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Backpacker Magazine – August 2012

The Other Way In

Hike to life-list hot spots without waiting in life-list lines. These under-the-radar trails deliver everything but the crowds.

by: Brendan Leonard

Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)

Mt. Shasta
Shasta National Forest, CA

X    Trade route Avalanche Gulch
→   Sneak route West Face Gully
Key stats 12 miles, 7,229 feet of
elevation gain
Off-radar cred Fewer than 10 percent of climbers use this route.

John Muir wrote that the first time he saw Mt. Shasta, “all my blood turned to wine.” We think that means, “I was drunk with desire to climb it.” Northern California’s crown jewel—at 14,162 feet, just a hair shorter than Rainier—has a similar affect on hikers today. The Forest Service estimates 8,000 people attempt to scale it annually, and 90 percent do it via the Avalanche Gulch route. Take the slightly steeper route up the West Face Gully (one drainage west), and you’ll feel like you have the volcano all to yourself—just like Muir.

Do it Hike from the Bunny Flat trailhead to Horse Camp at 7,900 feet, fill your water bottles with pure Shasta water at the spring there, and take the left fork behind Horse Camp Cabin. After about 1.5 miles of contouring north and up over several snowfields, set up camp on snow in the middle of Hidden Valley at 9,200 feet. Get an alpine start the next morning to crampon up hard snow in the West Face Gully (Cascade Gulch on some maps), the central gully above Hidden Valley. The crux of the ascent is 300 feet of 40- to 45-degree snow, which you’ll hit at about 9,500 feet. After that the angle eases, but the climbing is never “easy”: the slope stays between 35 and 40 degrees to the ridge at 13,200 feet. Traverse to the south of the Whitney Glacier to Misery Hill, where you’ll likely join climbers who chose the Avalanche Gulch route. Punch up Misery Hill to the fumaroles (steam vents) 100 feet below the rim, then top out on the small, rocky summit. On the return, plunge-step down the same snow slopes, and remove your crampons to glissade when comfortable. Gut check: ice axe, spikes, and self-arrest skills are a must on this route.

Get there From Mt. Shasta City, take Lake St. (stay left as it turns into Washington Dr. then Everitt Memorial Hwy.) 11.5 miles to the trailhead.
Map Buy the BACKPACKER PRO MAP
Permit Required for travel above 10,000 feet. Get self-issue, 3-day summit passes at the trailhead, $20. Contact (530) 226-2500; fs.usda.gov/stnf




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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

Star
Jim Andrews
Jun 20, 2014

The Abol Trail to Katahdin's peak is closed indefinitely due to slide damage from the recent harsh winter -- http://bangordailynews.com/2014/06/05/outdoors/katahdins-abol-trail-closed-for-2014-season/?ref=search

Please don't plan to use this trail in 2014.

Star Star Star Star Star
Rick Buhite
May 15, 2014

Little known secret re" Mt Whitney permits.
(5% of the overnight permits for Mt Whitney afre held for "Date of Entry")
What this means it...
If you go to the Mt Whitney Ranger station in Lone Pine before they close the night before you intend to hike the Mt Whitney Trail, They can issue you an Overnight permit good for the next day, (Even if the available permits for the current day are all gone)
What this means is that you can start hiking at MidNight or after on that next day.

Star Star Star Star Star
Laguna Hiker
May 15, 2014

Mt. Whitney - Cottonwood Lakes: A great route! No crowds until Trail Crest, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the Sierras. It's a tough hike, though, so make sure you condition for it.

Star Star Star Star Star
Back in Colo
Jan 28, 2014

I've done the Hermit trail 3 times. Twice to the river on a day hike. It's a long day, but you earn your burger at Beaver Street Brewery (in Flagstaff). I also enjoyed the Boucher trail. If camping permits are available, you can loop Boucher to Hermit. We did this with a stay at Boucher campground, looped over to Hermit rapids via the Tanto trail and then an extra night at Hermit campground.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 24, 2014

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hiked off-trail. A MUST READ for hikers who love to hike where others don't! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike Smart and STAY ORIENTED. This book is a fast, easy read that will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable! Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart on Amazon.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 24, 2014

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hiked off-trail. A MUST READ for hikers who love to hike where others don't! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike Smart and STAY ORIENTED. This book is a fast, easy read that will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable! Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart on Amazon.

Star Star Star Star Star
sierracanon
Jan 23, 2014

Did this Whitney from the south trip in a all on-trail version several years ago. Went over Cottonwood Pass, through Rock Creek, Crabtree Meadow, and out through Whitney Portal in three days. A good alternative for those who are not comfortable with extended cross-country travel.

imjackhandy
Aug 16, 2012

If you have to take the Rainbow Falls trail take it down and not up. Not a lot of views on this trail but the falls are spectacular. I recommend the Bullhead trail up and Rainbow Falls down. It'll put you out at the same parking lot.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/imjackhandy/sets/72157609867058824/

Nick
Aug 16, 2012

I just got back from a very similar trip where we came down from tenaya lake stayed need sunrise lakes then did clouds rest then staying at the john Muir trail connection. Only had to get up at 4am the make the 2.5 miles to half dome where we beat the sunrise by half an hour and had the entire summit to ourselves for the sunrise. The weather could not have been more perfect. This is the only way to see half dome.

David Dickey
Aug 16, 2012

I did the short hike 3 times last April. The crouds don't get up early so if you start early the hike is croud free. That seems like a easier way to beat the crouds than to spend $39 and 19 miles of hiking. The main point is that it is not that crouded and the last half mile (the chained part) is crouded the same no matter which way you do the hike.

Phil R.
Aug 16, 2012

Did approximately this hike before they started requiring permits to go up the cables. If you want shorter hiking days, consider taking three nights. One additional night at Upper Cathedral Lake is worth considering. Then the second night at mentioned in the article is OK. Consider a third night camped at at Little Yosemite Valley...it is a large backpackers campground, but we enjoyed it. When hiking out the last day you can choose the John Muir Trail or the Mist Trail. The Mist Trail has some wet steps, but you pass by two amazing water falls. You can also consider taking a hike to Clouds Rest. That would add another day.

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