Mount Shasta towers majestically above the Shasta Valley.
It is obvious to anyone who has seen Mount Shasta that the mountain is huge. It is not simply big or tall, though both of those things are evident. Rather, I believe that the mountains scale is an order of magnitude greater than what we are used to mountains being. It is the cumulative aspect of height, circumference and volume, coupled with a few intangibles, that make Mount Shasta the giant that it is.
There is one useful metric that does help measure the combined qualities that make Mount Shasta great. That measurement is prominence. That is how far the summit of the mountain stands above the lowest point within a particular peaks topographical isolation. In other words, and this is not a precise definition, but it means how far the top of a mountain stands above the surrounding landscape. The measurement a mountain’s prominence helps give some idea of just how high and massive a peak is. Typically, a peak must have at least 300 feet of prominence to be considered an independent peak. This being the case, Shastina also has prominence of its own but considering that it is not isolated and falls withing Mount Shasta’s topographical ring, it is usually still considered part of Mount Shasta.
The upper echelon of prominent mountains are those that exceed 5,000 feet of prominence. These elite mountains are known as ultraprominent peaks. There are currently 57 ultra prominent peaks in the lower 48 states. Mount Saint Helens used to be the 58th but its eruption blow the final 1,300 feet off the mountain and removed the peak from the ranks of the ultraprominent. Worth noting is that Mount Eddy, the next highest peak after Mount Shasta, is also among the 57 ultraprominent peaks. Mount Eddy just barely clears the 5,000 feet of prominence threshold. Mount Shasta has nearly 10,000 feet of official prominence, though it is more than that on some sides of the mountain.
It is precisely this that I want to highlight in this article. The prominence with which Mount Shasta towers above the surrounding landscape is what makes Joaquin Miller’s claim that it is “lonely as God” true. It is manifestly alone, topographically isolated and without prominent peer.
Below is a gallery of different perspectives of Mount Shasta, each with measurements of the mountain’s prominence from a certain location. I was able determine the rough location of a given spot and determine the summit’s relief from that point. Each image is annotated in both feet and miles. I hope this gives some sense of just how prominent, massive and high Mount Shasta is.
Click to enlarge:
When considering the mountain from the perspective of prominence and isolation, it is evident that Mount Shasta is a tremendously prominent peak. For perspective, it may be useful to consider a different mountain. At 13,114 feet, Mount Lyell is the highest peak in Yosemite. Mount Shasta is over 1,000 feet higher. Concurrently, Yosemite Valley is approximately 4,000 feet in elevation. Thus, from Yosemite Valley to the top of the highest point in Yosemite is a rise of 9,114 feet.
This is not a precise measurement from the valley floor, being a bit higher up, but the line of sight from Mount Lyell to the Merced River gives good perspective. Yosemite Valley is 300 feet lower than this point on the river.
While Mount Shasta is 1,000 feet higher than Mount Lyell, at about 3,500 feet, Mount Shasta City is roughly 500 feet lower than Yosemite Valley. Therefore, the total rise from Mount Shasta City to the summit of Mount Shasta is 10,679 feet, a full 1,565 feet more rise than is found from Yosemite Valley to the highest point in the park. Adding to the grandeur of the scale, from Mount Lyell to the marked point on the Merced River is approximately 15.5 miles while the distance from the Central Mount Shasta exit on I-5 to the summit is 9.6 miles. Mount Shasta has greater rise in nearly half the distance.
No matter how you measure Mount Shasta, whether height nor volume, prominence or diameter, it is a staggering mountain, worthy of admiration and awe.