Mt Shasta via Hotlum-Bolam Ridge, IV 4th Mod. Snow, 28 February 2021
February has been by and large a snowy and windy month in our local mountains. I considered taking various trips, but ended up sticking around at home to minimize my carbon footprint (the PC reason) and to take care of adult life’s BS (the real reason). Man being an adult isn’t quite as fun as it sounded 15 years ago.
But thankfully I have friends that are down to go camp in the woods, hotbox it in the tent, and slog up cold mountains. So after confusing our bodies by pulling on small holds at Smith, Max and I headed down to Northern California. Shasta appeared on the horizon a couple hours after leaving Bend, and looked quite impressive, its summit sitting some casual 10,000ft above us.
I’d climbed Avalanche Gulch and Casaval Ridge in the past, and had been itching to discover a new side of the mountain. We settled on the Hotlum-Bolam ridge, which seemed like a direct way to summit on the secluded side of the hill.
We drove up the dirt road bumping to Bad Company and enjoying the springlike golden light. Max told me he packed a bone saw. “Did you get that at Homicide Supply?” I asked. He told me they’d probably used one on me. And that they can also be used to cut snow columns. And that he keeps it in the back of his car at all times…
We rounded a bend and slammed on the brakes as four parked cars blocked our way. These locals had been on a sledding excursion (Oh the things one will do for their kids!) and got all 4 cars stuck in the deep crusty snow over a nice ice layer.
Not wanting to deal with this shit show, and not wanting to drive down to the south side, we stashed the car after getting unstuck ourselves. Our elevation was a mere 5800ft. The summit sat close to 8500ft above us. It was gonna be a slog.
We skinned our way up the crunchy snow-covered road to reach the trailhead some 3 miles later with whipping icy winds. We almost decided to post up in the trailhead bathroom, but wanted to see how high we could sleep while still enjoying solid tree cover from the wind.
Dark came and we pitched the tent around 7700 feet in a nice spot tucked in the trees.
A lovely dinner of cheesy ramen ensued, and I continued munching on a bar of chocolate, huddled in my sleeping bag, to keep the fire burning and the shivers away. Watching the JetBoil slowly melt enough snow for 3 liters of water was our entertainment for the night.
I woke up around 4am, stoked and ready to go. I let Max sleep until our agreed upon wake up time of 5am, listening to podcasts and music.
Getting out of the tent proved easier than expected, and skinned up, we started marching uphill. Sunrise soon broke and the mountain appeared much smaller and closer than last night. Nearing 10k however, the skinning quickly turned slippery, and we ended up stashing the skis much lower than we would’ve liked. We walked up moderate snow slopes until we traversed left under a rocky section to access the “Ramp.” Here lay a solid sheet of 45 degree ice, avoidable, but climbed for fun. However my Petzl Gully kept levering out of this low angle and bullet hard ice. Thankfully I’d brought an ice tool as well.
We took a more direct line through the rocks, were bummed to not find more ice, but also happy to find very cruiser, compact, squeaky snow. We eventually merged left onto the Ramp and cruised up more easy snow to the Step. By this point, Max was really feeling the altitude. With the “crux” of the route and over 1000ft still to climb, he decided he wanted to save his energy for getting down safely. We agreed to reconvene at our skis no later than 2:30pm, and I charged ahead. I was hoping to take a direct line up the north ridge somewhere between the regular Hotlum-Bolam and the Holtum Ice Gully. I did end up taking a pretty direct line, but it sucked, consisting of unconsolidated broken crunchy rime and loose rocks. Thankfully the angle was never too steep, so I could keep slogging upwards without too much thought. I finally reached the false summit and quickly walked over to the true summit. I was stoked that I had been feeling really good all day and had felt the altitude less than any previous trips on this mountain.
I rushed the walk back down, trying to meet Max on time, which was uneventful beyond avoiding the sheets of ice, traversing some disgusting rime, and noticing a little pocket wind slab.
Happy to be reunited once again, we enjoyed a decent-for-volcanoes-in-winter and shit-by-any-other-standards ski back to the tent and eventually back to the car.
The drive home was a bit tough, but the Waffle Hut in Klamath Falls provided the necessary fuel to hightail it back home. We were both incredulous that we’d driven down only the day before, while listening to a podcast about a monthlong ski traverse along the Cascade Crest that made me feel a little less hardcore.