Mt. Shasta : West Face Gully
(This summit's for you John)

12-14 May 2006 - by Rob Yang

Andrea Drane and Robert Oliver accompanied me on a delightful jaunt to Hidden Valley to climb West Face Gully this past weekend. The trip was initially scheduled as an official CMC outing until trip leader John Lechmanik had some temporary health problems and had to cancel it.

John and I had gone rock climbing before, and I'd been on his Whitney MR trip last year with Andrea, so I figured I knew what I was getting into. I'd been to Hidden Valley on my way up Cascade Gulch when I first visited Mt. Shasta back in 2004, and this seemed like it might be fun.

Anyway, we started at 8am from Bunny Flat (6950'), and snowshoed to Horse Camp, which was in the process of re-emerging after being buried by heavy storms earlier in the year. We activated our avalanche beacons, and set off towards high camp. Andrea had actually done quite a bit of legwork in advance of the trip, and had gotten word from the rangers the previous day that avy hazard was pretty low - potential slides might be found during the hottest part of the afternoon, or near cornices.

Andrea and Robert had been on John's Shasta trip last year, with a similar itinerary but worse weather (heavy rain apparently), so they kind of had a score to settle. It was a very liesurely approach, and by 1pm or so we had arrived in Hidden Valley (9200'). By then the snow had softened considerably, and the traverse into the valley had become pretty taxing. We set up our tents and melted lots of snow for water, opting to go to bed at 6pm and rise at 1am the following morning for a 2am alpine start. Our plan was to summit within 7 hours and get back to camp around noon.

1am arrived, and I felt groggy and cold. Andrea was up as well, but Robert did not think he could make the final 5000' to the summit. So the two of us set off, with the full moon illuminating the climb, snow crunching underfoot. Winds were very light, temps surprisingly mild, perhaps in the 30's.

West Face Gully starts out around 40 degrees for the first 300' or so, then eases for a while, then gets steeper again around 12500', perhaps 35-40 degrees near the 'headwall' at the top (really this is just a short steepish section below a saddle). I looked at my watch at 3am - I'd gotten to about 10600'. Time flies when you're having fun. I could see Andrea's headlamp below, and two separate clusters of lights coming from guided groups which were camped in the valley and on the ridge near the valley. Afterwards I stopped for a snack & water about every hour, or 1000' or so. There were conveniently spaced rocks which seemed made to order for this purpose :)

Around 6-ish I stopped just beneath the headwall near 13000' and waited for Andrea - she mentioned that we might want to navigate this together. The morning light was coming into the sky, and the enormity of the surroundings were becoming clear - Shastina, Casaval Ridge, and Hidden Valley, spread out below. I scrambled up to a snow/rock perch and waited for about an hour, wearing my belay jacket & mittens. Brr, cold.

Andrea finally arrived. Hooray ! Almost done with the route. There were two obvious ways to go around the headwall - left (less steep) or right (more direct). I went right and Andrea went left, leaving a marker flag for our descent. Just above the headwall we were in the sun, and we stopped and had a longish break. It was about 7:30am. We were treated to a view of Misery Hill, the summit plateau, and the summit pinnacle direcly in front of us in a perspective I had never before admired. The Whitney Glacier dropped off to our left.

We then trudged up over the ridge, getting airy views of Casaval's upper reaches, the Catwalk, Helen Lake, Avy Gulch, etc. - I was careful to stay to the right. The route then descends about one or two hundred feet, where we began slogging up the Hill of Misery. I chatted with a couple of people, some on their way up, some on the way down. Avy Gulch was popular, as was Casaval. We stopped for a while on the plateau to snack & rehydrate, and then I headed up to tag the summit pinnacle. I was again very surprised at how little wind there was.

Atop the pinnacle around 9:30 it was pretty subdued - people asking to have their pictures taken, snacking, relaxing, breaking out the beer, etc. The summit register was still buried. Digging it out just seemed like it would create a scene. Andrea made her way slowly up to the base of the summit pinnacle, and then turned around. She had been here before, no worries - she had climbed the West Face today, and that was what mattered.

Descending Misery Hill I talked to a few enthusiastic guys who had climbed Sargent's Ridge and left their helmets "in the crevasse" for pickup when they descended Avy Gulch - hmm ! At the top of the headwall we picked up the marker flags and started downclimbing. Snow in the upper west face was still pretty firm. Around 12000' I felt like the downclimbing was starting to get old :) Around 11500' I decided that the slope was easy enough and snow soft enough that glissading wouldn't be too bad.

We descended a variation which cuts over to the climber's right of West Face Gully proper into the next gully over, which is a little less steep (see details on - there is a large dagger-shaped rock which marks the place to cut over - one should do so above this rock, but only if early enough in the year that this other gully actually holds snow).

We made the last slushy bit into camp around 1pm. Whoo-hoo ! Robert congratulated us. We drank, ate, and promptly fell asleep for a few hours before getting up again. The group's decision was that the traverse on the way out would be better when the snow was relatively firm.

Next day we headed out at 7am and returned to the cars by 10:30. At Horse Camp the spring was being dug out, a couple of wooden benches had been set out, and one of the composting toilets was even in operation. Climbing season on Mt. Shasta was just around the corner ...

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