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Author Topic: April 10, 2004, Mount Shasta, Red Banks Bowl  (Read 6424 times)
Amar Andalkar
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April 10, 2004, Mount Shasta, Red Banks Bowl
« on: 04/15/04, 05:59 AM »

Driving down US 97 to Mount Shasta the previous afternoon, I scouted the various north-side routes through binoculars. I really wanted to ski a route I hadn't done before, but the only driveable trailhead was the plowed one at Bunny Flat, and I didn't want to ski Avalanche Gulch again this time. So I began thinking about a crazy plan for the next day: I would the ascend Shasta via the standard Avalanche Gulch route, then ski down the upper Whitney Glacier and cut over to the Shastina saddle at 12000 ft, then climb Shastina and ski down its south flank to Cascade Gulch and then back to Horse Camp. The upper Whitney Glacier seemed to be well filled-in, with only a few areas of open crevasses and some large bergschrunds along its curving flank, all of which could be easily avoided by large distances. Nevertheless, it was a risky plan for a solo skier, certainly not the level of risk I usually prefer to take. The real fly in the ointment was that the next day's freezing level was forecast to reach only 10000 ft, clearly not high enough to soften these north and NW facing slopes located at 12-14000 ft. Anyway, I would sleep on the idea at the Bunny Flat trailhead and then decide on my descent route after reaching the summit the next day.

Since I needed maximum softening of the snow, I didn't want to summit before 3pm. So I got a very leisurely start, leaving the car at 7:30am about 45 minutes after sunrise. The skin up to 11000 ft in Avalanche Gulch went quickly, with ski crampons helping a bit on the steeper parts. The upper part of Avalanche Gulch was only getting an oblique sun hit and it was still quite frozen, so the skis then went on the pack and the real crampons went on the feet for the rest of the ascent. Lengthy breaks taken there at 11000 ft and again at the east end of Red Banks at 12800 ft kept me on pace. Above 12800 ft, a gusty SE wind was keeping things solidly frozen, and as I had read in the online Shasta Avalanche Advisory, the upper mountain had indeed been wind-blasted over the previous dry weeks into an endless field of sastrugi. The summit plateau at 13800 ft was smoother, covered with a couple inches of fine windblown powder. The summit pinnacle again had some sastrugi, but not as bad as I had seen it (and skied it) in the past, and miraculously some smoother SW facing areas were softening slightly even above 14000 ft. My dilatory plan had worked well, and I summited just minutes after 3pm. All other climbing parties had descended before noon, and no other skiers had ascended above 13400 ft, so I was all alone at the summit of Shasta. Surprisingly, it was actually quite warm and pleasant, over 20 F, and winds were very light, only 10-15 mph.

Having glanced down the upper flanks of the Whitney Glacier from the top of Misery Hill at 13800 ft, I knew my original crazy plan was indeed just that, and therefore completely out of the question. The best descent route this day was almost certain to be what I'll call the Red Banks Bowl (aka Left of Heart Variation), a steep south-facing shot which I had skied 5 years ago. I had also scoped it out during the ascent and it had smooth snow all the way up to its 60+ degree lip at 13200 ft (the standard ascent route from 11000 to 12800 ft had in contrast been very rough, I had seen another skier struggling while skiing down it at 1pm). At 3:30pm, I skied down from 14150 ft, just a few yards north of the summit register. The summit pinnacle was not too bad, mostly hard crust with some turnable softened areas. The summit plateau was fast and smooth, arcing turns across the smooth wintry packed powder. Misery Hill on the other hand earned its name this day, an absolute nightmare of 6-8 inch high sastrugi for over 500 vertical ft, but I knew during the ascent that it would be this bad on the way down and so was prepared. Rough bouncy traverses and treacherous kick turns were the only way, with an occasional smooth patch of blown-in snow providing the welcome relief of a single real ski turn. Nearly half an hour was needed to negotiate that short but endless slope, finally reaching the welcome rest of the flats at 13200 ft.

Then it was time to angle in over the lip into Red Banks Bowl, and I dropped through the westernmost Red Banks Chimney on a nearly 50 degree slope, avoiding the much steeper slope beyond. The snow was smooth, but also solidly frozen at 13000 ft despite a full day in the sun. Although the bowl gradually eases in angle to 45 and then 40 degrees as one descends the uppermost part, an unarrested fall at this point would have likely meant a slide of over 1000 vft, possibly over 2000 vft, and certain severe injury. Whippets provided a threadbare security blanket, but the descent was a bit nerve-wracking nonetheless until the snow began to soften near 12300 ft. By 12000 ft, it had turned into some really fine corn, and the vertical zipped by quickly in big GS turns down the smooth 35 degree slopes. Surprisingly, the snow remained excellent for nearly the entire rest of the descent, very nice corn and no mush despite being well after 4 pm. The skiing was really superb from 12000 down to 8000 ft and was still OK all the way to the car at 6900 ft. All in all, it was a fine day with 7250 vft of continuous ski descent, on snow conditions that covered the full range from absolutely horrible to nearly perfect.

By the time I reached the car at 5pm, I had somehow developed a bad headache despite the stellar ski conditions, probably from the sketchy skiing higher up. It was clear that I really needed a day off in a bad way, so Sunday was spent relaxing a bit and then driving/hiking to Whitney Falls on the NW side of Shasta. Other trip reports:
April 7, 2004, Newberry Crater Circumnavigation
April 8, 2004, Mount Bachelor
April 9, 2004, Medicine Lake Volcano, Glass Mtn
April 11, 2004, Mount Shasta, Whitney Glacier & Shastina Access
April 12, 2004, Mount McLoughlin, SE Face
April 13, 2004, Lassen Park, Old Ski Area

Amar Andalkar
www.skimountaineer.com

This view looks up Avalanche Gulch from about 8500 ft, with my ski tracks in the superb corn snow seen at right. The upper part of the ascent route is shown in blue, with the ski descent of Red Banks Bowl shown in red. Click here for a double-size version of this photo.


« Last Edit: 04/15/04, 06:18 AM by andalkar » Logged

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