February 2, 2015
The 2014-15 winter season was one of the warmest and driest winters in the recorded history of the western United States. The lack of snow has been debilitating for any decent snowpack to form, and no doubt put a damper on many snow-centric backcountry adventures for those seeking some skiing solace away from commercial resorts.
However, in mid-March, reports started coming in: Mount Shasta, being its own behemoth 14er straddling the northern California border, had been one of the only places in the western US that received a decently average snowpack. With this glimmer of hope, our team knew it would be worth the 11-hour drive to make a backcountry excursion.
If you are not familiar with Shasta, then allow us to introduce you: Shasta towers above its neighboring landscapes by thousands upon thousands of feet, as well as dominating the sky in every direction. It is an anomaly so great that from nearly 100 miles away it looks almost cartoonish in its larger-than-life scale, especially in comparison to the other mountains on the distant horizon. Oh, and did I mention it’s also a standalone active stratovolcano?
Shasta is also home to the largest glacier in California and creates its own weather patterns: its steep escarpments reach up into the atmosphere and catch storm systems blasting through the jet stream. Throughout the 1930s, one of its gulches was celebrated as one of the longest and continuously steepest ski descents in the world–and it still falls short of the summit by 2,000 feet.
The green light for low-avalanche conditions, plus temperate weather to help soften the snow, were met with eager excitement to get on the road. We left our offices around noon on Friday, slipping through LA’s notoriously heinous traffic early. We emerged unscathed, and again just missing getting snarled in Sacramento’s equivalent. After a couple stops along the way for gas and pizza, we found ourselves 6,750 feet above the world at the Bunny Flat Trailhead around midnight.