A Brave Hike to the Top of Mt. Shasta

Nearing their home in Los Angeles, Frank and Nell ride their Southern Pacific train across the California border and into the Siskiyou Mountains. Always eager to listen to the stories of other travelers, they chat with a man who has hiked to the summit of Mt. Shasta, an impressive mountain that one writer described as “lone as God, and white as a winter moon. Mount Shasta starts up sudden and solitary from the heart of the great black forests of Northern California.” In 1900 the hike was rather difficult and Frank faithfully records all the dangers and difficulties hikers face.

Postcard of the Southern Pacific route through the Siskiyou Mountains, undated. streamlinermemories.info

“The Loop” in the Siskiyou Mountains, is indeed a wonderful piece of human workmanship and skill. The highest point is about 4000 feet near Muir’s Peak, and here the scenery is at its grandest.

This peak is a cinder cone with several distinct crater cups. Mount Shasta can be seen, holding its snowy head above all others. Almost instinctively the desire comes to undertake a trip to its summit, and we eagerly listen to a gentleman who has made the trip twice. August and September is the best time to start, and the party should have a thoroughly competent guide.

Siskiyou Mountain Route
The Southern Pacific route can be seen to the west of Mt. Shasta on this 1875 map. Library of Congress.

Sisson is the best place to leave the railroad, and you secure your horses, mount and start off. The climb to the timber line can be accomplished before dark, and is 8000 or 9000 feet high, and here the party camp.

Early in the morning you have breakfast, and move up the trail which is now very steep and rough. Arriving at “Horse Camp” you all dismount and have to do the rest on foot. Horse Camp is 11000 feet high. You now black your face with grease paint, to protect the skin from burning, and start out bravely enough. After a few rods you notice it is harder to walk than to ride, and you begin to pant, and soon it is necessary to rest, and take breath. Some have trouble with nausea and nosebleed, and go back to Horse Camp, while others press on through the snow, and after innumerable stops, at last reach the goal 14,400 feet above the level of the sea.

It seems as if this was the highest point on earth so far can the eye reach. You can see nearly 400 miles in either direction, taking in with one sweep of the vision the desert plains of Nevada on the East and the Pacific Ocean on the West.

Immediately below and around you, are five glaciers, and a short distance away you see Little Shasta which still shows its volcanic formation by the crater cup at the top.

Mountaineering on Mt Shasta
Group of Men and Women Mountaineering on Mount Shasta, c. 1901. Library of Congress.

From the summit where you stand, the snow and ice extends down to the timber line in a white sheet of cold shivers. Some tourists have had the temerity to slide down on this snow for a distance of a mile and a half, through a precipitous canyon, with nothing but a strong bag to sit on. It needs some nerve, but saves seven or eight hours of time in the descent. I think when I go up I will take a toboggan for this purpose, instead of the bag.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.


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