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Trip Report - Avalanche Gulch route, Mt. Shasta, 5/9/98
 
Saturday
We drove up to Shasta City (4 hrs from Napa), rented some gear, chowed at Lilly's (great little restaurant) and then hit the trail from Bunny Flat (6700 feet) about 12 noon. There is still 15 feet of snow at the trailhead. 3 (Eric, Jon and Kaarina) of us were on Skis with Skins (to give traction going uphill) and Ed had snowshoes. In about 90 minutes we reached the cabin just below tree line (8200 feet). Rested about an hour and then headed for Helen Lake at 10,400. We didn't make it. Ed was carrying a large pack and falling behind a bit. We were running out of daylight (we wanted at least two hours to set up camp and make dinner) and so we camped at 9,400, 1000 feet below our target of Helen Lake. It was a little windy and cold when the sun went down.
 
Sunday
We got up around 6, and hit the trail about 7 with day packs aiming to summit or at least have some sort of adventure. It was partly sunny and windy. We got up to Helen Lake in about an hour and a half and ran into the other group from Napa. It was very windy. A couple of times I had to lean into the wind a bit to prevent being knocked over on the way up. The folks in the other group had just come back from their summit bid (starting at Helen Lake around 6 am). They went up about a 1000 feet from Helen Lake and turned back because of the wind and cold. Based on this info we decided to leave as much gear as possible at Helen Lake, return to our camp at 9400, and then bring the rest of our camp up to Helen Lake for a summit bid on Monday. So we skied down to 9400 and then slogged back up the same hill again with heavier packs than earlier in the day. Once at Helen Lake we built a variety of snow structures to get out of the wind, set up tents, ate dinner and turned in about 8pm for a 4am wake up and summit bid. Throughout the afternoon the clouds really built up below us as if a storm were moving in. The wind died in the afternoon, and the Avalanche Gulch was beautiful as the sun set.
 
 
 
[Random notes: Kaarina and Jon were on Telemark ski gear while I used Randonee gear (a cross between Telemark and Downhill with bindings that can be used with the heel free or locked down). All of us had crampons and ice axes (needed on the steep part of Avalanche Gulch above Helen Lake). And Ed had snowshoes. The temperature Sat. night probably got done around 20 degrees. Sunday night/Monday morning was warmer with the light snow. Just under freezing. During the day I'd estimate it was around 40 degrees.]

 
Monday
At 4am visibility was about 20 feet and there was light snow falling. We were in the clouds. Conditions were the same at 5, 6, 7 and 8am. We decided to break camp and head down. Luckily it is fairly easy to descend from Helen Lake even in a white out. You basically just follow one gully all the way down. There are no ridges to cross over, no cliffs or rocks to watch out for. And this year with El Nino there is plenty of snow all the way down to the parking lot. Kaarina, Jon and myself were on skis. When you wipe out on skis with about 40 pounds on your back you feel it for a few days! Ed and Ken (from the other Napa group) did not have skis. They both had large sheets of plastic. The plan was to put the pack on the front part of the plastic and then sit behind the pack on the back end of the plastic and slide down the gully. Ken got situated on his plastic, sat down and slide off into the white out. Just as he was disappearing into the void we saw him spin 180 degrees and continue down the gully _backwards_! Next, Ed tried the same thing with mixed results. His pack was much heavier and generated too much friction and his piece of plastic got kind of mangled. 10-15 minutes later we caught up with Ken. He had slid a couple thousand feet backwards(!) and had finally managed to stop by digging his heels into the snow. Now let me tell you a bit about Ken. He's 80. He still hikes faster than 95 percent of the people I hike with in Napa. He first climbed Shasta in 1970! Just an amazing character all around. When we got back to Napa he showed us his great back yard with about 30 different types of cactus, most of them currently in bloom. The rest of the descent went on without incident. The visibility got better and better and the skiing was very nice with 3-4 inches of fresh powder on top of the deep snowpack.
 

Pictures:

Panoramic shot at Helen Lake (10,400 feet)
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Jon at the Cabin about 8000 feet