Added by John Chau
Steep 45-55 degree slopes covered in ice and snow, gnarly runout, and incredible views make this climb not for the faint of heart or the first time hiker. Summiting Black Butte in the winter can offer a "safer" way for gaining more mountaineering experience when paired with someone more experienced, especially when Mount Shasta is in white-out winter conditions. With 2.5 miles to the summit, it's close enough to the trailhead to bail easily, but it can still be a VERY dangerous winter climb if unprepared.
February thru early March are great times to climb it for a winter ascent without snowshoes. If there is no snow seen from the south (e.g. on I-5 heading north to Mount Shasta City), don't be too worried. As long as there is snow on the surrounding peaks (e.g. Trinity Alps) around the same elevation (4,000+ feet), there should still be snow on the northern slopes of Black Butte.
Most of this route is off-trail, but you start from the same trailhead for the regular Black Butte hike. Check out the detailed trailhead description, directions, and map from the U.S. Forest Service. From the trailhead, simply head up the trail through the woods, along the trail through the open scree field, and then, depending on the condition of the snow, you can choose to do a direct ascent and essentially climb three peaks via this route in which you simply head up the snowy slopes to the ridge, follow the ridge to the south west, down into the gully, up the other side, scramble across the slippery, icy rocks, back down into another gully, and finally arrive at the final approach to the summit. Alternatively, you can stay on the path all the way until you reach the last gully and can simply climb up the steep north-facing slope to the summit, a much better option if short on time.
The first option takes about 5 hours on a clear, winter day without roping up for a team of 2. The latter option takes about 3.5 hours for a team of 4 roped up on a windy (45 mph winds) stormy day with a flood advisory and winter storm warning in effect.
For the final approach to the summit, watch out for loose rocks among the snow. Nearly all of the rocks are extremely loose! Look for a good line of snow running up to the summit, but don't stray too far to the left as you'll end up having to traverse right below a gnarly cliff band.
Once you top out, you'll have to walk south about 30-40 yds to the foundation of the old fire lookout. Although, don't risk going out across the short ledge to the lookout if it's extremely windy! Also, be sure to check the avalanche forecast before going out!
- Ice Axe
- Waterproof gear (e.g. Gore-Tex)
- Warm layers
- Ten Essentials
- Snow pickets
- Good attitude
- Reliable partner
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