest, then screamed home today down I5, arriving in San Diego around 3:30 PM. That drive from Sacto to Grapevine is beyond dismal and bleak. Nothing like 1600 miles of driving for a 2.5 mile, 1000' gain hike, eh? Fortunately, Shasta is relatively convenient as opposed to other Cascades. Too bad they don't give you a rain check for your "above 10K' " $15 permit, especially if you return within 24 hours of issue. And this is supposed to be the prime season to climb this peak too! What's up with this global warming and La Nina?

Gas prices along the way ranged from $1.17 just north of Sacto, to $1.31 near Frazier Park / Gorman.

Rich writes:

Thought you would find these comments by a guy that stayed at about 9000' on Shasta the night we were to be at Helen Lake interesting.

It turns out when I got to the parking lot I ran into a guy who had summited the day before. The sheriff had just dropped him off. He was coming back to Bunny Flats from the summit at 10:30 PM. He missed the parking lot, wound up in the woods lost, saw the glow of the lights from Mt. Shasta City and proceeded to walk 6.5 miles to town. He arrived at 4:30AM, stumbled into the sheriff's office the rest is history. (smile)

Mark Adrian replies:

This guy should have turned around in daylight! Or at least, have had GPS, compass and altimeter ... get a grip dude!

Michael Gordon adds:

It amazes me how many show up to try Shasta in spring when they have hardly any summer hiking experience. Witness the number of "climbers" at a place like Helen Lake (or anywhere in the Gulch) wearing boots marked "Fifth Season", carrying axes marked "Fifth Season".

I'm surprised that there aren't more casualties on Shasta each year.

Pat Callery adds:

Is it possible that your climbers' ego (we are all guilty to some extent) does not permit you to concede that much of what we do is no real challenge? Anybody can grab an axe and hike up a snow slope in relative safety. Shasta has the benefit (or fault?) of prominence and accessibility.

Places like the 5th season exist for the benefit and thrill of the less experienced, and they are entitled to it. don't get me wrong, i acknowledge the importance of safety training and assurance, which is the responsibility of both the hiker and the guide shop.

Mark Adrian replies:

Pat, your logic here/above invites wrecklessness and is no more sensible than allowing or condoning unlicensed drivers out on a highway despite the fact that they can push the pedals and turn the wheel. Just because you "can grab an axe" doesn't make it safe. There's a LOT to be said for experience and going up Shasta without any prior seems foolish. In my analog, places like the 5th season are equivalent to a car rental agent that doesn't demand proof of a driver's license and isn't reponsible if you crash and burn or put others at risk, waiver or not.

Mark Adrian continues:

> Unfortunately, I fear that having lots of climbing rangers and
> readily available helicopters may actually _encourage_ unprepared
> climbers to attempt Shasta.

Jim, I couldn't agree with you more. I felt our group of three was pretty experienced. We had GPS, compass and years of combined experience. Yet, we chose to abort because of risky conditions while others we saw, obviously less prepared than us, continued on. As I understand it, there were still high wind conditions and the Shasta web cam revealed streaming clouds still intermittently capping the summit on that Sunday. I think white out conditions on Shasta are a major reason people get lost on descent. Unfortunately, the Rangers can only attempt to deter people, they are not "police" in the traditional sense. Perhaps they should be given this power because someone eventually has to pay for SARs and theoretically, this could eventually raise the climbing fee beyond the current $15. It's the mistakes of a few that cost us all.

David Ress added:

I can see both sides of this argument, but I find Pat's attitude to be a real breath of fresh air. On the one hand, most mountaineering really isn't that hard, particularly on a mild route like Avalanche Gully on Shasta. Unless matters go badly wrong, little is required but willpower. While it is quite possible, and enjoyable, to seek out more challenging routes in the mountains, many summits can be climbed very easily. I find it quite excellent that many people are discovering how much they can do without making this sport their "true love." These people will develop their own love for the mountains, and enhance political support for preserving wilderness.

On the other hand, it is downright appalling at times to watch the nimrods and ninnies at play on the popular mountains like Whitney and Shasta.They often practice bad wilderness etiquette, are ill equipped, and perhaps more likely to get into serious trouble and need rescue. And, worse yet, they might be inclined to litigate if they screw themselves up.

Somewhere in between these two viewpoints there is some value.

Mark Adrian replied:

> On the one hand, most mountaineering really isn't that hard,
> particularly on a mild route like Avalanche Gully on Shasta.

Tell that to the the guy who is still missing after three weeks and a futile SAR. According to the Ranger I spoke with, there are still several missing "bodies" on Shasta's Gulch route. Call it "mild" if you like, but the statistics reveal otherwise.

Mike Rinaldi adds:

I was up climbing at Shasta this weekend and there was a poster of the fellow, I believe, Mark is refering to. He has been missing since 5/23. He's 69 and had medical problems. Could've been an old experienced mountaineer who had a bad heart, took a chance and his number came up. I did see a guy shoot by me going at a very good clip, out of control, screaming obscenities. He was attempting to glissade under the RedBanks near the upper part of the Heart. He managed to stop himself or hit soft snow after a good 200 yard slide. When I got to him he was alright and was pissed at himself for losing his ice axe! I didn't ask him if he had strapped on before his glissade. I didn't feel he was in the mood for criticism :)

But put enough people on even an easy route (experienced or not) and sheer statistics will ensure that lots of accidents are seen and lots of SAR employed.

Beren Erchamion adds:

Gee, this thread is making us sound like a bunch of worrying nannies. If some nimrod or ninny wants to climb a mountain without being properly trained or equipped, why stop them? If they make it back okay, great; maybe we misjudged their nimrodery, and, if not, we can assume they learned something enroute. On the other hand, if they don't make it back, they took the chance and they suffered the consequence (and their relatives should have to pay to bring their body out if they want it).

The only problem, at least for those who prefer to allow people to make their own choices in life, is that, if too many don't make it back okay, the government may decide to restrict everyone's behavior through restrictions on climbers or fees for rescue. Obviously, I don't agree with potential nimrodery as a basis for restricted access. As for fees, I believe they should be based on the climbing community for the area. On some mountains (in some areas), it may be in all our interest to pay to have a rescue team at ready, but I disagree with assessing everyone a fee for rescuing a few people who should have known better.

Every time you sound the alarm to restrict someone else's choice, you lose another little bit of freedom yourself.

Mark Adrian replies:

Perhaps "problematic" peaks, like Denali/Rainier/Shasta, should offer/force an insurance fee, which, if paid, entitles you to SAR if you're reported "lost" or "injured". Without "insurance", you're on your own.

Bill Strand adds:

I don't think Rainier or Shasta are in the same league as Denali (ie. altitude, weather severity, road to and parking lot at trailhead, length of time required to summit, required personal and expedition equipment, planning, training, and preparation).

Michael Gordon replies:

> I don't think Rainier or Shasta are in the same league as Denali
> (i.e., road to and parking lot at trailhead

This changes all my plans! Doesn't The Fifth Season have a shop on the Talkeetna where I can rent an ice axe and crampons? :-)

Steve Eckert adds:

David Ress> Unless matters go badly wrong, little is required
David Ress> but willpower.
David_U>    But matters do go badly on mountains.  Even those as non
David_U>    technical as Shasta.

Yep. My one and only head-first-on-your-stomach-for-real arrest occurred on the so-called 'easy' Avalanche Gulch route: I was a dead man without the proper reflexes because it had just turned into hard windslab and I was picking up speed. Rich Calliger had a problem on Shasta also, and was saved by an ice axe tethered to his waist which happened to stick in the snow instead of his thigh as he fell out of control. A couple of years ago we read on a prior incarnation of this list about two people who glissaded the easy route while wearing crampons, and they took out a couple of other climbers when their feet stuck and they spun out of control. A decade ago I climbed with a guy who was on the mountaineer's route of Whitney when the climber above him slid backwards and spiked my friend's thigh to the bone with crampons.

The only thing, in fact, that you CAN count on is that you CAN'T count on things going well all the time.

But we still have people who won't practice self arrests on hard windslab, who won't climb in echelon to avoid falling partners, and who won't take classes or listen to instructors on things like going downhill in crampons. In fact, we are yelled by novices and experts alike when we try to educate the dangerous novices.

So we talk about the cost of SAR and permits instead. Sigh.

David Underwood adds:

We practiced head first falls this week end. Fisher said that is the most common type due to people catching their crampons on the other leg, gaiter etc. and tripping themselves. The trick is to do a shoulder roll. A little scary at first but it works. It would be well worth it for some of the PCS climbers to take on of these sessions with the LTC. Not cheap but well worth it.

Michael Gordon adds:

Most persons I've asked or spoken with have never practiced head-first/on your back falls, let alone the more basic arrest methods. To me, a *real* fall head-first/on your back is scarier than hell, and it happens when people are at altitude and they bend forward to adjust a crampon strap or something else, and then come back up with a "head rush", prompting the fall.

Every time I'm out, I try and practice all four arrest methods on a safe runout slope. It doesn't take long to reaffirm "yep, I've got it down". Having all four arrest positions down solid makes you realize you don't want to get in that predicament for *real*, causing you to be safer and utilize a more bomber self-belay to prevent a slide in the first place. But people assume that "anybody can grab an axe and hike up a snow slope in relative safety", ignoring the fact that it's completely useless if you can't arrest with it.

Pat Callery adds:

Not to belabor this thread, but i ought to clarify my original point. i obviously agree that anyone attempting such a mountain has the responsibility to educate and train themselves in the proper safety techniques and use of safety equipment. and obviously this does not always happen.

My point was that these skills are not rocket science, and can be easily learned and practiced within a matter of minutes. The prevailing mountaineer's attitude seems to be that anyone with less experience than yourself has no business on "your" mountain. Non-technical snow ascents do not require years of apprenticeship. Remember that these are public lands and the general public has just as much right to be there as all the little reinhold messners.

Mark Adrian replies:

Steve, I think I can do ya one better. Coming off Coloseum a couple years ago, I was glissading and started a self-inflicted 'lanch on myself. I was soon buried in snow/darkness but I could tell I was heading downhill (duh) on my back, head first. After a few milliseconds of panic, I composed myself and mentally recalled then engaged the arrest procedures on demand. They worked flawlessly and I came to a stop (under a few inches of snow) while the 'lanch continued on. I had a hell of a headache (from the cold) and my bibs were packed with snow as were my glasses. A little shaken and after reasuring others I was OK, I decided to plunge step on down. Afternoon slopes may look inviting to glissade, but the safe rule dictates you kick down.

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