Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Mount Shasta (CA) - Hotlum/Wintun Ridge


Fresh off a tour on Mount Shasta’s Avalanche Gulch, I was eager to get back to the mountain, with high hopes of doing the Hotlum/Wintun Ridge (aka the “Hotoon” route). As luck would have it, I was invited to join a small crew (Iryna, Audery & Lindsay), who were planning to do that route the following weekend. Without hesitation I jumped on board, spending some time leading up to the trip looking over online trip reports and maps to familiarize myself with the route. Based on my findings, I decided it would be best for me to use my splitboard instead of my AT setup, since I was much more experienced on a snowboard and the upper 2,000’ was going to be pretty steep.

Leaving on Saturday morning, we drove from Eugene to the town of Mount Shasta, where we did some last minute shopping and picked up our climbing permits. From there to the Brewer Creek trailhead was about 40 miles and took just over an hour. The roads started out as paved but eventually transitioned into dirt and became more rugged the further we went; although never more than my Subaru could handle. We were actually stopped short of the trailhead by about a ½ mile due to a few small snow drifts. After parking the car we finalized our packing and started hiking up through the woods and toward the Hotlum/Wintun snowfield – it was now around 3:30pm. Although not as crowded as Avalanche Gulch there were certainly a lot of other folks with the same idea as us. Also, most everyone had skis or a snowboard, compared to the higher concentration of hikers on Avi Gulch.


Our first glimpse of the Hotlum/Wintun Ridge, on the drive in.

End of the road -- at least for us.

Instead of following the road we hiked up straight through the woods. For the first mile and 500 vertical feet the snow was pretty patchy, but after that we were able to switch over to skinning. Lindsey, who would only be hiking on this trip, had no problem with matching our pace. Before long we crossed the timberline and Mount Shasta came into full view, in all its glory. Along the way to our high camp I stopped multiple times to take photos and scout out the line we’d be doing the following day. The bench (at ~9,800’) looked so close, but as with all mountain hikes, was much further than would seem. The final pitch up to the bench was certainly the steepest and was also starting to firm up in the shade. After slipping out a few times while skinning, I decided it was easier to shoulder my splitboard and boot up to the top.


Starting off the hike

Gettin' patchy

Almost time to skin

Crossing over the timberline

Closing in on base camp (the bench between us and the face of the mountain)

By the time we reached the bench we were about 3 hours and as many miles in. All three of the gals wanted to go up to the next bench to get a better view of the sunset, but I was pretty spent and lobbied for staying put. In the end I got my wish and we went to work setting up camp. My first task was to setup my BD Beta Light, with my only previous experience being in my backyard. Using rocks instead of stakes was much more challenging and after way too long I finally got it to a point where I was content with its tautness. Next it was time to make some dinner and melt snow, to make sure I’d have enough drinking water for the next day. Before going to bed we watched the sun set, which produced a really cool mountain shadow off to the east. By the time we retired to our bedrolls, it was around 9:30pm, and with a wakeup time of around 3:30am, we’d have a decent amount of time to catch some Zs.


Base camp!

Enjoying the sunset and mountain shadow, from camp.

My digs for the night

Beautiful views to the north and Mount McLoughlin

When my alarm went off the following morning I was already stirring, so getting up wasn’t too painful. As I crawled out of the tent I could see that a few of the other parties that had camped beside us were already heading out of camp or partway up the mountain. All of our crew was just starting to wake and make breakfast, hoping to get out of camp between 4 and 4:30am. I quickly threw down some cold breakfast and then went to packing up my tent and sleeping bag, to prevent them from blowing away if the winds happened to increase throughout the day. By the time we had all mobilized it was on the later end of our planned departure time, and the sun was just starting to illuminate the sky behind us.


Sunrise

Since the snow was pretty icy and the slope would be steepening dramatically over the next few miles, we decided to leave the skins in camp and put on our boot crampons instead. Before long the sun crossed over the horizon line and cast a beautiful pink hue across the surface of the snow. Starting off, my legs were feeling pretty heavy, and I found myself tripping over my toe spikes from time to time. I actually found it much easier to zig-zag up the hill, keeping my feet more perpendicular to the slope.


A view that will stop you in your tracks

Settling in for the long haul

Audrey makes some last minute gear adjustments

Iryna, leading the charge.

Once the slope steepened into the 30s the boot pack became more established and climbing straight up the face actually became a little easier, due to the flat steps. It was in this section that I started losing ground to my climbing partners, and I had to force myself to stay within a comfortable pace and not burn out this early in the tour. I wouldn’t reconnect with them until the Lunch Rocks, located just below the rock buttress, which we’d be passing under to transition over to the Wintun Glacier for the last 1,800’ of the climb. We ended up relaxing for about 15 minutes, which gave us an opportunity to meet a few other folks, who were heading up to the summit – Chris, from Portland, and Paul, a mountain ranger for Mount Shasta. After checking our permits and chatting with us for a few minutes, Paul continued on, while we packed up and prepared to do the same.


Getting steeper

The gals close in on the Lunch Rocks

As we crossed over to the Wintun Glacier the slope became even steeper, and in combination with being at over 12,000’ I was really starting to slow down. I was able to keep up for the first half but soon fell further and further back. When Chris passed me he stated that he was feeling it too, which made me feel at least a little better. After another half hour of climbing in fits and starts, the summit pitch finally came into view, as well as some skiers who were just starting to drop in. The snow conditions were prime, and I was hopeful that they would remain so for our descent.


Making the traverse over to the Wintun Glacier

The start of the steepest part of the climb

Chris joins us for part of the climb

I could clearly see my partners nearing the summit and I knew that they were at least twenty to thirty minutes ahead of me. Once again I stayed steady with my pace, knowing that it would continue to be a struggle but it would only be a matter of time before I made it to the top. During this time more and more skiers started coming down. The kicked up snow had fully covered the bootpack in a few spots, which made it much more difficult to maintain footing. After a few more switchbacks I finally reached the ridge just below the summit. It was now 5½ hours from when we left camp, and I joined my crew, who were eating snacks and soaking up the sun. Since I was so pooped and I’d stood on the true summit two weeks prior, I didn’t even consider climbing up the rocks to reach the highest spot on the mountain.


Following the bootpack up the final few pitches to the summit
(photo by Audrey Squires)

The crew zig-zags through the rocky bits toward the summit ridge.

Looking back down the mountain from up high
(photo by Audrey Squires)

There were quite a few people at the summit area, with most coming up from Avalanche Gulch. We also ran across Paul and Chris, with whom we spent most of our time chatting. I was pretty happy that we weren’t in too much of a rush as it allowed me to fuel up and pull my feet out from my boots to relieve some cramping. After 20 or so minutes, we finally started preparing to drop in. I was pretty excited for the descent, since I hadn’t snowboarded for a while and looked forward to getting back to my roots. Since Paul was on duty he was not able to join us, but Chris was happy to, especially since he was solo. Lindsay, who was sans skis, took off ahead of us, knowing that she’d take a little longer to get down than us.


Summit (or close enough) shot! -- Audrey, Iryna, the author and Lindsay (from left to right)
(Photo by Chris Combs)

After strapping into my snowboard, I tentatively dropped in for my first few turns of the day. Almost immediately we were staring down the summit pitch, which looked pretty damn steep (probably in the low to mid 40s). I was pretty happy that I was on my snowboard, and even after a six month hiatus I was able to make my turns down the face with relative control – I certainly wasn’t bombing down with perfect form but I was feeling pretty confident in my edge transitions. Of course the snow conditions were making it pretty easy as well, with two or three inches of soft corn on top of a firm base, it doesn't get much better!


The author drops in for the first few turns of the day

Iyrna prepares to drop in on the steeps

Settin' up

Bombs away!

Audrey, diggin' in

Continuing down the slope, we leap-frogged, which allowed us to rest our legs and take photos between sets of turns. The next pitch dropped alongside Ship Rock, which provided a pretty nice backdrop for some shots. The slope angle had lessened into the high 30’s and allowed for some wider/faster turns -- volcano skiing at its finest!


Chris Combs

Iyrna spaces it out on the massive slope

Audrey, with Ship Rock in the background.

Chris drops in next to Ship Rock

Still a long way to go
Jumping back in after a quick regroup



For nearly 2,500' the slope maintained its angle and was very reminiscent of the SW Chutes on Mount Adams. Even with our fatigued legs we were able to throw down some amazing turns as we descended the northern edge of the Wintun Glacier, which was completely void of crevasses. Since we hadn’t crossed over to the Hotoon Snowfield where we had come from on the way up, we weren’t totally sure where we were supposed to do so. Not wanting to drop too low, we decided to traverse over at ~11,800, which went really well and didn’t require us to pop out of our skis/snowboard.


Iryna slashing up the slope about halfway down the main face

Chris follows suit

Another regroup

And more great turns!

Audrey comes in hot

Iryna


Chris

 Nearing the end of the Wintun Glacier section

Getting in a few last turns on the Wintun Glacier

Back on the snowfield the slope angle dropped into the 20s but still provided some really fun turns, at least until the sun cups started to build. The last six or seven hundred vertical feet back to camp were pretty tough going and the heavily sun cupped snow surface was murder on my already depleted leg muscles. I was pretty stoked when we finally reached our campsite, and I quickly swapped out my snowboard boots for my hiking shoes, knowing that it would only provide temporary relief.



Iryna, back on the Hotoon snowfield

Closing in on camp

The last few turns to camp

Since we’d be waiting a little bit for Lindsay, I cracked a beer and relaxed a bit before cramming all my overnight gear back into my pack. I was actually a bit surprised with how quickly she showed up, only about 20 minutes from when we had rolled into camp. She said she’d had a great time and that her first experience with glissading went really well – I’ll have to get some pointers from her on that! Not surprisingly, I was the last one to get my shit packed up. Instead of having them wait for me, I suggested that they head down and I would just meet them at the car.

Now back on my snowboard with a fully loaded pack, I did my best to navigate the ever worsening sun cups. For a few of the sections I was able to follow the tracks of previous skiers, which smoothed out the route quite a bit. Eventually the snow became too patchy to effectively snowboard, so I threw it on my pack and hiked out the rest of the way to the car. When I reached my car the others were stripping off their gear and packing up. I quickly joined in and before long we were loaded up and on our way back to civilization. Back in the town of Mount Shasta we got some food and drinks at the 4th of July celebration that had taken over the downtown. We were also able to meet up with Paul the ranger, who was now off the clock and able to have some drinks with us. Since I had to work the next day I ended being the one to break up the party, so we could get back to Eugene at a reasonable time. The drive home was a long one, but I was able to reach my driveway by 9pm, which wasn't bad considering we'd been on the summit of Mount Shasta earlier that day.


4th of July festivities in Shasta

Conclusion:
The Hotlum/Wintun Ridge on Mount Shasta is certainly one of the best ski routes I’ve done. Once again, the top half is very reminiscent of the SW Chutes on Mount Adams, but without having to deal with the traverse on the way back out. This was also the first time I had camped mid-mountain, which also added to the overall experience. Even though we broke the climb up into two days, it was still pretty tough and I’m not sure it was any easier than when I summited from Bunny Flat (via Avalanche Gulch) in a single day. I’m sure some of this has to do with hauling all the extra weight halfway up the mountain, as well as being on my splitboard vs. my lightweight AT setup. I will say that I was glad to be on my snowboard while descending the upper/steep stuff – I’m sure I could have gotten down it on skis, but it would have been much more challenging for me and put a lot more load on my leg muscles. The one thing I would change was how late in the season we hit it. Although going a few weeks earlier would have meant a longer approach, it also would have reduced some of the sun cupping. All in all it was a fantastic tour that I look forward to repeating in the future!