Thursday morning sunshine on Mount Shasta.
At times, while living at the foot of Mount Shasta, it is possible to lose sight of just how big the mountain is. It never fails to impress, and it is rare that I see it and don’t pause, for even just half a moment, and marvel at the sight of the grand volcano. Yet, in spite of never tiring of it, the eminence and immensity can be lost in the hustle and bustle of life.
Today was different. While driving home from the animal hospital, the morning light was coming at the mountain horizontally, casting lots of great shadows on Mount Shasta’s snowy flanks. The great black forests that lie below the treeline were alight and seemed to glow. The scene was compelling and I quickly yielded, stopped, and captured some images. The mountain just seems to hang there, filling the view with a totality that few mountain ranges, let alone individual peaks, seem to be able to replicate. Of course, Mount Shasta is not like other mountains and is truly a singularly massive peak. As I discussed in this article (if you have not read the article, I strongly encourage you to do so!), Mount Rainier is the closest peer to Mount Shasta. Despite being a couple hundred feet higher, its diameter at 6,000 feet elevation is nearly 4 miles less than that of Mount Shasta at the same elevation. That difference is greater than the entire diameter of several other major Cascade volcanoes like Mount St. Helens and Mount McLoughlin.
Winter is a great time to enjoy the spectacle that is Mount Shasta. The snow creates a magnificent canvas for the sunlight, shadows and alpenglow to paint the great mountain. It is now, when the icy tower sits in splendid isolation above the surrounding peaks, which themselves are monumental peaks that are cut off from all but the most intrepid by winter’s snow. Summer’s view of the mountain, while humbling, is a different experience. The melting snow swells the fountains that flow from within the mountain and the best views shift to the flank, gardens and trails of Mount Shasta. Yet it is the great white cone that remains the iconic view of the mountain. Despite the cold, enjoy the staggering scene!
I have not been able to post in a while, the result of a combination of things including lots of fire related work on behalf of my parents and a full immersion back into Boy Scouts now that my oldest son has started Cub Scouts. I am already a den leader, assistant Cubmaster and working with several district level committees (I plan on writing on Boy Scouts soon and its role in the founding of this site soon), so the level of activity has been high and it has interfered with my blogging.
Now it is Thanksgiving Day, and I feel moved to at least say something, for I am grateful for many, many things. Chief among them is my family. I have an amazing wife and three great kids. My parents are alive and well and soon to be in a new house. The fire may have taken most of our family history and other valuables, but that is insignificant compared to their well-being. I am thankful for my brother and his family and the honorable way they have served and continue to serve our country. I am thankful for our nation, in spite of its many ailments, it is still the greatest place in the world to live. It is a land filled with many people of good will and it is overflowing with great natural beauty.
I am thankful that God has put me here and given me the many opportunities I have been blessed with.
Now, I have been thinking back of the many images I have captured this year and the ones I keep coming back to was the majestic sunset I witnessed at the Minarets in October. That was possibly the most spectacular sunset I have ever had the good fortune to see. I hope everyone else will have a like opportunity, if they have not already. I also pray that everyone has a blessed Thanksgiving Day. Thank you for continuing to read HikeMtShasta!
Mount Shasta casts a large shadow during a dramatic sunrise.
A couple of days ago I captured a magnificent sunrise at Mount Shasta. On this particular instance I timed it right and managed to document one of the (somewhat) rare occurrences when Mount Shasta casts its shadow onto the cloudy and brightly lit morning sky. The conditions for this event have to be perfectly aligned for the spectacle to manifest. First (perhaps obviously), it can only occur at sunrise. Second, there must be clouds in the sky yet the horizon must be clear enough of the rising sun’s light to come through relatively unfiltered. Third, it only happens when the sun is below the horizon, which is low enough that the mountain’s shadow is cast upward onto the clouds. Lastly, it would seem, for some reason, that this phenomenon happens only in the fall. Though this is not a scientifically conclusive statement, the only times I have ever seen it happen have been this time of year. Perhaps it has something to do with the seasonal angle of the rising sun.
All the times I have witnessed this event, the skies have been colored magnificently. The beauty of the rising sun over Mount Shasta, the brightly illuminated clouds, and the dark mass of the mountain itself all combine to make stupendous scene. The presence of the mountain’s shadow being projected onto the clouds only heightened an already incredible showcase of nature’s glory.
In my experience, these sunrise shadows are less common than the lenticulars that often happen this time of year. However, both are majestic and unique and make getting up early in the morning a worthwhile sacrifice (if it is indeed such). To stand in the windswept expanse of the Shasta Valley’s high desert and watch the fiery light glow in the heavens while the spectacular mountain parts the photons is an unforgettable experience.
I added a gallery of some of the sunrise shadows I have observed. I added in lines to delineate the shadow in order to make it easier to discern. Hopefully this will motivate someone to get up and head out and try to see this unforgettable sight themselves!
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Brilliant fall color contrasts against the snowy heights of Mount Shasta.
The weather here in Mount Shasta has been utterly perfect. All the elements of the ideal autumn conditions have been in place: cool and crisp mornings, warm balmy days, gorgeous fall color and unusual lenticular clouds. Indeed, this has been one of the prettiest Mount Shasta autumns in quite a while. This is particularly so compared to last October. That season began with a great week at the beginning of the month but was then overrun by an uninterrupted stretch of rain that pushed deep into November. By the time the rain ended, it ended only to give way to snow. With California over the proverbial barrel from the drought, such an unpleasant fall was a welcome necessity. With water conditions having consequently improved, this October is proving to be about as good as one could hope.
As I noted in a previous blog post, this is one of peak periods for awesome lenticular clouds. However, it was nearly three weeks into October before the mountain yielded up one of its fabled cloud formations and when it finally did, it was a magnificent spectacle. As the sun came up, layers of billowy disks were stacked above Mount Shasta. Higher up in the heavens wispy clouds stretched out across the sky’s dome. The light of the dawn light all these clouds up into a dazzling display of atmospheric pyrotechnics. It was easily the mountain’s best lenticular display since last St. Patrick’s Day! With a week left in October, we can only hope that more lenticulars lie ahead. Thankfully, November has also proven to be a fertile month for these spectacular clouds.
The fall color is also at its peak right now. There are many trees around Mount Shasta that have great color, though many in town are not native. Those that do occur naturally with showy colors include oaks, willows, aspens and cottonwoods. The oaks are particularly abundant and are particularly vivid north of Mount Shasta City, around Spring Hill and further north heading into Weed. Truthfully, the entire drive from the Sacramento River canyon all the way to Ashland in Oregon is absolutely stunning right now. Aspens aren’t numerous in this area but one of the largest groves I know of is right by my house. In the midst of the grove is a lovely little meadow. My wife and I have taken our kids there a few times over the last few weeks, enjoying the excellent weather in the beautiful setting. The color on these trees has finally reached its apex. It is a magnificent sight, lessened ever so slightly only by the knowledge that the peak of color means the leaves will soon be lost and winter will be upon us. For now, it is glorious.
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The warm weather is set to continue for a little while longer. It is hard to overstate how perfect things are right now. If at all possible, get outside and enjoy it while we can. It is especially worth noting that there is only a week left of access up to the Old Ski Bowl. November 1st is the traditional date for the gate at Bunny Flat to be closed, thus ending the driving access to that incredible spot. Of course, motivated hikers can get up there on foot anyway, but the chance for families and the like to get up there will be done. Wherever you go, be blessed in these idyllic conditions!
Fresh snow blankets Mount Shasta.
Just a quick note to point out that last night’s rain left the mountain with a nice, fresh layer of snow. The high peaks of the Trinity Divide are also laden with snow. It looks like the snow level is down to about 5,000-5,500 feet. The mountain had a nice snow layer well into June but the summer heat melted it out from July to September. Even though there has been a fair amount of snow for this time in October, it is nice to see it white once again.
Next week is supposed to be extremely nice, possibly even perfect fall weather with temperatures in the mid 70’s. This is an excellent opportunity to get out before the cold winter weather hits in force. An added bonus is the fantastic fall color that is all over town. Outside of town, the oaks are starting to look particularly nice and it is a great time to hike up on Spring Hill or on Eagle Ridge over in Weed. Anywhere along water is also a good bet for color. Wherever you go, enjoy this chance to get out and hike. It may be the last warm one for a while!
The aspen grove near my house is approaching its peak color.
So with all the fires and destruction still on going in the Wine Country, I wanted to turn my attention to something more positive. The ruination is still smoldering but life goes on and it is the beginning of the time to look to other things, the good side of life and be thankful. If you y’all will indulge me for this one last blog post, I will return to normal Hike Mt Shasta programming after this (with maybe one or two more posts on the fires down the road).
All that said, my oldest son’s birthday was this past Tuesday and we were going to celebrate it when my parents got back up here to Mount Shasta. Needless to say, with their house in ashes and business needing to be attended to down in Sonoma County, my son’s 8th birthday was kind of put on the back burner. He was very patient and understanding. He also has had plenty to distract him, since he has just started Cub Scouts, loves it, and has been having a ball with all the events we have been doing.
So, to the point. In our family, we let our kids pick what they want to decorate their birthday cakes and then my wife and I try to figure out a way to make it work. Normally it will have a toy or something on it as part of the decoration scheme. In the past we have had dragon, pony, Slugterra and multiple lego cakes, just to name a few. The one rule is that everything on the cake except for the toys must be edible. A few weeks ago my daughter turned 5 and she decided she wanted a leopard cake. We went to work on the cake, and I would say it turned out pretty well. So, now it came time for my son to pick his style of cake. He proudly stated that he wanted a Yosemite Valley cake. Thanks son!
Undaunted, I devised what I thought would be a workable way to produce something like the fabled valley. It required three layers of cake and then a lot of carving. My wife and I then iced the thing down, added some waterfalls and a river and after a couple of hours, we had a surprisingly recognizable looking Yosemite Valley! Honestly, I am a bit impressed with myself that we were able to pull it off, even to the low standard we are able to achieve. Working on Yosemite cakes is far more edifying that watching your parents home turn to ash. I am thankful they are safe and that they are able to help us celebrate my son’s birthday! Moreover, I am proud of my new Cub Scout and excited to begin this new adventure with him! (And this post is semi-relevant to this site, it’s about Yosemite!)
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“I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth as far as nature is concerned.”
― Luther Burbank
So said America’s preeminent horticulturist of Sonoma County. It has been a tough day in the chosen spot. Much has burned and much continues to burn. The sudden flames battled through the hills and then spilled out into the Santa Rosa Plain, leaving destruction and tears in its wake. My parents house, the house I grew up in, is ashes. Thankfully my parents are quite well and are in good spirits. I honestly think I am taking it harder than they are, though they no doubt are still in shock to some degree. I certainly am.
The neighborhood I grew up in. My house is just out of frame, across the street from the lot with the red arrow. (Image source unknown)
Sonoma and Napa Counties are my hometown. I love them. I have invested deeply in them over the course of my life. I have hiked them, written about them and been created and shaped by them. They have invested deeply in me. Yet now they hurt and I, and so many others, are hurting too. It has been a rough year for fires.
By the end of the day, I had had enough fire, so I decided to go observe some fire of another kind. Watching the interesting, wispy clouds all day while I paced on the phone, I had already decided to go an imbibe some of Mount Shasta’s beauty at sunset. I was rewarded with beautiful and rather unusual spectacle. As the sun was dropping below the horizon, the mountain – and nothing else – lit up. Gradually, as the light on Mount Shasta faded, the clouds glowed until the sky was aflame. The right kind of flame. Even in the midst of the hurt, it is comforting to know that there is beauty in the world. That it was made and declared good. The hurts will heal. It was a hard day, but ended well. Tomorrow, we can start to pick up the pieces.