Mount Shasta summit is a strenuous trek which climbs over 7,000 feet in elevation to the top. Standing at some 14,179 feet, it’s the second highest peak in the Cascade Range and the fifth highest in the state of California.
I first laid eyes on Mount Shasta in 2016 and my first summit attempt took place the following year in September. Although I was unsuccessful, I knew that I would be back some day to claim the summit. This was my first ever serious mountaineering experience. Since then I have had a total of four summit attempts on Shasta, two of which have been successful.
My most recent attempt at the Shasta summit was on July 15, 2022. The inspiration to climb this mountain came from within. There is something meaningful about attaining the summit, almost like an inherent drive that I was born with. To me it resembles the pinnacle of success.
On a side note, I have also hiked up Black Butte in Oregon which is a short five mile round trip trek which takes you to an excellent viewpoint where you can see Mount Shasta in all its glory. The viewpoint at the summit of Black Butte gives you an excellent 360-degree bird’s eye view of Mount Shasta and really highlights the prominence of its peak, as well as the sheer volume of the volcano. Here are some fun facts about Mount Shasta:
First ascent: 1854
Elevation: 14,179 feet
Prominence: 9,823 feet
I tackled the summit on a solo attempt in 2019 but this time I was joined by my friend and climbing companion, Ben Cady. Ben is an experienced climber (the Alex Honnold type) and high-altitude mountaineer.
We both share similar hobbies in the areas of outdoor recreation. Ben has also conquered the summit of Mount Shasta via a winter ascent back in December 2021 so I knew we were ready. We climbed up to the summit on July 15, 2022. It was a beautiful warm sunny day with clear skies. There was little to no wind which made conditions at the summit very favorable.
Taking the Avalanche Gulch Route
There are a few different routes up Shasta and they all vary in difficulty. Some require more experience than others since they involve glacier travel but all of the routes are difficult – gaining over 7,000 feet to the summit. There is no easy way up Mount Shasta! I have listed the routes below:
- Avalanche Gulch Route (most common route)
- Clear Creek Route (second most popular route)
- Bolam Glacier Route (involves technical glacier travel)
- Wintun Glacier Route (involves technical glacier travel)
- Hotlum Glacier Route (involves technical glacier travel)
- Whitney Glacier Route (involves technical glacier travel)
The route we took (Avalanche Gulch) is best climbed from April to June when there is snow. This year was a low snow year for the mountain so unfortunately there wasn’t much snow, which made the trail difficult due to rock falls. The mountain is covered in loose scree and talus, and the snow acts as a glue to hold all of that together. Due to poor snow conditions, the climb turned into a Class 3 scramble once we got past Helen Lake.
In total the hike was about 11 miles round trip (five and half up and five and a half down), gaining 7,155 feet in elevation to the summit from the trailhead at Bunny Flat. The elevation gained on this hike in a single day is a major challenge for most since the high altitude takes a toll on the body. Nevertheless, since Ben and I do this kind of stuff regularly, we had the stamina for the single day push to the summit and what a reward it was!
We were up and down in approximately 12 hours, although I recommended that most should attempt this climb over two days to properly acclimate to the altitude. The Mount Shasta summit hike felt strenuous to say the least.
Views on the Mount Shasta Summit Hike
Since Mount Shasta is a very prominent peak, you can see for miles in all directions from the summit. The steep slope on Avalanche Gulch allows you to gain elevation quite quickly, making the views come fast on your way up.
You can see Lassen Peak and Lassen Volcanic National Park in the distance at 11,000 feet. This is the neighboring peak of Shasta. You can also see Black Butte at around 6,200 feet and Mount Eddy at about 9,900 feet.
A camping spot on the Avalanche Gulch Route (and the most popular) is Lake Helen. At close to 10,000 feet, it greets you halfway up the mountain. You get a direct view of the ascent ahead to the Red Banks at this camp.
At roughly 12,500 feet, the Red Banks are a pretty interesting wall of rock formations that you must cross in order to continue to the summit. They are tall and yes red in color. This landmark marks your progress 75% up the mountain before the final ascent up Misery Hill and onward to the summit.
How Hard is the Avalanche Gulch Route?
My friend Ben and I completed this hike in a day due to the low snow on the mountain. It was tough and takes some nerve to keep pushing, when it’s so easy to turn back. The stats say that only about half of the people who attempt to reach the summit on this route end up doing it in a day.
Your chances of summiting Shasta are higher if you spend one night and acclimate at Helen Lake, but it’s not required. I would consider this very physically challenging to the average hiker and should not be taken lightly.
Best Memory from the Mount Shasta Summit Hike
My most memorable point on this hike was when I waved my Turkish Flag from the summit. It was an incredible experience standing on the summit again three years later. It always amazes me how we change as we get older but the mountains always stay the same. It made me reflect on the things that have happened in my life in the three years since I last stood on the summit of Shasta. This gave me a very deep and sentimental feeling.
How to Summit Mount Shasta in a Day
- Don’t go solo, take a friend
- Take at least three liters of water
- Use trekking poles (these help a lot)
- Bring a 28 liter day pack (minimum size)
- Know how to efficiently and safely use an ice ax
- Learn how to deploy crampons and microspikes
- Have knowledge surrounding crevasse rescue and self-arrest
- If you don’t have mountaineering experience, hire a guide (when taking glacier routes).
- You should have mountaineering experience on all routes besides Clear Creek or Avalanche Gulch.
- Your shoes must have ankle support (depending on the time of year and snow levels, take boots).
- Last but not least, watch this webinar on YouTube in regards to how to climb Mount Shasta and how to best prepare.