Mount Shasta is the unchallenged monarch of mountains in Northern California. No other mountain in the Golden State dominates the landscape the way it does. The mountain can be seen from well over 100 miles away in most directions. Its visibility is due in part to its unbelievably massive size and soaring height. Mount Shasta can also be seen from great distances because it towers so high above all the other mountains in the region. This is not to say that mountains that surround Mount Shasta are not high or lack impressive size in their own right. On the contrary, many of the peaks are quite remarkable on their own merits. Still few mountains can compare to the great height and incredible bulk of Mount Shasta. Being overshadowed does not mean that the lesser mountain around the mountain deserve to be cast into obscurity. They should still be appreciated for their own splendid qualities. Though they all exist in Mount Shasta’s shadow, the five highest peaks around the mountain remain extraordinary. They also represent the dramatic differences between the two mountain ranges that flank Mount Shasta. On the west side are Mount Eddy and China Mountain, both high peaks of the vast Klamath Mountains. To the east and north of Mount Shasta are the Goosenest, Whaleback and Ash Creek Butte. These three peaks are among the highest in the California section of the great Cascade Range. Not surprisingly, these peaks all have fantastic views of Mount Shasta. What are often less appreciated are the views of these high peaks from Mount Shasta itself. It should not come as a surprise that the trials on Mount Shasta yield excellent vantages from which to observe the mountains that surround Mount Shasta. Whether climbing these peaks to gain perspective of Mount Shasta or hiking on Mount Shasta and gazing down at the mountain’s neighbors, these five peaks deserve more consideration than they often get.
Mount Eddy (9,025)
The highest point in both the vast Klamath Mountains range and its subrange, the Trinity Divide, Mount Eddy is a colossal mountain in its own right. Boasting an awesome array of alpine lakes and verdant meadows, Mount Eddy is almost large enough to be considered a small mountain range on its own. Composed of peridotite and serpentine, the mountain is an unusual patchwork of bright yellows and reds. It is definitely one of the more colorful mountains in the Mount Shasta area. Mount Eddy has experienced significant glacial activity in the past, as evidenced by its deep lake basins and soaring vertical cliffs. While hiking on Mount Shasta, it is difficult to miss the brooding massif that is Mount Eddy. Both the Green Butte Ridge Trail and the Old Ski Bowl section of the South Gate Meadow Trail have spectacular views of the highest mountain around Mount Shasta.
China Mountain (8,542)
Easily the most obscure of the five highest peaks around Mount Shasta, China Mountain rarely ranks high on hiker’s lists of favorite mountains in the Mount Shasta region. This is unfortunate because hikers who ignore China Mountain are missing out on one of the most rugged and beautiful mountains around. Blessed with sheer cliffs and three lake basins, the China Mountain area always seems to be overlooked. Despite the obscurity, the mountain has much to offer hikers. The three lakes basins make great hiking and scrambling destinations. At the same time, because of its obscurity, China Mountain offers nature-lovers a deep since of isolation. As if reflecting the obscurity of China Mountain, no trails on Mount Shasta offer really exceptional views of the peak. However, for those explorers fortunate enough to make the journey into Diller Canyon, a tremendous view of China Mountain awaits to the west.
The Whaleback (8,528)
One of the most prominently visible peaks to the north of Mount Shasta, the Whaleback gets its name because the large mountain is thought to look like the back of a diving whale. Excluding Mount Shasta, the Whaleback is the highest peak in the Cascades between Crater Peak in the Lassen area and Mount McLoughlin in Oregon. Like the vast majority of summits in the Cascades, the Whaleback was once an active volcano. A small crater is situated just below the summit. The small summit and great bulk of the mountain are typical of shield volcanos. These are formed by numerous, successive volcanic eruptions. Lava spills out layer after layer, gradually building the mountain up. The area around the Whaleback saw significant logging activity in the last century but much of the mountain is still covered in large stands of virgin timber. The heavily wooded peak, combined with the its rounded summit give the Whaleback the least rugged appearance when compared to the other high peaks around Mount Shasta. Since it is situated on the great mountains northeast side, the lonely North Gate Trail offer great views of the Whaleback is it climbs up to the foot of the North Gate plugs.
Ash Creek Butte (8,378)
While the other Cascade peaks around Mount Shasta could be described as having rounded summits with small craters, Ash Creek Butte is a strikingly rugged and craggy mountain. Rising to a narrow, pointed summit, Ash Creek Butte exhibits significant glacial activity. At least two major glacial cirques are found on the mountain’s north side and a possible third cirque is located on its east face. The cirques were once home to large glaciers that ground the rounded, smooth-sided mountain down and exposed gaping, rocky canyons in their wake. The Surprise Basin on Ash Creek Butte’s north side is the most impressive. Though the glaciers are gone, much of their detritus remains in the form of Surprise Lake, a smaller, unnamed lake and a large fossil rock glacier. This peculiar feature was formed when portions of Ash Creek Butte collapsed after being undermined by the glacier. The collapsed debris covered the glacier, which subsequently melted away. The debris now appears like the fossilized remnant of the glacier. Of all the high peaks around Mount Shasta, Ash Creek Butte is the most isolated and least known, though it is also the most impressive in appearance, other than Mount Eddy. The best views from Mount Shasta trails are found on the equally isolated Brewer Creek Trail, particularly from Brewer Creek itself.
The Goosenest (8,280)
Classic volcanic peak, the Goosenest is the most prominent summit on the east side of the Shasta Valley. The rounded, dome-like summit is blanketed in large lava flows. Though the woods have begun encroaching on the large flows, they are still easily discerned from far below in valley. The summit consists of a largely bare, ashy rim around a deep crater. The rounded rim is what gives the mountain its nest-like appearance. Two trails wind their way to the summit. On the north side is a maintained foot path. The south side is traversed by an old road that climbs up from an old quarry. The foot path is a much nicer climb. Despite the Goosenest’s great visibility throughout the area to the north of Mount Shasta, it is only prominent from a pair of trails, the Whitney Falls Trail and the North Gate Trail. The latter in particular has the best views since it climbs high enough on Mount Shasta to gain a perspective that shows the Goosenest rising high above the other peaks on the Cascade crest.