In size and scope, Mount Shasta is nearly a mountain range unto itself. Like all mountain ranges, it has numerous nooks and crannies that are well off the beaten path. Considering how much of the mountain is unexplored by trails, this means that the preponderance of the mountain is not often appreciated by hikers. Those parts of Mount Shasta that are off the trail but do see people are along the routes that lead to the summit and are all at higher elevations. This still leaves a tremendous amount of the mountain’s geography left isolated, unappreciated and seldom seen.
One such significant part of the mountain landscape is Cascade Gulch. This prominent canyon is easily visible from the west side of Mount Shasta, as is indicated on the Mount Shasta Landmark Locator. It begins at the saddle between Mount Shasta and Shastina, and descends steeply down into Hidden Valley. From there the gulch continues to the west, dropping steeply once again out of Hidden Valley, passing inside the tree line and then leveling off as it heads west through the dense forest of Mount Shasta’s lower elevations. The two images below illustrate its path:
Cascade Gulch, as illustrated above, comprises the upper and middle sections, both above and below the treeline. These are each worth a Seldom Seen post on their own. However, there is a third and lower section that also deserves to be noted. Surrounded by vast expanses of brush and located deep in the untraveled forest on the lower flank of the mountain, it would seem to be the least interesting part of Cascade Gulch. The reality is different however and the lower section exposes some of the most interesting geology found at the lower elevations on Mount Shasta. In particular, a side canyon connected to Cascade Gulch, which I have dubbed “Upheaval Canyon”, has fascinating rock formations and awesome views of the Strawberry Valley, Black Butte and the Trinity Divide. For the few who find their way into this seemingly lost area solitude and fascinating geology wait to be discovered.
While the goal is worthy, exploring Cascade Gulch can, at times, be a frustrating proposition. The lower elevation means that it is choked with brush. Fortunately, one of the prime attractions of Lower Cascade Gulch is located just above the vast brushfields that blanket much of the area. The location of interest is a spur that branches off of the main stem of Cascade Gulch. Though it may have other unofficial names, I am not aware of them and have dubbed this spur “Upheaval Canyon”. The reason for the appellation is the found in the complex geology that shaped this unusual canyon. The rock is composed of a seemingly innumerable series of thin layers. One spot in particular exhibits the earth’s great upheaval, with the numerous strata bent upward, nearly stretching 180 degrees over on itself. It is a dramatic sight.
The rugged terrain of the canyon is broken into two adjacent segments. The end of each of these segments is marked by small pouroffs. Here, when the water from melting snow flows in early spring, the runoff flows off of a final, rocky lip into the sandy bed of the canyon, often disappearing swiftly into the porous land. In between these two sections the rim of the canyon is lined with large boulders and rocky outcroppings. Climbing up onto the rim yields excellent panoramic views of the Strawberry Valley, Black Butte, and the Trinity Divide, crowned by the massive bulk of Mount Eddy. There is a surprising amount of exposure on the rim, with the canyon nearly 100 feet below. Between the views and the geology, this portion of the lower Cascade Gulch area is a fantastic springtime destination.
Aside from Upheaval Canyon, much of Lower Cascade Gulch is choked with brush. However, it is not difficult to navigate a route along the rocky bed of the gulch. Good views of both Mount Eddy and Mount Shasta are often enjoyed along this route. Rock outcroppings also dot the landscape, adding a significant amount of interest along the lowest segment of the gulch. In spring, the profusion of brush does have the benefit of making the air exceptional fragrant. While the smells of the forests are fixtures of trails higher up on the mountain, this is a peculiar sensory experience for hiking on Mount Shasta.
Lower Cascade Gulch is testimony to the hidden beauty found all around Mount Shasta. It may not be overwhelmingly beautiful or spectacular like many of the mountain’s grand destinations. Nonetheless, it is a worthy area to explore, boasting intriguing geology, scenic views and a sense of deep isolation. The fact that these can all be found so close to town and still be seldom seen is amazing.
Lower Cascade Gulch Gallery (click to enlarge):