Helen Lake on Mount Shasta

MOUNT SHASTA WILDERNESS

SHASTA-TRINITY NATIONAL FOREST

Activity: Backpacking

Date: 9/1-3/2019

6.5 miles, 3,500’ elevation change, approximately 8 hours hiking time, at an altitude of 10,400’, rated Hard (with a heavy backpack I can attest another dimension of HARD)

A review I read said, “tough trail for even those in the best of shape.” This was the hardest backpacking adventure that I have done, but at the same time the most rewarding. During this mountain outing, I persevered a hike that was grueling when considering a heavy backpack, getting off course and thus taking a much more difficult and somewhat longer route, constantly fretting about where my path should be, steep unsettled terrain, well below freezing temperatures at night, and being told a bear had paced the camp all night.

As I mentioned, it was tough, but also the most rewarding backpacking adventure due to the fact that I accomplished the difficult task at hand, Mount Shasta is a very special place, the scenery is super-d-douper, the star gazing is phenomenal, and I met two very interesting young adventure-spiritual-philosopher-Gurus, who were just crazy enough to conquer this mountain in a way that they will be first to say they should not have.

It all started Labor Day Weekend and you can get up to speed by reading my previous post, Horse Camp, which was the first part of my journey up the mountain. I wrote that as a separate post in case someone wanted to know about a day hike that would be fun and was much more moderate.

After checking out Horse Camp for about 30 minutes I headed up the summit trail, the beginning of which is a causeway of hand set flag stones, placed there painstakingly by Matthew Hall McAllister in the 1920’s. It took him years to complete and some must weigh over 1000 pounds. The causeway portion is still a moderate hike and I suggest that any day hikers to Horse Camp due this portion as well as it has stunningly beautiful views of the mountain and the surrounding area. The causeway gets you out of the forest and into a more alpine setting. The causeway of hand laid rocks is amazing, but it does force you to look down instead of at the beauty of nature, but then again- more reasons to stop for a moment and drink it all in, and catch your breath.

Passed the causeway is where we start getting into the steep terrain, switch backs, the trail is loose-rock-gravel-pebbles and dusty dirt known as scree, the air begins to thin, and the adventure ramps up indeed. At times it is hard to follow the trail, as in places it is faint, and because of that hikers get off track making more confusing trails.

I met folks coming down the mountain. It is always nice to stop and chat for a few moments hearing about the day’s adventures of these travelers in nature. Not that many people were on this trail to Helen Lake, but a few. One couple in their early 40’s said that, “It makes you pay for every inch.” I took a pic of fellow adventurers, a young couple from Boulder, CO. I joked with then saying, “And they said this would be fun.” Their quip was, “Who is THEY, and were do THEY live?!” Love it, lol. They were headed down which is a much more joyful experience then the challenge of up, up, up. Some gave me directions on where to cross the snowfield so as not to be sliding down the mountain on ice. I met a Dad and his young teenage son who had come within 100’ of elevation, (not distance), of Helen Lake and decided it was not worth the grind and turned back. I wondered how someone could come that close to the goal and then turn around. I would later learn why when I hit that same mental barrier. I also met a young, very fit, couple with full gear, ropes, helmets, ice axes, and crampons. I asked them if they had made the summit. They said that they had failed to summit explaining that it was just too much and that the young woman had experienced altitude sickness and not wanting to place themselves in danger they turned back.

Once passed the switched backs the great expanse of the mountain opened up, but now it was even more difficult to judge the trail. I had come to the snow field and kept searching for where someone had crossed. I did not really see footprints across, perhaps because the snow was hard like ice. I continued on in search of where others had crossed not ever finding it. This put me on a much more difficult trek, and soon I was scrambling up a steep, jagged rock field, which is known as talus hiking. I continued up, backpack and all, passed the snow field and then a little off trail through more of the loose scree before hooking up with the actual trail. It was soon after this point, where I was tired, breathing hard, that I hit that wall I alluded to earlier. Thinking to myself, and at that point likely saying out loud, “this is not fun, this sucks, this is a bunch of XXXX.” I considered turning around just like the father and son day hikers I had met. Instead I gathered myself and pushed on. I had a ways to go still, but only another 100’ feet of elevation gain.

Finally I arrived at Helen Lake, which turns out to be a massive pile of snow, not a lake at all. But it is beautiful and I found myself staring into the bowl of this incredible mountain. The strenuousness of the hike melted away to a feeling of satisfaction and joy. As I surveyed the area, I saw before me gorgeous peaks, a mountain of rock, scree, and snow. There were encampments side by side of large rocks stacked about three feet high, in about ten foot circles, set there to aid in sheltering tents from the high winds. Helen Lake is the base camp for climbers before they summit Mount Shasta.

There were two tents at the base camp. One of which seemed pretty permanent and I imagine that it is either an outfitter’s tent, or perhaps a First Aid Rescue tent. I had met a local earlier who informed me in the Spring there can be 100 tents.

Up somewhere on the face of the mountain I could hear some climbers. I was later to meet the two characters that I spoke of earlier. Both in their 20’s and fit, ‘Mo’ had what I believe to be an accent from India, which added to this mountain spiritual Guru persona he exuded. “Epiphany”, if that name doesn’t conjure up young philosopher on a spiritual awakening, I don’t know what does, was strong like an athlete with a laid back attitude.

After they changed into dry clothes and had a hot meal we got together to discuss deep matters of the world, the soul of the mountain, what was wrong with society, and the meaning of life late into the evening. They had some ideas that didn’t necessarily gel with mine. I actually found some of their abstract thoughts to be really out there, but that was okay because it was interesting to hear a point of view from a different perspective. Plus it really added to this whole adventure.

As we sat together on the side of the mountain peering into the evening glow, in the waning twilight Mo and Epiphany shared their story of Mount Shasta and high adventure. The two intrepid explorers had made the same trek that I had the day before and also felt the weariness, and struggle of lugging, heavy packs up the mountain, and had then decided against attempting to summit. But in the bright sunshine of a new day “the mountain spoke to them”, and they decide that they would throw caution to the wind and set off for the peak over 14,000 feet high despite not having any of the equipment needed. They scaled this mountain using the claw of a hammer and two sticks. They laughed all the way up, and all the way down on just how stupid they were. Certainly this haphazard way of conquering Mount Shasta is not recommended by anyone including this daring, yet foolhardy duo.

During the descent one of them slid down on the seat of his pants on snow, which I guess is what you do at Shasta, and the other tried sliding down on the scree using the two sticks. During the ruckus a rock dislodged by Epiphany hit Mo in the ankle, which was now bothering him somewhat. They faired much better than a person that was hit in the head with a rock in a similar incident the week before and had to be airlifted off the mountain. Large rocks don’t just become dislodged by climbers, at this time of year, with the snow melting, there were multiple times that I heard very large rocks, tumbling, rolling, speeding down the mountain. This was especially eerie in the middle of the night.

Originally, before Mo’s injury which was swelling a bit, they were going to pack up and high-tail it down the mountain and try to beat the dusk, but I was glad that they recanted as I was enjoying their energy and company, but also I did not want to be left up here alone, high on the mountain all night especially after their tale of being stocked all night by a renegade bear pacing the camp, as they huddled wide-eyed in their tent, clenching a knife hoping to fend off 900 pounds of fur, fangs and fury.

While ’Pursuing Balance Through Adventure’ this summer I had seen a lot of stars. There were great ones in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Washington and Oregon, but I have to say the highlight of my excursions for star gazing was at Mount Shasta, in Northern California. Perhaps it was that I was camped at a higher altitude then ever before, or maybe it was as simple as I had company and was not solo in the wilderness. I was not alone, where I might a feeling of being exposed to the danger of things that go bump in the night, and thus was spending more time enjoying the night sky. I will say that on Shasta I saw so many stars that they all seemed to muddle together in a kaleidoscope of starlight, such that I could not find any constellations that I recognize. It was quite extraordinary.

Mount Shasta, believed by many to be one of the sacred places on earth is called by some “magical mountain.” Native people have always held the mountain in high regard as a spiritual and sacred area. Mount Shasta at 14,179’ stands out looming over the landscape. In the distance it takes on the appearance of an aberration seemly to huge to be real. John Muir, the famous Naturalist, wrote that his “blood turned to wine” when he first caught site of Mount Shasta which spurred him on to hasten his journey. Truly Mount Shasta has a inspirational and magical presence about it.

During the frigid night, as moisture in the tent cloth became thicker and more rigid, as the temperatures dropped, and the mountain wind tossed the fabric hither and fro, one can imagine things that go bump in the night. Strange sounds on a lonely barren mountain, a mountain famous for mystic energy and unexplained occurrences. Could this be Mo and Epiphany’s stalker bear that kept them up much of the night in fear of ever seeing the light of day? After all what would a bear being doing up so high on the mountain? There is no food source for a bear up high, no berries, or animals, well except…

On the Summit Trail towards Helen Lake on Mount Shasta
When the going gets tough, the tough take a breather, then and only then push on.
The snow field that I couldn’t find where to cross so I continued up the more difficult talus field.
Talus hiking
Helen Lake is no lake at all, but a big pile of snow…
Be search to check out my Adventure-Spiritual-Philosopher-Gurus
“Lonely as God, and white as a winter moon, Mount Shasta starts up sudden and solitary from the heart of the great black forests of Northern California.” -Joaquin Miller

Thanks for joining me ’Pursuing Balance Through Adventure,’ NorCal Hiking on the magical mountain, Mount Shasta one of the sacred places on earth. This was my best backpacking adventure yet, although on top of San Jacinto in the middle of the most horrific thunderstorm I have ever experienced was also quite an adventure, hmmm… hold on… no San Jacinto in an all night torrent, with hail, hundreds of right on top of us lightening strikes, and mind blowing thunder still has it… but since it is not the destination, but the journey, then together lets find more profound experiences in nature where we can balance this crazy thing called life. Please COMMENT, LIKE, FOLLOW, and SHARE. Also please checkout the menu above for many more locations and please support PBTA with a purchase of top quality logo adventure gear.

ADDITIONAL PBTA VIDEOS

Horse Camp

MOUNT SHASTA WILDERNESS

SHASTA-TRINITY NATIONAL FOREST

Activity: Day Hike, Backpack Camping Available

Date: 9/1-3/2019

Distance 3.5 miles, 1000’ elevation change, duration 3 hours, rated Moderate

I arrived in the town of Shasta the evening of September 1st. The quaint kick back town was bustling as they had some sort of celebration just ending. After I got the information and permit that I need for my three days of exploration, from the Ranger Station, I headed for Bunny Flat an area that I could pitch my tent for the night before heading up the mountain. Since it was Labor Day Weekend that spot was pretty busy. It is not a campground per se rather a space they allow folks to camp, and there is a trailhead outhouse, which would prove a luxury compared to the rest of my adventure on the mountain.

Early the next morning the mountain looks glorious; It would be a perfect Summer day. The hike to Horse Camp is most delightful, starting at the Bunny Flat Trailhead. On the way to Horse Camp your journey begins with stunning views of the looming Mount Shasta. At the end of Summer it is mostly tan in color, barren of 3/4’s of it’s snow. You will make your way through green meadows and picture perfect woods of Mountain Hemlock and Shasta Red Fir. It is really your quintessential walk in the woods, very fitting as Horse Camp is private land managed by the Sierra Club Foundation for the public’s benefit. Famed Naturalist and Explorer John Muir frequented the camp before climbing to the Summit.

On the way to Horse Camp I enjoyed the company of a herd of deer. However, they did not fancy my company all that much and were off in a bound. It was amazing how quick and effortlessly they could make tracks through wooded brush and at a steep incline to boot.

All at once you come to a clearing and there before you is the historic Shasta Alpine Lodge built in 1922. Don’t get to excited by it’s name for it’s actually a hut or a cabin. But it is exactly what you would hope to see in such an alpine setting. I almost expected to see Heidi with her Grandfather chopping wood.

As I approached the natural stone cabin I was greeted by a friendly volunteer caretaker. They are there in the Spring and Summer to answer questions. During inclement weather this shack can act as an emergency shelter. It is a fun place to checkout. There is also a wonderful natural spring around back with deliciously cool water. There are some beautiful campsites at Horse Camp available at a small fee through the Foundation.

As I said, the hike to Horse Camp on Mount Shasta is the quintessential walk in the woods and should not be missed. Now, if you are going to go on from there… well now, that is another adventure all together.

“These mountains are our holy land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not hiked through them.”  – John Muir

Thanks for joining me in this first adventure post for NoCal Hiking while I find myself ‘Pursuing Balance Through Adventure’. Mount Shasta is a place of great mystical energy and is revered even today by many Native American Tribes, and they are not the only ones that love this stunningly beautiful mountain. There is more to come on Mount Shasta and more to come for NoCal Hiking Pursuing Balance Through Adventure. If you go to the menu you will see there are many sites and different areas to explore. If you like what you see then please COMMENT, FOLLOW, SHARE, and LIKE.

Happy Trails,

Roger Jenkins, Pursuing Balance Through Adventure

Welcome to nocal hiking

Northern California has so much to offer, from rugged coastline, to redwood forests, to awe inspiring mountains. It is a place to fill the lungs with fresh air, stretch the legs, take flight with imagination, share togetherness and memories, or find solitude in the quiet of wilderness. Fill our souls. Finding balance to our stressful, plugged in, overworked lives through a taste of adventure. It is the journey not necessarily the destination, or said another way what is important is “Pursuing Balance Through Adventure”.

Once again Welcome to NoCal Hiking Pursuing Balance Through Adventure. I am your host Roger Jenkins, let’s find some adventure shall we? 

If you appreciate what I am trying to inspire and instill in each of us than please LIKE (so highly prized), COMMENT (otherwise I will not even know that you were here), FOLLOW (how else can we share this experience), and SHARE (let’s get the word out, put down your phone and lace up your hiking boots).

Roger Jenkins, Pursuing Balance Through Adventure

Pursuing Balance Through Adventure

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started