Shasta/‘Easy’ Cascades in March?

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Tim A
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Shasta/‘Easy’ Cascades in March?

Post by Tim A »

Unsurprisingly, information seems difficult to come by for winter conditions in the Cascades compared to Colorado. I’ve scoured for trip reports and YouTube videos from a few routes to try to piece together a few generalizations and figured enough people here have climbed out there that you can close some of my knowledge gaps.

Is Casaval Ridge on Shasta possible to solo? I’ve climbed my fair share of steep snow in Colorado and despite reading that many parties opt to pitch out a few places of the ridge, I haven’t found any footage on YouTube or pictures that would justify needing a partner and rope.

From what I’ve pieced together, the ridge is ‘in’ most frequently during a narrow window between winter and spring which can sometimes kick off in March. Does that heavy maritime snowpack consolidate quicker or just smush the weak layers out faster given the weight of the slabs? I’ve only ever climbed snow routes in touchy Colorado continental snow and don’t know what to expect from the more coastal snowpack.

Assuming the weather allows, similar questions about snowpack with Adams/St Helens/South Sister. Am I just looking at a longer approach from closed roads? St. Helens sort of spurred this trip consideration as I haven’t managed to snag a permit during the high season but there is no limit on hikers prior to 4/1. Could also look at doing Hood since I can never get out there before most of the standard routes ice up in early summer. Essentially, is going solo on these peaks possible for a fit hiker who is comfortable with crampons and ice axe?
Kastine
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Re: Shasta/‘Easy’ Cascades in March?

Post by Kastine »

Tim,

I can't address Cassaval solo as I've only done Avy Gulch and that was with a group. Here are some general observations about the Cascades in March.
1) Mt St Helens is very do-able. I use it every spring for training. The road to Marble Mountain SnoPark is usually open and the route up is usually very visible due to the amount of traffic. Be aware that you will need a WA state SnoPark pass for the parking lot.
2) I also use Lassen Peak (south approach) every spring for training. I think I'm going in early Mar in 2023, the last two years the snowpack down low has been pretty thin by mid/late March and this year there was a lot of rockfall on the road.
3) Mt Adams South Climb would probably be a long approach until sometime in May, the road is not plowed in March.
4) Cascade snow consolidates quickly. Avy danger goes way up right after a storm but then usually drop quickly. Here are resources for the forecasts:
Shasta and Lassen Peak - https://www.shastaavalanche.org (there is no separate forecast for Lassen, you have to use the Shasta forecast)
Mt Adams and Mt St Helens - https://nwac.us/ then use the West Slopes South zone.

Adams/Lassen/St Helens are do-able solo with ice axe and crampons.

Keith
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Tim A
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Re: Shasta/‘Easy’ Cascades in March?

Post by Tim A »

Thanks Keith, exactly what I was looking for! I wasn’t sure if Lassen was open for hiking after the recent fire but nothing on the Park website says otherwise so that’s a great option if some of the taller fare further north are inaccessible.
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nyker
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Re: Shasta/‘Easy’ Cascades in March?

Post by nyker »

Hi Tim,

You may get more up to date beta here:

https://cascadeclimbers.com/forum/

Similar to Tim, I've only done Avy Gulch on Shasta so cannot comment on Cassaval. Avy Gulch is doable solo with good fitness and comfort on steeper snow. I haven't done Adams.

Mt St. Helens is best done in Spring in my opinion, as the snow is usually in good shape from March-early May depending on the year and is really cool climbing up the moderate/steep but straightforward slopes from the winter TH very doable solo. Permits easier also then. The view as you approach the crater rim is very cool as you start seeing the neighboring PNW volcanoes. If its a nice day you might have dozens of other climbers and skiers with you.

Mt Hood, also best done in early Spring is doable solo but has greater consequences if something goes wrong, particularly above the Hogs Back where the slope steepens, exposure increases and prevalence of steep ice increases. Other features unique to volcanoes are also present, such as fumaroles, gas vents, etc..to take care for, some of which could be thinly covered in snow in Spring so it would pay to learn where those features are before venturing up there with a 1:00am start on summit day.

One other thing I'd note is that Cascade Peaks seem to have a higher propensity of whiteouts than I've experienced in CO or CA, so route finding may be more challenging under those conditions
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alpinenut
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Re: Shasta/‘Easy’ Cascades in March?

Post by alpinenut »

For Shasta - Clear Creek Trailhead is on the S side. Should be more accessible earlier in the spring. Not sure exactly what time of the year the TH typically opens but it could be an option for you -
https://www.shastaavalanche.org/general ... lear-creek
https://www.shastaavalanche.org/trailhead/clear-creek
https://www.summitpost.org/clear-creek/157378

It's a long long hike that can be done in a day. May not be as technical as you are looking for but it might fit your schedule. Beautiful day or two no matter what your goal is though...
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yardman
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Re: Shasta/‘Easy’ Cascades in March?

Post by yardman »

Much of my formative climbing years were spent in the Cascades, so I have a bit of experience on the various peaks listed. I climbed Casaval Ridge with some friends more than 25 years ago. We went more towards May, as I recall. We did not rope the climb and then skied down the west slopes that run north of the ridge. My recollection is that crevasses were not a major concern on that route at that time. Maybe climate change and reduced snowpack has altered that.

The south route on Adams and the primary route on St. Helens are all uncrevassed snow climbs. The slopes are fairly gentle. Usually parties are not roped on those climbs, so a solo climber would not be undertaking any unusual risks. Hood is different due to the bergschrund that cuts across the upper slopes of the Hogsback. I once climbed it solo in early season around Easter when the schrund was fully closed. Conditions have changed over the years and you'd want to stay on top of recent reports. However, when crossing areas with crevasses, it is always vital to be roped to others to avoid crevasse falls. People from Colorado--where we don't have real glaciers--seem to underestimate the dangers of solo travel in any area with crevasses.

Two factors will be key to trying to go at that time: 1) weather and 2) road access. March is still winter. The Cascade volcanoes are much closer to the ocean and have far more prominence than the peaks in Colorado. Hence, weather is a much bigger factor. Clouds often obscure the peaks for days at a time. The combination of being on snow all the time means it can be difficult to know where you are when clouds are present. Northwest snow climbers usually are roped and use wands to mark their route up so that they can find their way down safely. You can't do that as a solo climber. While the snowpack consolidates more quickly--as others have pointed out--you generally have pretty small windows between weather systems until about May in the PNW. Shasta tends to have better weather due to being farther south. Still, very few people have successful climbs in the Cascades until you get into late April/early May. That is the time where good snowcover (Cascades = crappy rock/scree) tends to overlap with "better" weather and the potential that higher roads have been plowed. May/June historically was the time where access to trailheads was better, snowpack still firm and plentiful, but weather had improved with longer periods between storms.

Lots of factors to consider. I hope this information helps.
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