SP member Shredder (alias Russ Barrett) and I decided to make an attempt up the bone-dry Avalanche Gulch on the South Side of Mount Shasta. We didn't have a possible extra day to drive around to the North side and attempt one of the glaciated routes, and the ridges were dry and full of crumbling, chossy rock. We'd made several tries on Casaval Ridge, usually being turned back by weather, running out of water and stove fuel, and almost anything else that could possibly turn us back. The ridge was in no condition to climb now, so the Gulch was the route we had to settle for. As it turned out, it wasn't in much condition to climb either, if the hordes of falling rocks and boulders clattering down the South face were any indicator.

We got a 5:00 a.m. start from the Bunny Flat trailhead and hiked up the obvious marked path to the Sierra Club cabin at Horse Camp, then proceeded up into the lower slopes of the Gulch along Olbermann's Causeway, the flat but uneven boulder and slab walkway leading a good way up to Lake Helen, where most climbers on this route reach in about 2 hours from the cabin. Most climbers planning to bivouac the first night on the mountain set up here. It's nice and flat, has several wind-shelters made of small rocks piled into walls, and looked mighty comfortable, compared to some of the bivy sites I've sacked out in.
                                     Mt. Shasta, seen from the trail in early summer condition
But it was only around noon, and we wanted to make it to the Red Banks and hopefully sleep just above them, if we could find a spot flat enough for two to stretch out without rolling off the mountain. As we continued up the Face, we saw several large rockslides coming down from the Red Banks; one, an awesome one, dumped truckloads of television-sized rocks and a barrage of smaller rocks and stones, directly over the slippery and steep formation called the Heart. There was little shelter or safety here from rockfall and fortunately none of the slides reached us or came in our direction. Most parties head right of the Heart, we headed to the left, where the route appeared safer although in retrospect I believe it was a little steeper, perhaps 45 degrees in some places.

It was incredibly difficult slipping and sliding up that section, and we finally arrived just about six feet below the huge rocks and overhanging cliffs that form the Red Banks. There was a slight flat spot about five feet square, and I set to work with my ice ax, digging it down some until I had built a flat spot about six feet wide and seven feet long, under an overhang and overlooking the entire South Face, Casaval Ridge, Lake Helen and Sergeant's Ridge. We were treated to an incredible sunset of yellow, orange and red hues as we dozed off. But we didn't sleep well; Shredder kept hearing the Red Banks cracking and squeaking, and I had a headache that refused to let me have a good night's sleep. I would say that even though I do get migraines on occasion, this particular pounder was a direct result of going from sea level to 13000 feet or so in less than twenty-four hours.

We awoke at sunrise, our sleeping bags and gear covered in frost (we despise carrying a tent) and after a quick breakfast, set out to the east, traversing along below the Red Banks and looking for a place to penetrate them and enter the next part of the climb. This traverse consisted of a tense, slippery crawl along steep, sandy and pebbly slabs where a slip would have meant a long slide and possible injury. We finally reached the end of the Red Banks at Thumb Rock, had a look at the melting glacier with its big bergeschrund, and backtracked a couple of hundred feet to an opening in the cliffs of the Red Banks, where we proceeded to dump sleeping bags, bivy sacks, some water and anything else we didn't want to carry.
                    Typical scenes from Avalanche Gulch from the trailhead and the lower south slopes
We made our way up to where the Red Banks ended and Misery Hill began. People have bemoaned this long stretch of reddish brown scree endlessly, but I didn't find it any harder than the steep, loose face we had climbed up the previous day. Other than a headache and a general feeling of lassitude, I was moving along all right, and the vaunted Misery Hill seemed easier to me than I had expected. We passed by the volcano Shastina to the west, with its crater apparent and little Clarence King Lake alongside, small and turquoise. At the top of Misery Hill we we passed the stinky sulphur springs and reached the summit plateau, a wide stretch of frozen snow and ice, which proved to be very slippery to negotiate on my old beat-up Merrell hiking runners. We came to a little outcrop of rock right below the summit, and I needed a break. We sat down for a few minutes, and I decided I was so tired I'd had enough and the last hundred feet didn't matter. Oh, for shame!

Shredder jumped up and said, "But we're almost there....!" and walked over to the little trail up to the summit, which looked like nothing more than a large pile of twenty-pound rocks. Indeed, it was one of several summits on the top, of which some were several hundred feet apart and slightly lower than the true summit. I followed and we signed the register, took the obligatory glorious summit pictures, and had a bite and a little rest while I gobbled the last of my Ibuprofen and Tylenol. The descent to the Red Banks and across the icy plateau went fast, we climbed back through our starting point at the Red Banks and retrieved our dumped gear. We continued our descent down the face of Avalanche Gulch.
                    Misery Hill, the Shastina volcano and the summit seen from the top of Misery Hill
  This was our bivy site: a five foot platform hacked out of steep ground right below the overhanging Red Banks  
At this time I began to develop a rather painful case of toe bash from the lightweight shoes I had on. They had been easy to bound up the face in, but on the descent, when it's nice to plunge step hard and fast for a quick descent, I found myself gingerly picking my way down to avoid bruising my poor feet. I would wear hiking boots next time up this route, if I ever did it again. A springtime ascent would require mountaineering boots and crampons.

The descent was slow; it was impossible to glissade, the usual fast way down, and as I picked my way over some large talus, a large rock rolled under my left foot and I pitched forward, tumbling completely head-over-heels and landing flat on my back on the rubble, saved from injury only by my helmet and the 70 liter pack I carried. The rest of the descent and hike out down the trail was uneventful, until I slammed my big toe on a protruding rock, waking me up from my half-conscious monotony of putting one foot in front of the other. Man, that one hurt, and the nail would break off a week later and not grow back.

It was a fun, if non-technical ascent, with just enough suffering and scenery thrown in to make it interesting. But in the future I'll probably leave the dry routes alone on this peak during the summer, and stick to the snowy ridges or the glacier routes on the north side.
                                 An open bivy on another trip and summit scenes after a long day
Mt. Shasta in winter after a storm - an avalanche had just plowed all the way down the peak (lower right corner)