Thursday, August 2, 2012

climbing the Hotlum headwall and glacier

Drew, a friend and fellow Shasta Mountain Guide, had been jonesing to climb the Hotlum headwall for quite a while.  He mentioned the idea to me, and we both thought it would be a great adventure.  This cliff  sits just above 13,000' at the top of the northeast face of Mt. Shasta.  Falling away beneath the cliff is the Hotlum glacier, with multiple beautiful icefalls and holding the largest volume of ice of any of California's glaciers.  Nervous about the headwall's reputation for loose rock but excited for the climb, we sipped coffee and drove in the dark to the Brewer Creek trailhead.

Catching the first rays of the morning sun, the headwall lit up as we stepped onto the toe of the glacier.

We made good time on the glacier, only needing to rope up for a questionable snowbridge crossing on the final bergschrund.  Soon we were standing below the headwall organizing gear.

Drew had the advantage of a rad mohawk, so he led off for the first pitch, stepping right from glacial snow onto steep rock.

Drew beginning the first pitch.  The rock here was some of the more solid on the route, but still had both of us on edge.  As Drew summarized later "you don't trust your hands, or your feet, or your gear!".

Drew found a good stance and brought me up to him.  I tried leading out above, but a broken foothold with rock quality deteriorating even more higher up brought me back to the belay ledge.  The rock looked better to the climbers right, so we tried a tension traverse to get back on "route". 

There were several different types of rock, from weird flaky salt deposits to bright red and orange andesite.  It was pretty to look at even though it was falling apart!

photo:Drew Smith
Our route traversed climbers right virtually the entire time.  We were trying to follow more solid rock, but it also had the advantage of protecting the belayer.  When the leader would pull off a loose block (this happened a LOT), we could throw or roll it harmlessly down to the glacier below.

After an exciting pull over a roof, I reached the north ridge of the headwall and easier ground.  Drew followed me up, both of us excited to have finished the climb safely.  
photo:Drew Smith
We scrambled up the ridge to the North summit and then on to the true summit pinnable with the Hotlum glacier and the flanks of Mt. Shasta laid out below us.

We both spend a whole lot of time on Mt. Shasta, but it was still really exciting to cover new ground.  This time up to the summit pinnacle, even though very familiar, seemed a little bit special.

photo:Drew Smith
And then came the descent!  Conditions were perfect and we were both thirsty for cold beer, so we boot-glissaded for 3500' non-stop, a true leg-burner!  11 hours car-car, and we were headed back into town for burgers and cerveza with buddies at the Goat Tavern.  Thanks for a good one Drew!  Check out his awesome photos at

photo:Drew Smith
Our approximate route, with circles indicating belays.  The crux of the route was definitely dealing with the tremendous amount of loose rock.  We had heard guesses of a rating of 5.8R which sounds about right to both Drew and I.  We took a single rack of Black Diamond cams .3-1 and several medium sized nuts.  That rack was mostly sufficient, but if we went back, we would bring smaller nuts to increase the range of crack sizes we could use for protection.

1 comment:

  1. Incrediible bro. I saw you guys at the goat after you'd finished. You have great feats ahead of you I'm sure. I will talk to you about your route sometime soon!
    Climb safe,
    Grover Shipman