By Susan Schnier
December 2003

Approach Shasta for the first time from San Francisco or Portland, and its hulking, 360-degree volcanic mass pops out like a mirage in the arid desert. The bulbous peak stands stark and alone, 14,162 feet tall and six miles west of Redding, California. For the rookie, Shasta has the spine-tingling allure of a first kiss, and for the experienced skier, the mind-expanding depth of a long-term relationship. From 50-degree exposed faces with crevasse navigation, to classic bowl skiing with minimal risk, though lots of people visit each season, the mountain enormous.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a longer descent in the U.S. that doesn’t involve crevasses and rappels. You might get 3,500 feet of backcountry vertical before the bell rings elsewhere, but Shasta always provides extracurricular mileage. “Getting 7,400 vertical feet in a day is rare anywhere in the world, but on Shasta it’s the norm,” says Tahoe local and five-time Shasta veteran, Rob McCormick.

The Route

South facing Avalanche Gulch is the classic and least technical route. Best from May through June you need to summit before the snow turns to sludge. You can bootpack most of the ascent, using crampons in a few of the icy, steeper sections. The ascent is seven miles and the elevation gain is 7000+ feet. You can leave from the trailhead at Bunny Flat in the afternoon, sleep at Horse Camp or Helen Lake (10,400 feet), and start the four-hour climb before dawn to reach the summit by 9 a.m. Or leave the trailhead around 2 a.m. and beat feet to the summit. This eliminates the need for camping gear, but requires a high level of fitness and energy reserves for the descent. To avoid the crowds, climb and ski the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge on Shasta’s northeast side. It has the longest sustained pitch with the most consistent snow.

The Descent

Descending Avalanche Gulch is as effortless as skipping class on a warm spring afternoon. Provided you time it right, you’ll have smooth sailing down 7,000+ feet of perfectly pitched, crevasse-free California corn.


The best way to do Shasta the first time is with a guide. With no foothills to cradle it, Shasta has its own weather system, often capped by lenticular clouds that signal the onset of winds and snow The weather changes rapidly so always be prepared for storms.

Other Info

Permits, available free of charge at the Mt. Shasta and McCloud Ranger Stations and all the trailheads, are required. Summit Passes ($15) are required if you climb above 10,000 feet. Pack out all your waste. No dogs allowed.

Guide services:

Shasta Mountain Guides (SMG):, 530-926-3117

Alpine Skills International (ASI):, 530-582-9170

Sierra Wilderness Seminars:, 888-797-6867

Eric DesLauriers works with ASI and Leslie Ross runs Babes in the Backcountry women’s courses in conjunction with SMG.

Leslie Ross: 970-453-4060,

Eric DesLauriers: 888-754-2201,

For weather and route information, the United States Forest Service:

Mt. Shasta Ranger Station: 530-926-4511

McCloud Ranger Station: 530-964-2184

Mount Shasta Avalanche Center:, 530-926-9613

Gear and Route Info:

The Fifth Season rents and sells everything you’ll need for Shasta including ice axes, crampons, mountaineering boots, skis, packs, gaitors, and tents: 530-926-5555

House of Ski & Board: 530-926-2359,


Sierra Club/Horse Camp Information: