Into Thin Air – Climbing Mount Shasta

Sometimes the appropriate way to appreciate our beloved Mt. Shasta is to physically conquer the beast

Sometimes the appropriate way to appreciate our beloved Mt. Shasta is to sit down, relax and enjoy its beauty. Sometimes the appropriate way to appreciate our beloved Mt. Shasta is to physically conquer the beast.

Mountaineering is no walk in the park. It’s sometimes dangerous, physically demanding and typically pretty cold. There are many different variables to the experience – weather, ice, lack of oxygen. So why would you put your life in potential danger, drag yourself to physical exhaustion and most likely be freezing cold in the process?

That’s simple – to experience what most people never get to experience. To be on place on this planet that very few have been. To see views that many most people will never get a chance to see. To be alive, in a moment, on one of the most respected mountains in the world.

Going Above The Clouds

It’s a long journey up to the top of Mt. Shasta using crampons and an ice axe to maneuver through the rough terrain, so it’s good to have a professional by your side.

Timothy Keating, Founder and CEO of SWS Mountain Guides in Mt. Shasta, is one of the top experts on mountaineering on Mt. Shasta. His company guides trips all around the mountain year round.

“We climb in both winter and summer. The main difference is the winter climbs are up the ridge lines of Mt. Shasta to avoid the avalanche hazards which exist in the winter,” said Keating. “The winter climbs are much more challenging due to colder conditions, weather and the requirement of a higher degree of technical skills.”

No matter if you want to experience an intermediate climbing experience or a hardcore challenge, conditioning is a large part of the process. The type of climb, course or expedition you are looking to experience will determine the level of conditioning needed.

It’s important to be in good to excellent physical condition, as the climbs and courses occur at altitude and in the mountain environment. Training before your embark on your adventure is a must. For advanced level courses or with altitudes above 14,000 feet, SWS Mountain Guides requires a conditioning and training program. The idea behind any conditioning program is to do some aerobic activity at least three to five times a week. Sitting at a desk or behind the steering wheel obviously does not add to your physical health or overall conditioning. And to be in the best condition for the climb can actually be pretty simple.

“We have found that some of our best conditioned climbers do a lot of walking,” said Keating. “Walk whenever possible. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Ride a bike or walk to work or to the store. Park your car at the farthest point in the parking lot at the office or the store and walk. The more walking that you do, the better trained you will be.”

A Life of Dedication

Keating is the type of man you want to be with when you are in the elements of the mountain. He started his hobby turned career when he was 14 years old, in a Boy Scout Mountaineering Adventure Post. From there, he taught mountaineering as an assistant instructor at a local junior college in Southern California where he grew up. In 1980, he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, and never returned, starting the SWS Mountain Guides 35 years ago at the fresh age of 21.

“I have over 34 plus years of guiding on Mt. Shasta,” recalls Keating. “And I am still doing what I love which is to show clients the wonders of the mountains.”

Keating will be quick to remind people, even those with years of experience, to respect the mountain at all times. He recalls his most humbling experience on the mountain when he was stuck in a snow cave on Mt. Shasta in the Cascade Gulch for over two days with three of his clients.

“It is a big mountain, and it can be beautiful, but it can also be as tough as any mountain in the world,” warns Keating. “I always have a healthy degree of respect for Mt. Shasta and I think a lot of folks forget that.”

Descending in Style

Imagine standing at the top of Mount Shasta looking down at a 7,000 foot descent with only a set of skis to get you to the bottom and back to safety. I know, it sounds like a dream come true.

Described by some as one of the finest descents in California, a Mt. Shasta ski descent is considered a must do for any real backcountry skier.  It offers the advanced to expert alpine skier a descent of over 7,000 vertical feet.

Ski descents are a popular attraction for SWS Mountain Guides. Let’s face it; it’s any hardcore skier or snowboarder’s dream to descend all natural terrain with the elements providing a dangerous alternative to the comfort of a groomed black-diamond run.

“The most popular and basic route is the Avalanche Gulch Route — mostly beginners on this route” explained Keating. “Our intermediate climbs include the Hotlum Bolum Ridge on the Northside of Mt. Shasta as well as the West Face, and Casaval Ridge.”

As for experience, you need to be a black-diamond to double-black-diamond skier.

“The angle of descent can reach up to 40 degrees in spots,” explain Keating. “To screen our clients for the descent we discuss their experience and level of skiing and then decide if the descent is appropriate for their skill level.”

A typical ski ascent and descent is a two-night trip costing $525.

For more information on Mt. Shasta mountaineering or SWS Mountain Guides go to

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