Having been born and raised in California, I still can’t believe that I waited until I was 30 to visit the quaint, little town and peak of Mount Shasta. The beauty of the serene woods, tranquil lakes, abundance of outdoor activities, and the stunning peak triggers an adoration similar to my fondness of Lake Tahoe. Unlike Lake Tahoe, Mount Shasta is nestled remotely between similarly-sized towns with the nearest “major” city being depressing Redding. You can either love or hate that about Mount Shasta, but I believe the people live there due to its distance from city life. A friend’s father grew up in North Lake Tahoe and moved to Mount Shasta because it felt like Lake Tahoe but without the tourists flooding in from the Bay Area. With just merely 5 hours of driving time separating San Francisco and Mount Shasta, I can say that returning again and again wouldn’t be difficult in the future.
The free campsite just 1/4 mile down from Castle Lake was full, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. Not far down from the free campsite was a turnoff from the paved road, and a short drive down the narrow path led us to a large, open campsite with marvelous views. We ended up calling this home for the next several nights.
Our first full day of being on the road again entailed errands, errands, and more errands, including prep work on the trailer and planning for our summit of Mount Shasta. I quickly learned that the people of Mount Shasta are incredibly proud of their water. They claim it to be the best water in the world, and water spigots could be found just about anywhere in town. Free, tasty, cold water EVERYWHERE made boondocking much easier.
And the evening before our trek up Mount Shasta, we made the quick hike from Castle Lake to Heart Lake. A friend had recommended this short hike because it apparently boasts the best views of Mount Shasta anywhere.
Sadly, due to the ongoing drought in the area, hardly any snow remains on the mountain. I hope to return in the future when Mount Shasta is snow-covered again in order to retake this stunning photo.
The next afternoon we set off from the Clear Creek Trailhead around 1pm to camp on Mount Shasta. Although many friends have summited Mount Shasta in one long day, we chose to take 2 days/1 night in order to acclimate and test our endurance. (After having spent the past 5.5 months traveling in Latin America, I hadn’t really spent any time running or cycling like I used to…hence my out-of-shape-ness.) We had done plenty of backcountry hiking and camping in South America, but this would actually be my first backcountry camping excursion in the U.S.!
We continued past the main campsite in the meadows, and continued the steep climb up Mount Shasta to get a head start for the next morning. We made it to bivy site 2 around 5pm, about 4 hours from the trailhead, and set up camp along the mountain slope with plenty of daylight remaining.
Not long after the final specks of sunlight sank behind the sweeping mountainside, we were soon enveloped in the mountain’s creeping shadow. The high altitude chill took its toll and we devoured our hot dinner of chicken rice soup and chili, followed by snowmelt for hot tea.
By 8:30pm we were snuggled in our warm sleeping bags in preparation for a 2:30am wake up to summit Mount Shasta. Waking up actually did not suck as much as I thought it would, and the temperature was not as low as I expected it to be. After having summited the 19,000+ ft. volcano El Misti three months ago, the mental strength and confidence needed for Mount Shasta was already engraved in our souls.
At 3:15am we set out from camp. We left the crampons and ice axes behind due to the lack of snow. The trail between 10,000 and 11,000 ft. wasn’t rough at all, even in the pitch darkness. It wasn’t until the 12,000 ft. elevation mark when it really started to suck, not because of the thin air but because of all the loose rock and scree. With its steep slope and lack of snow, we ended up crawling on all fours for about 300 feet, sliding down in frustration with each footstep or rock grab. Finally we got fed up with the trail and steadily walked/crawled up the remnants of hard snow along the mountain.
I kept looking out toward the east, keeping an eye out for any sliver of brightness in the horizon. It was pitch dark at 4am. 5am. But finally around 6am the stars steadily faded from sight and hints of a new day began to appear. And when the blinding rays burst out of the horizon we took a moment to sit and cherish the short instance of splendor.
Little did I know it would be another 2 long, hard hours to the summit. The last 1,000 ft. to the 14,000 ft. summit was slow and hard, as I ambled onward and upward. Lack of sleep and oxygen had taken its toll, but despite my fatigue, I knew we were going to make it.
The summit took a bit longer than I liked, but the fact that we even summited despite being out of shape was good enough for me. Descending as always sucked more than anticipated, especially with all the loose rocks and steep slopes. I even slipped and fell on my ass three times–not fun at all!
We were pretty beat up and exhausted by the time we returned to our car at the trailhead. We stuffed our bellies with hard-earned comfort food at the original Black Bear Diner in town, returned to our trailer, showered, and watched the sunset and alpenglow on Mount Shasta one final time. Our first stop on this road trip was our first visit to Mount Shasta, and what an epic excursion it was. Being so close to home, I cannot wait to return!
This post is part of Travel Tips Collection: California.