Mt. Shasta : Whitney Glacier

24-25 Jun 2006 - by Rob Yang

Saturday the 24th four of us starting hiking from the Northgate trailhead at 7:30am : Steve Larson, Kris from, Sean Robbins from the CMC and myself. Steve, Sean, and I had looked at Shasta's northwest side through binoculars on the drive in and identified some possible base camp / traverse possibilities. I'd called up the ranger station multiple times and asked lots of questions about the approach, glacier conditions, etc. We'd looked at a set of powerpoint slides the rangers had compiled. I'd even been up the peak two weeks before via Casaval Ridge and spent time taking pictures of the route.

Weather was clear and hot - a high pressure ridge had settled over the state. In Redding the temps were to soar into the 110's. Meanwhile we slogged up to the Northgate high camp area at around 9800', slaked our thirst at the snowmelt stream and pondered our route.

From there we kicked steps up to "Marine's Camp", a flattish dry area at around 10700' to the climber's right of Northgate high camp. Here we decided to spend the night - the traverse from there over to the Whitney looked relatively painless. The weather that afternoon was hot, but we got a few breezes, and otherwise sought out the shade of nearby boulders and pinnacles. Steve and Sean sent a couple of boulder problems, V2's would be my guess (they lead 5.9's and 10's, whereas I can barely follow 9's). For water we were able to melt snow from the nearby slopes. We noted the presence of a rescue litter and first aid equipment stationed nearby (prominently labelled 'Property of Siskiyou County').

Sunday we got moving at 4:30am and headed down to the lower Bolam. We'd observed the crevasses in the upper part of this glacier, and according to the rangers there wasn't much else to worry about (at least this time of year), so we didn't bother to rope up. The snow was good for kicking steps most of the way, with a few dry rocky patches. By about 5:30 we were at around 10650' on a dry slope overlooking the Whitney glacier. Headlamps were no longer necessary. We could see the steep slopes of Shastina (and past wet slides and rockfall) looming over the far side of the glacier.

By 6 we'd scrambled down to the snow, roped up and headed out. Our first task was to negotiate an short section of icefall which looked fairly frozen and stable. It was also fairly dirty, having a covering of scree and talus debris. Not too much fun in crampons, but reasonably short. We scrambled across, noting some streams of meltage, and then gained the center of the glacier. The snow there was still a bit soft and didn't firm up until about 11000'.

Around 11500 to 12000' the slope steepened, perhaps to 40-45 degrees. In the lead, Steve looked around for a good snowbridge to cross the first largish crevasse. Kris, Sean, and I stood ready as Steve stepped across - the snowbridge was sound. We continued up a ways, stepping across a few more bridges, and then paused for a break on safer ground.

Eventually the slope eased up significantly. Below the upper icefall (perhaps around 12500') we could see the sun shining down upon the exposed and tortured glacier ice, and the chunks that had come down from it. We could have ascended just past it to the top of Casaval Ridge, which would have put us near the base of Misery Hill, but instead decided to steer clear of the icefall and climb directly to the summit plateau. The 'direct finish' was probably a sustained grade of 35-40 degrees.

At 9:30 we'd arrived at the summit plateau. There we unroped, rested briefly, and made our way to the top of the summit pinnacle, where we found the usual zoo :)

Descent was via Hotlum-Bolam Ridge, which was quick and rather uneventful. Back in camp around noonish, we packed up, plunge-stepped, and hiked out, reaching the cars around 2pm. It was *hot*. We made tracks for Mt. Shasta city and chowed down at Casa Ramos.

The Whitney glacier is said to be the longest glacier in California - about 2 miles, though I think we probably climbed about 1.7 of that. According to the rangers the lower part of the Whitney is usually fairly badly broken up, and at the time also looked fairly dirty and debris-laden.

I was convinced that we would go slower as a rope team, but we actually managed to average about 1000' per hour. The glacier was still pretty well filled in of course, but starting early and keeping up a steady pace before things got warm helped us to avoid rockfall and soft snowbridges.

Some pics are on my website here :

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