For those of us regularly in northern California, Mt Shasta is iconic. I first visited in the 90’s on a ski weekend, climbed it in 2001 and raced mountain bikes there in early 2000’s. I have been keeping bikepacking around Shasta as an option as long as I have been doing this. From my early mountain bike years I had picked up a copy of Mountain Biking Northern California’s Best 100 Trails, Fragnoli and Stuart. I rode everything in the East Bay and a few others. But the Mount Shasta Loop was burned into my brain. Then my friend, Eric Hunter posted his find of the book. He sent me pictures of the route map and description. I then recreated it in Ride with GPS. Now there was no excuse. I was traveling past Shasta, it was mid-day. The route is 60+ miles of mixed roads with 4000′ of climbing. That can be a full day or a chill overnight. Overnight it was.
Shasta is nearly snow-less this year. With a record draught and record high temperatures Mt Shasta was looking like a southern Nevada mountain, a bare Martian-scape. I haven’t been following the disappearance of Shasta’s glaciers but I remember reading about Mt Kilimanjaro’s and Mt Kenya’s glaciers rapidly disappearing. While these glaciers have little impact on the watersheds below them they represent features that are 10’s of thousands years old, disappearing within our lifetimes, features defining the icons, valuable to the local tourism economy and so on. The glaciers in the Cascades do impact the watersheds below, especially critical habitat for salmon and in return the peoples whose lives and identity rely on healthy salmon populations. Unlike snow pack and persistent snow fields glaciers are not coming back until the next ice age. Retreating glaciers should be one more piece of evidence of climate change.
So I came to look. I have only seen Shasta from the south and west. Now I got to look at 360oaround the mountain. It is fantastic! The Shasta-Trinity National forest is beautiful. There were so many roads to explore. I really needed a Forest Service map to plan a more extensive trip. I saw a few single track trails as well. The local bikepacking community is fortunate to have great access to these wild lands.
The route is fairly straight forward. You leave Mt Shasta City via Old McCloud Rd, which becomes FS road 31. You ride 25 miles, climb 3100′, on mixed roads, cross Mud Creek and Ash Creek, which have completely washed out the road from melting glaciers, and then you T into Military Pass Road, FS Rd 19. Now it is 13 miles to Andesite where you ride the cinders of Southern Pacific Railway. You ride along the tracks for about 16 miles, pass two trestles, and cross over to an adjacent road at Black Butte Siding. While there are adjacent roads along most of these 16 miles, the cinder bed where there is at least a service vehicle’s width, is the best route. At Black Butte Siding you get onto Truck Village Drive for the last miles into Mt Shasta City.
The first miles out of Shasta were residential before it becomes a narrow paved forest service road and eventually the broken pavement gives way to dirt. As you wrap around the south east shoulder of the mountain there are sweeping views to McCloud. But I came to look Mt Shasta, I took advantage of every break in the trees to catch a new view. Flooding at Mud Creek had totally washed out the road making it impassible for vehicles. The creek crossing was not a worry with the bike. I took all necessary precautions to stay dry. There was a second washout at Ash Creek. This crossing was a little simpler but required a hike-a-bike through a boulder field. I wish I could have safely seen the forces of nature that ripped down these creeks. The day was getting late, I told myself I would ride 1 hour by headlamp then find a place for my bivy. This section turning onto Military Pass Road was indicated in the guide book as “sandy”, and it was. My 47mm tires were a bit squirrelly.
The night was comfortable. I wasn’t carrying a stove so I missed hot coffee and oatmeal in the morning. But I had cold brew and a pastry so I was satisfied. Rolling out was downhill with sunrise on the northeast face of Mt Shasta. I was looking up at the Hotlum and Bolam Glaciers. I rolled down to the Andesite crossing then started my journey on the cinders along the Southern Pacific Railway or on the adjacent roads. Again familiar names, Bolam, Hotlum, and Black Butte crossings were all on the map and railroad outbuildings. The lava beds were spectacular. There were a couple of trestles to ride around. Before I knew it I was on paved roads between Weed and Mt Shasta. I passed through areas that had burned in the past two summers. The severity, magnitude, and frequency of wildfires in this area are attributed to climate change and forest management. The loop was a great way to get views of Mt Shasta from all angles. The route is so accessible to anyone driving on I-5 through northern California.
Shrinking glaciers in North America are not limited to Alaska. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “I am just one person. I can’t do enough to slow, halt or reverse climate change.” Everything counts. If you believe you can do something about this, then do it now. Go visit the glaciers for yourself. While this route is straight forward they are many side roads to explore. I know I will try to squeeze in a ride every time I pass.
The route I followed is here on Ride with GPS. It was fun to recreate a route out of a classic mountain bike guide book and be able to share it with the bikepacking community. Within 24 hours of creating the route, I was contacted by Charlie Sommers (@narliecharlie89), who was looking for a route in the Shasta area. We both rode it within days of each other. It was a hoot seeing his pictures of the route, recognizing each location.