Backpacker Magazine –
The Other Way In
Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
Mt. Sneffels (Glenn Randall)
Half Dome (Dmitri Alexander)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)
Shasta National Forest, CA
X Trade route
→ Sneak route
West Face Gully
12 miles, 7,229 feet of
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.
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.
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
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
Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter