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Mt Shasta - Above Red Banks timberlinetrails.net
The climb from
Lake Helen to the
top of Red Banks,
is considered the
crux of the Mt
Shasta Climb on
When you reach
the top of Red
Banks you are at 12,820 feet, and have gained around 2,400 feet of elevation. Not bad for an early mornings work. With the summit
not far off, excitement begins to grow. In the top photo, you see climbers eating breakfast at around 6 AM in the morning just at the
top of Red Banks. When the weather is clear, this is a gorgeous time of day, and it is scenes like the above and below that keep me
excited about climbing mountains. The climbers above are resting on the top edge of the Konwakiton Glacier on Mt Shasta. As the
year wears on, warmer temperatures melt the snow and ice on the glaciers edge, and a large crevasse known as a bergschrund opens
up. Climbers then must bypass this obstacle by climbing through one of Red Banks chimneys further to the northeast (when coming
from below) rather than heading for the notch next to "The Thumb." The summit at 14,179 feet above sea level is still 1,359 vertical
feet away, and this last bit of elevation gain can be painful.
Note the arrows pointing to
the tiny little figures
approaching the top of
Misery Hill to the right. It
gives you a good idea of the
shear scale of Mt Shasta.
Misery Hill is well named,
because at that point most
climbers are truly miserable
after working up the steep
snow and ice slopes of the
mountain all through the
night and early morning
When I look up at scenes of
tiny little climbers far up the
slope, I give a big sigh,
because I know I have to
eventually get up there. This
is where most people
(including myself) have to
begin pushing themselves
mentally. You are tired from
the previous day and early
morning work and the thin
air of high altitude has begun
to take its toll.
Mt Shasta has seven glaciers
on its northern flanks. Their
names are Bolam, Hotlum,
Konwakiton, Mud Creek,
Watkins, Whitney and
Wintun. In 2002, scientists
made the first detailed
survey of Mount Shasta's
glaciers in 50 years. They
found that seven of the
glaciers have grown over the
period 1951-2002, with the
Hotlum and Wintun Glaciers
nearly doubling, the Bolam
Glacier increasing by half,
and the Whitney and
growing by a third.
In the photo to the right, you
see a view from the top of
Misery Hill. The very top
page photo shows climbers
right about at the elevation of
"The Thumb" and now it
looks like a little ant hill from
the top of Misery Hill.
Once on top of Misery Hill and over the ridge,
Shastina comes into view (image to the left).
Shastina is the highest satellite cone of Mount
Shasta. At the top of Misery Hill, you are well
above Shastina which stands at 12,330 feet.
Shastina is taller than Mount Adams and would
rank as the third highest volcano in the Cascades
behind Mounts Rainier and Shasta were it not for
the fact that it is so closely connected to the main
peak. Shastina rises over 450 above the saddle
that dips between itself and the main summit of
Shasta. In the Sierra Nevada, some of the
14,000 foot peaks are given there own spot on
the map as independent summits, even though
they have less reason to do so then Shastina. It
easily exceeds the typical mountaineering
standard of 300 ft for a peak to qualify as an
independent summit, yet most lists of Cascade
Volcanoes omit it nonetheless.
Nearly there as I stop to catch my breath. The
summit has come into full view in the
background, and all we have to do is traverse the
slightly rising slope of hard packed snow and ice.
Then comes the last couple of hundred feet of
elevation gain to reach the top.
These frozen sections above Red Banks are my
favorite part of the whole climb up Mt Shasta.
The early morning light is great for photography
and the views are spectacular. Up here you get a
real since of alpine adventure.
Here is where I get my second wind, for there is
nothing like seeing your goal close at hand.
Very close to the summit, you see a patch of open
ground (photo to the left). This is the location of Mt
Shasta's fumaroles. Boiling pots of sulphur and other
odorous gases serve as a reminder that Mt Shasta is still
an active volcano and merely napping. On one fateful
climb, John Muir and his climbing companions were
pinned down here during a ferocious storm. The
following is an account of his night spent laying
alongside these hot vents. He latter credited these
boiling fumaroles to saving his life.
"The night wind rushed in wild uproar across the
shattered cliffs, piercing us through and through, and
causing violent convulsive shivering, while those
portions of our bodies in contact with the hot lava
were being broiled. When the heat became
unendurable, we scraped snow and bits of trachyte
Additional Timberline Trails Links for Mt Shasta
beneath us, or shifted from place to place by shoving an inch or two at a time with heels and elbows; for to stand erect in blank
exposure to the wind seemed like certain death."
I would not recommend playing around these fumaroles. Not only is there a danger of getting scalded, there is also the danger of
becoming asphyxiated from the noxious gases. John Muir was also aware of this potential problem when he wrote the following:
"The acrid incrustations sublimed from the escaping gases frequently gave way, opening new vents, over which we were scalded;
and fearing that if at any time the wind should fall, carbonic acid, which usually forms so considerable a portion of the gaseous
exhalations of volcanoes, might collect in sufficient quantities to cause sleep and death, I warned Jerome against forgetting himself
for a single moment."
The top of Red Banks is where I see more people turn around and go back down than at any other part of the mountain. A few
possible reasons for this are as follows. Some folks have started up the mountain too late and there is not enough time to summit
before nightfall. Others have become altitude sick and aspirin or other forms of analgesics just don't cut the mustard any more.
Exhaustion has set in due to the extreme hard work that it has taken to get up the mountain (remember you still need to get back down).
These are some very good reasons for turning around and here are a couple more. Dangerous conditions have developed, such as
deteriorating weather, or unstable snow and ice activity (avalanche danger, etc), terrain has become more difficult and going on would
require climbing into areas that would exceeds ones abilities. Remember, no mountain is worth your life, and you can always come
back another day.