Our "summit team" consisted of 6 people from CHAOS and CONFUSED, and we enjoyed perfect weather and climbing conditions. An enormous melt-off has occurred over the two months since the last expedition, and the snow line is now only about 3/4 mi. below Helen Lake. But Avalanche Gulch is still covered and climbable.
We drove to Shasta and camped Friday night below Bunny Flat. The next morning, CHAOS and CONFUSED exchanged ambassadors, and full diplomatic relations were soon in place. The Sierra Club hut at Horse Camp is now completely snow free, as well as the spring, in stark contrast to the end of June when both were accessible only through "tunnels" carved in a 12-14 ft. snowpack. The whole area is now even more beautiful than it was in June. A long dusty climb ended in snow just below Helen Lake, and an even steeper climb to the campsites. About half of the rock-walled tent sites are exposed, and 40-50 people crammed their tents into this area on Saturday. After setting up our tents, a short crampon / ice axe course was given for the mostly first-time mountaineers on this trip.
In two groups, we joined the steady stream of climbers heading up AG at about 5:30 AM Sunday morning. The snow is deeply sun-streaked all the way up, but the glissade (butt sliding :) channels made good, smooth climbing paths. The Heart is now exposed, and some sporadic rockfall has been occurring. More than half of Red Banks is also exposed, requiring removal and reinstallation of crampons as we went over the top. The snow is still continuous from above Red Banks to the base of Misery Hill, which is now completely exposed. Above the hill, snow is solid to the boulder field below the summit, now also completely exposed. The wind was blowing hard at times, lowering the temperature via wind chill to 20-30 degrees, but the summit was not windy at all, and was very comfortable. The summit was also crowded, with various groups assembling for pictures with their banners. Typical ascent time was about 5 hours.
Descent from summit to Red Banks took about 45 minutes, and then the fun started. The glissade channels are now deeply carved, almost like water slide tunnels at the top, and extremely fast. Several of us in our separate descents had to self arrest just to regain control of our speed, as boot and axe pole dragging were just not enough on the steepest section. Coming down from Red Banks took only about 30 minutes, depending on the daring of the slider. Our only reported injury was a minor cranial dent suffered by an un-helmeted glissader at the top of AG, but no medical attention was required. Two people later skied down from Helen Lake to the end of the snow.
After packing up, we hiked back down to Bunny Flat in about 2.5 hours, and adjourned to "Say Cheese", the local pizza hangout in Mt. Shasta City, to demolish 2 extra large pizzas before the long drive home.
Thanks again to all who participated for a great trip!