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Climbing Shasta.

Climbing Shasta

The Power of a mountain like Shasta exerts itself first on the eyes, drawing them to the summit. For many people, it tugs next at their feet. If Mount Shasta has this effect on you, you'll need to make careful preparations before setting off.

It's not a technical climb, but it's not a skip through a meadow, either. From the main trailhead at Bunny Flat, the top is a 7,300-foot climb in less than 5 1/2 miles. When the sun goes behind a cloud, the temperature can drop 20| in 10 minutes, and there's often a strong wind.

Summit hikers are rewarded with a vantage point 10,000 feet above much of the surrounding country and the sense of accomplishment that comes from standing atop one of California's most inspiring landmarks.

When to go; what you'll need

Experienced guides say the climb is safest and easiest when you can hike over stable snow, and that usually means May, June, and into July. Late-summer hikers must travel over unstable, basketball-size boulders --rough and tiring terrain apt to cause twisted ankles and bad falls. At any time, be sure good weather is expected.

An ice ax (for "self-arrest" in case you slip) and crampons (metal claws you strap to your boots) are essential for a safe climb. Get instruction on snow from smomeone experienced in their use. You'll also need adequate gear for sudden foul weather.

The direct route, from Bunny Flat

Two common routes lead to the top: from Bunny Flat (described here), and Panther Meadows (higher start but tougher hike). Carry the USGS Shasta quadrangle ($2.50, plus $1 handling, from USGS, Box 25286, Federal Center, Denver 80225).

Though the caretaker at the Sierra Club's hut at Horse Camp (8,000 feet) reached the summit in an hour and 38 minutes a few summers back, most people need far longer. A round trip from Bunny Flat (6,860 feet), 11 miles northeast of the town of Mount Shasta on the Everitt Memorial Highway, usually takes climbers about 14 hours.

The trip is easier if you make camp partway and start up around 4 A.M. Plan to reach the summit by noon. A late-day mishap high on the mountain could mean being stranded overnight. As in most mountain travel, hypothermia is a serious danger (on Shasta, falling rocks are also a fairly common hazard).

The climb. From Bunny Flat, it's about 1 1/4 miles by good trail to the Horse Camp hut pictured here--a popular camping site. You can't camp inside in summer, but there are plenty of tree-sheltered sites and a reliable spring nearby. Depending on the snowpack, you might find yourself camping on snow. The Forest Service limits group size to 25.

From Horse Camp, a causeway of flat stones leads another 3/4 mile into Avalanche Gulch, the primary route to snow-covered Helen Lake, at 10,400 feet. For the next 2,500 vertical feet, you're on the steepest section of the climb, heading toward the right side of a wall of reddish rock called Red Banks, at about 13,000 feet. If the snow is piled high, you can hike right over Red Banks; if not, look for the easiest of several narrow gullies through the wall.

The 14,162-foot summit crag is out of sight over Misery Hill--so named because it looks like the top from below.

Rentals, other help. For daily climbing information, stop in at The Fifth Season, 426 N. Mount Shasta Boulevard, in Mount Shasta, or call its 24-hour recorded message: (916) 926-5555. Fifth Season rents ice axes, crampons, boots, and other equipment, and sells a very useful map and climber's guide ($4 by mail). Or visit House of Ski, 1208 Everitt Memorial Highway; 926-2359.

A climbing brochure ($4.68 by mail) is also available from Shasta Trinity National Forest's office, 204 W. Alma St., Mount Shasta 96067; 926-4511. The Forest Service recommends signing in and out on the register in front of the ranger station in Mount Shasta.

Shasta Mountain Guides offers several trips. Write or call SMG, 1938 Hill Rd., Mount Shasta 96067; 926-3117.

Photo: Stopping to catch breath is a frequent requirement on towering Mount Shasta. Ice ax, crampons (strapped to boots), and warm clothing ensure a safe climb

Photo: Dwarfed by the volcano's flank, small summit-bound group of hikers heads into the steepest mile after a predawn start

Photo: Hiker pauses at Horse Camp, timberline site of a Sierra Club hut
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Title Annotation:Mount Shasta, California
Date:May 1, 1988
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