Report from May 15, 2022, and written by the Blackbird Mountain Guides team
Blackbird Mountain Guide, Ali Agee, checked in today with an update from the past two days on the mountain skiing in the Hidden Valley Zone! For those of you that don’t know, Hidden Valley is West of Avalanche Gulch just over Casaval Ridge, and sits at the base of Shastina and the West Face of Mt. Shasta.
THE APPROACH (5/14/2022)
We began our approach from the Bunny Flat Trailhead in tennis shoes, and wore those all the way up to Horse Camp where we transitioned to ski boots and began skinning. Our hopes of skinning all the way to Hidden Valley from Horse Camp were quickly diminished after about fifteen minutes of skinning through a mix of snow, rock, and dirt. We opted to take our skis off and take the summer trail rather than attempting to skin higher through fields of talus with minimal snow coverage. With every slight change in aspect we hoped that snow coverage would become ample enough to start skinning again, but alas we arrived in the gorgeous and secluded Hidden Valley having walked on the somewhat snowy summer trail in our ski boots for an uncomfortable amount of time.
SUMMIT DAY (5/15/2022)
After an incredibly warm and cozy night at camp, and a full moon so bright that it seemed like lights were shining into the tent, we started skinning from 10,000′ at 6AM. Despite a good overnight refreeze, the snow surface was textured enough that we were able to get good grip while skinning without using ski crampons. We skinned comfortably up to 11,200′ where we transitioned to boot crampons and booted 2,000′ all the way up to the top of the West Face, putting our ski mountaineering skills to good use on Mt. Shasta! On the ridge, we were greeted with Southwest winds so strong we could barely stay on our feet. Glancing over at Misery Hill, we could tell that people were moving comfortably despite the wind and made our way in that direction. As ski quality on Misery Hill looked mostly miserable, we left our skis at the base. Hopping in the well tracked boot pack up Misery Hill, we were on the summit before we knew it. Although it was too windy to stand up, we exchanged photo ops with another party on the summit and began the descent.
THE DESCENT (5/15/2022)
We climbed back down to the base of Misery Hill and got our skis. Working our way back to the top of the West Face, we quickly dropped in over the ridge before the winds could knock us off our feet again. Excited to get eyes on our ski descent, we were soon greeted with no visibility in a complete whiteout. Making sure to stay close together, we made a handful of turns through punchy, unsupportable wind crust before stopping to regroup multiple times. Skiing was challenging although supportable at some spots. At about 12,200′ the skies opened up and the snow got softer – a mix between punchy wind board and creamy pow. Finally, we could open it up and ski the way we wanted to. But not for long! After some enjoyable turns the snow quickly transitioned to manky pow that made you wish you waxed your skis way more frequently, even though wax probably wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. Back to camp at 10,000′, we ate some salami and cheese and started packing up our things.
THE EXIT (5/15/2022)
Not wanting to endure the less than ideal conditions on the summer trail out of Hidden Valley again, we decided to skin up to Casaval Ridge to drop down into Avalanche Gulch for a snow-covered ski descent rather than a painful, talus-ridden hike in ski boots. Working our way from Casaval Ridge into the gulch proved challenging, given prime conditions for loose wet avalanches and exposed rock. With only a couple of new scratches on our ski bases, we made it down into the gulch and carefully skied our way out in sloppy mashed potato ski conditions until we couldn’t ski anymore due to lack of snow. Skis came off at about 8,400′ and again we were walking in ski boots about 500 vertical feet down to Horse Camp where we transitioned back to tennis shoes. A few miles on trail back down to Bunny Flat, we ended the day with beers and dill pickles.
If you want to ski Mt. Shasta this season, now is the time! It’s going to be another sunny and warm week!