First day: Drove up from San Jose, backpacked in, and talked to the caretaker of the Horse Camp Sierra Club hut. No snow at the trailhead, but by the time I reached the hut there was plenty of the white stuff, though sloppy and slushy by this time of the season. My early arrival snagged a campsite on dry ground under Shasta red firs. Fresh spring water gushed over an artfully-arranged rock sculpture near the hut, and the composting toilets were open on even-numbered days. I dropped some bills in the donation jar, then sat around camp the rest of the evening.
Day 2: Started at 5:30am and hiked north up the ridge from Horse Camp. Enroute I encountered numerous areas of hard snow, easily traversed with aluminum crampons. The summer trail poked out in places, along with scree, talus, logs, etc. Got tired of putting the crampons on, taking them off, etc. so climbed a snow gully up to a ridge overlooking the drainage just above Hidden Valley, where I found several unoccupied campsites.
Descended carefully into the valley, then up over a ridgelet of volcanic rock to the gully I should have come up if I'd stayed on the trail. From there it was a straightforward snow climb up to the saddle of Shasta-Shastina, just below 12000'. However, there was still over 300' of scree to get to the Shastina summit, and I really hadn't come all this way to go scree-surfing. By then it was about noon, clouds were gathering, the snow was softening, and I had a really nice glissade back down to the valley.
Good practice, and helped acclimatize me to the altitude. Traversing the summer trail back to Horse Camp was a bit nerve-wracking because of the intermittent soft snow and steep slope. Returned to camp around 3, napped a few hours, then packed carbs & protein for the next day, and cameled up on water. Weather was perfect, and I was baking out on the snowfields because of all the reflected sun.
Day 3: Strapped two LED headlamps to my helmet after a cold breakfast and 1.5L of water, and started out from the hut at 3am into Avalanche Gulch. I was soon joined by a couple of guys who were moving at a nice even pace. We arrived at Helen Lake around 5, which looked like a small city due to all the other headlamps as we approached in the dark. Must have been 50 people climbing up the 30-35 degree snowfield to the right of The Heart. Many tents.
The Red Banks had two main chutes being used - the left was steeper, shorter, and had more snow coverage, while the right one was longer, more gentle, and required walking on some rocks. I chose the left one, and was not disappointed. Water ice was forming in places, especially over a hole at the bottom of the glissade chute. Many steps into the hard snow had been cut, for which I was grateful. Climbed out of there around 7:30.
Most of Misery Hill was scree, with a nice switchbacking trail, though there was snow on one side for the glissaders. By 9 or so I'd reached the summit plateau, and the weather was as good as Shasta gets at 14k' - clear skies, maybe only 20-30 mph winds on the north side, calm otherwise. Caught a whiff of the famous sulfur springs on the way to the summit pinnacle, which had a trail up to the top, mostly devoid of snow.
Signed the register just before 10am. It was like a Starbuck's up there - a couple of guys even brought beer. Crowded but subdued.
On my way back down I met Amit Bedajna and a few of his group coming up - they had camped at Helen Lake, and were taking it easy. Jumped in the glissade chute and zipped down Misery Hill as far as the snow went, then put crampons back on for the descent through the Red Banks. I cursed myself for taking the steep chute down - should have taken the easy route. As I took my crampons off again for the glissade back to Helen Lake, someone dislodged a nice big rock that I had to dodge. After I stopped shaking I jumped into the glissade chute and soon had a great big grin on my face.
Got back to camp at 1:30, in slushy slippery snow. Here are some pictures: rhysw.com/mt_shasta200406