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A Guide to Hiking Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta Hiking: Wilderness Boundary

The Mount Shasta Wilderness, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, comprises about 34,000 acres that skirt the base of Mount Shasta. At the upper edge of this tree-rich expanse lies the Wilderness Boundary, where pines and firs give way to Shasta's snow-capped upper slopes. Hikers who breach this 8,000- to 8,500-foot (2,438- to 2,590-meter) boundary and go on to reach the 14,161-foot (4,316-meter) summit will have conquered the second tallest peak in the Cascade Range that extends from Northern California to British Columbia.

Avalanche Gulch, the path traversed by Shasta's earliest climbers, is still its most popular hiking trail. It's also the maintained route that will take you closest to the summit.

Labeled a Grade IV trail by the National Climbing Classification System because it requires a full day of technical climbing and hiking over occasionally steep snow-packed terrain, Avalanche Gulch is an 11-mile (17.7-kilometer) round trip course [source: American Alpine Journal]. Sometimes, hikers break it into a two-day climb, walking 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) in from the easy-access Bunny Flat Trailhead at an elevation of 6,880 feet (2,097 meters) to Horse Camp at 7,880 feet (2,401 meters), where they can camp overnight. About a mile above Horse Camp, the Avalanche Gulch trail's elevation rises fairly rapidly as it progresses up through the ridge-flanked gulch to Helen Lake at 10,443 feet (3,183 meters).

From Helen Lake, the trail leads up to the Red Banks area, which has an elevation of 12,800 feet (3,901 meters), traversing past an area known as "the heart" because of its heart-like geographical shape. By the time you reach Red Banks, the trail becomes much more technical, requiring crampons and ice axes until the terrain levels off at the foot of Misery Hill trail (13,200 feet, or 4,023 meters). Ascend Misery Hill (not nearly as difficult as the name suggests) and you'll see that the Mount Shasta summit is only a plateau and short climb away [source: College of the Siskiyous].