Photos and words by Nicholas Cahill
Trip Report Jonathan Cahill
I have had my eye on Mt. Shasta for quite some time. The time had finally come where I knew all of my hard work would pay off, and it just so happened to land on my birthday. The initial crew consisted of Kris, Emily, Trace, Stanimir, and myself. My brother Nicholas, who is always up for a challenge, decided he wanted to tag along as well. I couldn’t have been more stoked to guide my brother up his first 14er! The week before our trip I found out that three people from our group were going to be delayed a day, so it was down to the final three: my brother, Stanimir and I.
We arrived at the Bunny Flat Trail head on Sat June 18th early enough to hike to Horse Camp and back. We did this to familiarize ourselves with everything around us; the trail, the conditions and the route. Knowing we wouldn’t be attempting the summit until Mon or Tues, we were ready to BBQ some ballpark hotdogs.
We had our rental gear reserved at the 5th Season shop in town, so Sunday the 19th we picked up our gear. We set out for a day hike and lunch at 9,000ft, snowboarded down practicing and testing our gear, and making any last needed adjustments. The snow was really good and timing it was key because we did not want to be coming down any of the mountain when it was too icy or slushy.
Monday the 20th, we woke up to no clouds, no wind, and felt like we should just go take a dip in the Lake down I-5. But, without a houseboat or wakeboard boat lined up, we decided that we were already lucky enough to be snowboarding in JUNE. It took us 2 hours to get up to 9,000ft during our hike with day packs on Sunday. We knew it would take longer with our heavier packs and our snowboards and we wanted to leave before the slushy post hole time so we wouldn’t need our snowshoes, and the extra weight, for the trek ahead.
We left Horse Camp at 8:30am, and while it was a little slushy, we were still able to arrive at Lake Helen around 2:45pm. Somewhere in between Horse Camp and Lake Helen our third hiking partner, Stanimir, became affected by the altitude and was unable to go any further. After hiking down to his elevation and retrieving what we needed from his pack, he was able to snowboard all the way down and we were continued onward.
I thanked my brother and said ‘”less and less people come to your birthday parties as you get older,” he laughed and said “happy birthday.” I replied with, “it’s tomorrow, our snowboard day! Not our hiking day.”
We were the second group of out of 6-7 making Lake Helen camp for the night; giving us prime picking for a camp spot. One window looking up at the Mt and the other looking out over towards Trinity Alps and as far south as you can see.
We all were rewarded with some of the most amazing sunsets over the Trinity Alps and Mt. Lassen. After lunch we set up camp and prepared our packs for the accent to the summit via Avalanche Gulch and the ride down in front of the Red Banks over 50-50 camp and right into Helen Lake. We did keep a good eye on the Trinity Chutes just in case…
Tuesday the 21st, Summer Solstice 3am. We wanted to watch a few groups go up before us to gage their pace. Nicholas got some shots of the climbers before us while I made some oatmeal. We were on the trail at about 5am.
It was a tough transition from sleeping to going up the steepest section of the climb from Helen Lake towards the red banks where we would make a slight right towards thumb rock at about 12,900ft, then a left towards Misrey Hill and the summit.
Along the way to Thumb Rock, we were keeping conversation going and taking a lot of breaks to keep checking on each other. Most of the dialogue was based around the movie GNAR and kept us in really good spirits up until sunrise (enough that my bro BA’ed at the summit, for points?).
Seeing a sunrise that high up on a mountain is something I will never forget. The shade from Mt Shasta over the Trinity Alps was breathtaking, and required a few stops just to take it in. Once the sun was up we saw our lines under the Red Banks getting baked right on time as we made our way on top of the banks on towards Misery Hill….which holds up to it’s name!
On our way up to the icy summit it was looking perfect with no wind, no clouds and warm temps. The final few hundred feet to the summit people started congratulating us and commenting to us carrying our snowboards all the way to the summit!
We WERE Stoked! We summited Mt Shasta (14,168ft) at about 10am.
My brother and myself had the summit all to ourselves (where he followed through on his word and got down to his birthday suit)!
After eating some food just below the summit we met a friend, Jessie, who started from Bunny Flat about the same time we started Helen Lake. He just about walked right up the Mountain like he had just done the John Muir Trail a few weeks prior (220MI) and been spending the winter at 10,000ft. He turned into our insta-guide since he wanted the same line we wanted to take down. He said it’d be good to wait just a little longer to let the snow soften up then it’d be perfect. We had our last few hiking feet to the top of our lines near the Trinity Chutes and followed Jesse down underneath the Red Banks for what was probably the best run of my life.
It had everything, great, perfect, deep snow transitioning at the right time, and we were in the right place. Couldn’t ask for anything better; snowboarding with my bro from his 1st 14er. When we arrived back at Helen lake (20min later) we started packing our camp and loading up our packs while Jessie decided he hadn’t had enough and skinned back up to 50-50 camp to make some more perfect turns.
We exchanged information and said thanks for the advice on lines and he was on his way to his next adventure. Just as we were about to leave Helen Lake and conclude our adventure, we ran into our 3 hiking partners that were delayed, Kris, Emily and Trace. Kris tossed me the best present of the day, a cold Tecate…..at 10,000+ft! Such a good spot to meet up with my old Mt Whitney Crew! We exchanged our experiences and were on our way down wishing them good luck and good weather! My brother and I continued our journey to the car debating which runs would be the most fun with our heavy packs, we opted for fresh corn snow! Deep and smooth. We Rode all the way to the car and started to think ‘how the hell am I going to top off this birthday?’….Maybe make it home for a surf?