The rangers in town told us that conditions were about as perfect as we could imagine. The entire route was covered with snow, excellent for walking in the cold of the morning, also great for glissading back down in the afternoon. They suggested not going too early, since the weather forecast was also perfect (no afternoon storm issues). So we got up at midnight, drove up to the trailhead and started walking at about 1:15 am. No camping this year! Let's see if we end up regretting that decision...
Tracks led up the snow, staying in Avalanche Gulch up toward treeline instead of veering into the woods like we had remembered from last year. Luckily I'd set my altimeter at the trailhead, so when we started questioning the location of Horse Camp, we were able to say exactly when we should probably head to the left through the trees to find it. We spotted a couple tents, then crossed the main tracks just uphill of the cabin. Perfect.
Because we needed the water spigot to fill bottles and Camelbaks, so we were going to be searching until we found it. Happily we wasted no time with that. Just a couple minutes trying to locate the outhouse off in the trees...
OK, up the mountain toward the headlights moving around above us. It's a bit of a haul up to Helen Lake and it was starting to get light when we reached the tent site. Glad to have our puffy parkas packed:
Time to don the crampons and helmet and put the ice axe in hand. I crossed the camp to find a pitstop spot, and maneuvering across the hard tracks was the most difficult walking of the whole day:
Gorgeous morning! John noticed that the mountain's shadow was visible behind us, yay!! I love this so much, one of our favorite moments from last year's climb:
A closer look at the mountain shadow, not quite a good as last year but still neat:
A view up the next part of the route - we were following quite a few people, including a guided group, but it never felt crowded. I imagine it might be worse on a weekend.
I appreciated having footprints to work with, especially when I found a set of tracks at a comfortable step height (not those tall steps that were perhaps started by someone plunge stepping downhill - much more taxing). We followed them over to a small rock outcropping to take a brief break and photo opportunity:
Yep, that view is pretty awesome!
We worked our way upward, giving preference to tracks that switchbacked vs. the ones that went straight uphill. I could see how front-pointing could get a person up the mountain more quickly, but we're not in shape to do that for long. I believe the guided group was making the best tracks for our speed, so we zigzagged across the tall slope.
In the middle of this section, we heard someone call something down the hill and looked up to see a guy sliding slowly down the slope. He was attempting to self-arrest but seemed to have rotational momentum so he transitioned from one self-arrest position to another. From our perspective he wasn't going very fast, nor picking up much speed, and eventually he came to a rest. After a moment he stood up and signalled that he was OK. Good to see!
Everyone around us looked at each other, and a guy offered to head down to make sure he wasn't injured (his climbing partner was missing a crampon, apparently the attempt to grab it was the reason for the slide in the first place). I made sure they didn't need use of our InReach tracker in case they needed to call for help. Everything seemed to be under control so we continued upward.
Eventually we reached the saddle at Red Banks, an excellent place for a rest. Finally in the sunshine! Yep, time for the sunscreen. Which we were mostly successful with, except we missed better coverage of our noses and foreheads. Ah right, glare reflecting off the snow, forgot about that. Oh well, as sunburns go, that wasn't too bad... and no, I'm not sharing a photo of John's nose today.
The view from where I sat down:
And the view of me sitting - along with most of the rest of the route behind me:
The west wind occasionally gusted, but otherwise the weather continued to be absolutely perfect. We had plenty of time, which was good because the altitude (around 13,000 ft by this point) was slowing us down considerably.
Time to start up Misery Hill:
More photos (i.e. any excuse for a break) - there's a lot of snow even on the lower elevation mountains:
Yep, we carried too much water up this mountain, it's past time to lighten the load a bit:
Enjoying the view:
Walking toward the last little climb to the summit - it's the high point on the right with the fun snow shapes on it:
So excited that we made it to the top this time!
Looking over at John's rest spot, it looks like he's about to glissade down from here:
John's view from his rest spot - quite lovely:
The summit register, notable for the "Keep Tahoe KIP" sticker:
I'm on my way to the rocks that seem slightly higher than the rest:
Top of the world! (Normally John frames his photos better)
Coming down, we went to investigate the vent that seemed to be the cause of the odorous sulphur smell:
Yep, that's it. OK, I'm ready to go somewhere else that doesn't smell like that.
Looking over at Shastina and the pretty little pond in the saddle:
John likes his binoculars, so much that he'll carry them up a mountain (no telling why he also carried his shoes... good training!)
Our timing was excellent, thank you to the mountain ranger for his suggested departure time. The snow in Avalanche Gulch was now in the sun and plenty soft enough for glissading. I was quite hesitant about trying it, but after it became clear how much work it would be to walk down instead, I figured I should at least give it a go. We stashed the crampons, put on rain pants, and got everything as snow-proof as possible in the packs.
The well-worn butt track was a bit too fast for my liking, so I created a new track next to it, and the more-moderate speed was just fine.
View down the gulch - that's a pretty sweet glissade slope:
John had everything so under control that he used his phone to shoot a couple videos - here's me:
Right quick we were back at Helen Lake. Continuing on down, we found short glissade sections here and there, I was all into it now. Watching people haul heavy packs full of camping gear uphill in afternoon soft snow made me realize that our decision to go up and down in one day was the right one, in this case.
Well, it's mostly flat down near Horse Camp, time to actually walk for a while. But first, a quick break for a bite and to take in the tree scene around us. We learned later that these leaning trees are the result of the Valentine's Day avalanche earlier this year:
Back at the trailhead - check out all the snow! Nothing like the dry trail of last year:
We were a bit tuckered:
Thank you, Mount Shasta!