Siskiyou County Highpoint Trip Report

Mount Shasta (14,162 ft)

Dates: July 6-7, 2004
Author: Peter Maurer

unsuccessful attempt

As an accommodation to my guide (my older sister who has climbed Shasta numerous times) we chose a lesser-known route up the northeast side of the mountain known as the Hotlum-Bolam route. The access is off of Route 97, about 15 miles east of the city of Weed. Turn south on Military Pass Road, a USFS dirt road that skirts the north and east slope of Shasta. The route to the trail head, North Gate, is well marked with signs and arrows. After several delays securing crampons for my brother who decided to join us at the last minute, we left the trail head at about 4:30 pm. Note that there is a $15 per person fee, which can be paid at the trail head, and that ALL waste must be packed out. Convenient bags complete with targets and kitty litter are provided at the trailhead as well.

The trail has been recently re-routed to avoid an over-used draw and is quite a pleasant hike up through a red-fir forest, breaking out into white bark pine above 8000 feet. There is no water along this route, and with the lower snowfall and early spring this year, snow melt was not available until we reached a base camp at about 9000 feet, just about at treeline.

The next morning we awoke at 4:30, planning to begin hiking at 5:00. However, one of the party was suffering from some intestinal problems, our stove was malfunctioning, and we didn't depart until 6:00. This, along with an early buildup of clouds turned out to be our downfall and prevented a successful climb. There is a well-used trail leading up to and then along a ridge that separates the Hotlum and Bolam glaciers. We cramponed up at about 10,500 feet and begin a tiring and sometime treacherous ascent up the snow field between these glaciers. The snow conditions were challenging, either hard ice or breakable crust, which put us even further behind schedule. We could see a party about 1 1/2 hour ahead of us and while our routes varied somewhat, the preferred route is pretty much between the glaciers, skirting a few rock outcrops, reaching a step at about 13,000 feet. From there the route traverses several snow fields and open rocky areas to the west and south, joining the main route from the south and west at the sulfur springs.

From 11:00 on we kept our eyes on clouds developing below us and off to the east, knowing how unpredictable the weather can be on Shasta. At noon, when we reached the step, we stopped for a lunch break and to assess whether to continue or not. The clouds were building, we were at least an hour behind schedule, and none of us were in the best of shape. When the cloud cover totally obscured the descent route, our minds were made up, much to my dismay, that the summit would have to wait for another day. As my brother said, the mountain will still be there. The descent included several self-arrests, as the icy conditions over part of the route made for treacherous glissading. We were back at base camp by 4:00 and out to the trail head at 7:00.

Some recommendations for those who want to try this route: Earlier in the season is probably better due to the varying snow conditions. It is a longer route than others, so an early start is a must. We passed another base camp at about 9500-10,000 feet elevation where the party ahead of us spent the night. This is a long haul carrying packs from the trailhead but clearly provides a significant head start to the summit than from where we began.

This is a much more remote route and for those who prefer a less crowded wilderness experience, probably preferable, unless getting to the top and back in the shortest amount of time is the only goal.