Climbing Mount Shasta

Mount ShastaThe landmark Mount Shasta is the 14,162-foot (4,249-m) centerpiece of northern California, rising like a giant diamond in a field of evergreens. Long regarded as a place of intense energy, Mount Shasta has a visible and majestic presence. New Age mystics believe it represents our three-ring chakra, located above our head, connecting the mountain to our collective survival. In fact, Mount Shasta is situated at the intersection of three mountain ranges: the Sierra Nevada to the southeast, the Cascades to the north, and the Klamath to the west. Shasta is the second highest of the Cascade Range volcanoes and is home to California’s largest glaciers. It rises more than 10,000 feet (3,000 m) from its base and is visible for hundreds of miles in all directions on a clear day. This cone-shaped volcano is relatively young, as is evident by the lack of extensive glacial erosion. Tiny hot springs just below the summit of Mount Shasta suggest this dormant volcano is merely taking a short nap.

To the Modoc Native American tribe, Shasta was the center of the universe. “Before there were people on the earth,” begins a Modoc legend, “the Chief of the Sky Spirits grew tired of his home in the Above World because the air was always brittle with an icy cold. So he carved a hole in the sky with a stone and pushed all the snow and ice down below until he made a great mound that reached from the earth almost to the sky. Today it is known as Mount Shasta.” This lengthy creation story goes on to explain how he formed the trees, rivers, animals and rocky hills, bestowing all the features of the mountain with spiritual significance. The towering volcano was located in the southwest corner of Modoc territory before the tribe was displaced in the 1850s, when gold was discovered in the region. The Modoc have prophesied that when Shasta loses all its glaciers and snow, it will again erupt. When Shasta erupts, according to tribal elders, the world will go through major reformations and climactic changes. During recent California drought years, Mount Shasta becomes nearly devoid of glaciers. Could the Modoc have foreseen today’s global warming and changing weather patterns?

Any Indian tribe who came into view of Mount Shasta held the mountain in very high esteem. Tribes such as the Karok, Modoc, Yurok, Shasta, Wiyot, Yuki, and the Wintun revered the mountain as a spiritual center. Others would travel great distances to catch a view of Wyeka, or “Great White.” The dormant volcano is believed to contain powerful Earth Spirit energy where the Great Spirit himself sometimes resides. Large mountains like Shasta were not to be climbed by native peoples because the power of the Great Spirit was too strong there. Since the lodge of the Great Spirit is on peaks such as Shasta, he demands respect and only those of a pure heart can climb to the summit and not be harmed. That is why most native people today do not climb to the peak, although on the lower slopes, such as Panther Meadows, purification rituals and sweat lodge ceremonies are still held on the mountain.

Shasta is said to be the abode of many different spirits and beings, both present and past. The energy of Mount Shasta is so powerful that it has been described by New Agers as the “Epcot Center” of sacred sites. Almost all stories tell of the mountain’s interior, which is home to several mysterious and legendary beings. Keep a lookout for the Lemurians, the Yaktayvians, Gray Aliens, and one white-robed character named Phylos who can materialize himself at will. This is Mount Shasta, a.k.a. the “gentle giant” whose interior is rumored to be a massive cavern with gold-lined offshoot caves. The Lemurians were a pre-Atlantian race believed to have lived on the Pacific continent of Lemuria around 14,000 years ago. The Lemurians were survivors of a great flood and thus became early ancestors of Native American tribes. The Yaktayvians are another mysterious race said to be living inside the mountain, who use their magic bells to keep humans away. Extraterrestrials are said to use the peak for landing, refueling and entering the mountain inter-dimensionally. Sightings of ape-men and hooded phantoms are reported every year. Such stories only enhance the mystery and legend of this powerful mountain.

Mount Shasta is not a technical ice climbing mountain, and several routes to the summit make the ascent relatively accessible for those lacking mountaineering experience. This is not to say the ascent is easy, because it certainly is not. Weather and season often determine difficulty and, on average, half of those attempting the summit turn back. Altitude sickness is a primary reason for not reaching the summit, second only to foul weather. Since the mountain is so huge, weather patterns develop here, and it is not uncommon to be caught in high winds and/or heavy snowfall. If there are large, rounded lenticular clouds forming over the summit, a storm is likely brewing and it may be time to start descending. The ideal months for climbing Mount Shasta are July and August, although the potential to climb exists from late spring to middle autumn. Consult the ranger’s station in the town of Mount Shasta for permits and updated weather forecasts. Also in Mount Shasta or Weed along the I-5 are several places to rent crampons, boots and ice picks — essential for any summit climb no matter what season. To acclimate in higher elevations, spend at least one day and one night on the mountain, either at Sierra Club’s Horse Camp, or at the 10,000-foot (3,000 m) Helen Lake campsite.