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California Adventures

A Day On The Mountain

Mt. Shasta

Mount Shasta – Bunny Flat Trailhead – Winter 1.4.2020

When in Far Northern California, it is impossible to mistake that brilliant, 14,000+ foot volcano from anything else. Mount Shasta, the crown jewel of the region, features many access points to enjoy the bountiful recreation on its mountainous slopes. Bunny Flat Trailhead — one of the most scenic, prominent, and easily accessible trailheads of this volcano — is a popular vista for tourists, hikers, skiers, backpackers, and artists.

When living in such a beautiful region of the world, a classic Saturday in winter tends to involve playing on the slopes of Mount Shasta. My group of friends love exploring together, and sharing memories in the snow. Bunny Flat Trailhead is a perfect place for this — allowing us to go as far up Avalanche Gulch as we want.

To access this playground, a drive through the Town of Mount Shasta is in order. This charming mountain town lies below the mountain’s reach and along interstate 5, a convenient byway through the center of the California Adventure District. At the first glance of Mt Shasta from this mountainous highway, I always feel grateful to live in such an epic place.

Before driving up to Bunny Flat’s 6,950 feet alpine start, my friends and I stop in at Yaks Koffee for a quick breakfast. They have an incredible Vegan Thai Bagel, which always fuels me up for adventure! Berryvale Market is another good option for breakfast and grocery. Overall, the region’s local flair contribute to a creative and healthy food scene, that feature some of my favorite eats on the west coast! Due to the confluence of many mountain ranges in the region, gear shops are plentiful and are usually my other stop in town. In case I need something extra for my adventure, forget an essential or just need recreation recommendations, I visit Fifth Season or Shasta Base Camp. They are fully stocked with all the necessary attire, supplies, and equipment.

A direct and smooth drive up Everett Memorial Highway leads to Bunny Flat Trailhead. During winter, snow crews will be sure to have this road cleared (save for any active winter storm warnings or recent storms). From the parking lot, I gaze off into the expansive Klamath Mountains, looking south and west. Behind me is, very obviously, the massive southern face of Mount Shasta. This inspiring lineup provides giddy anticipation for what’s to come beyond treeline.

I meticulously organize my daypack with all the necessary winter clothing layers, as well as snacks, a water reservoir, glacier glasses (which is not fun to forget!), sunscreen, gloves, and an easily accessible medpack. Because I am using my Alpine Touring Skis, this method will include my way up and down. I also use trekking poles and a helmet to round out my gear. Others in my party use snowshoes, and that is certainly another great option to experience the backcountry snow here.

We set off towards Avalanche Gulch. The first part of the trail weaves through snow-draped Douglas Fir and Sugar Pines, which creates a mesmerizing winter scene. Several inches of snow had fallen the night before, and it was pretty apparent by the fresh powder.

The beauty of Avalanche Gulch’s recreation is the variety and flexibility in what is experienced here. The most direct way up Avalanche Gulch is literally along the main gulch, which leads up to Helen Lake, a main base camp for Shasta climbers. Horse Camp, a camping and rest area for many adventurers, can be a side trip, as part of the larger objective. At 7,884 feet, it is not too far from Bunny Flat.  For my group, we chose to ascend directly up the gulch — saving our energy for the alpine climb. We follow the fresh tracks of other cross-country skiers and snowshoers, eventually making it to treeline. The attention all the way up to here is Mount Shasta’s southern flanks. Clouds move fast across this massif — creating obvious clarity at times, but with a shroud of white throughout. Some of my favorite moments are watching these clouds move across the lower and mid terrains, while the summit is revealed in all its glory — displaying a breathtaking prominence!

As we push higher and higher, we take in this spectacular Northern California vantage point. The broader Klamath Mountains are behind us, cloaked in a thick cloud layer. Protruding peaks, such as Mount Eddy, reveal themselves from time to time. Even still, clouds are the dominant feature of this view. Mount Shasta’s size compared to the surrounding area makes for some fascinating meteorology. At this alpine altitude, clouds are seen moving up the mountain landscape in strange ways. Due to this dynamic nature, scenes change quickly. As the terrain gets steeper, we simultaneously hit a cloud burst. For how sunny it was just a couple moments ago, the ongoing contrast reflects a living, breathing mountain environment. Our ascension into this weather dynamic is awe-inspiring, and these are the moments I will never forget. Due to the continuously steep terrain, we decide to stop before Helen Lake. Our stopping point made sense, because the weather is more unpredictable up here. Skiing on these slopes is tough enough on a calm day.

The beauty of alpine tour skis is the ability to take the skins off (which, initially, allow for uphill traction). Once ready to go downhill, things go fast.  We race down these wide open slopes, breaking through the clouds. This backcountry environment is exactly where my sense of adventure feels enhanced. There’s a certain wildness that cannot be matched elsewhere. Mount Shasta conveys that big-picture approach — presenting expansive views and a wilderness character. Our descent into Bunny Flat Trailhead happens fast. We take a couple more (at least!) views of Mount Shasta, in all its glory. I always get a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment at the end of a snow day at Bunny Flat. For only half a day of actual mountain time, it feels like A LOT more.

After some lounging and recap at the car, we set off towards the town of Mount Shasta. First things first, we are hungry! The great thing is, we know just the place. Mount Shasta is a special experience, because there is not only just the mountain to explore. This region has all sorts of unique aspects to it, with food and culture being a top priority.

As I mentioned before, breakfast has great options. When it comes to dinner, we always go to a family-owned joint, called Hari Om Shri Ram. For being in a small town like Shasta, this might just be the best Indian food I have ever had! What a treat to end the day! With night approaching, we go home to Redding, already dreaming of the next place to explore in the California Adventure District.