Classically cone-shaped, majestic Mount Shasta is not only nearly 10,000 feet tall, home to seven glaciers and numerous myths and legends. It’s also a dormant, yet active, volcano. Dormant because it has a history of only erupting once every 600 to 800 years; active because the fumaroles–small vents in the ground that let out steam and air from volcanic chambers beneath–on the mountain tell us that it’s still very much full of hot magma underneath.
Mount Shasta’s last eruption is speculated to have happened around 200 years ago; the speculation is based upon an account by French Navy explorer La Pérouse in his journal after observing the volcano erupting offshore of California from his ship in 1786. If this was indeed an eruption of Mount Shasta (for no other large volcanoes are anywhere near where La Pérouse observed the eruption), and if the pattern holds true, then the volcano will erupt again in around 400 years’ time. Not anything to cancel your vacation over!
Mount Shasta is notorious for having steep climbing trails; inexperienced climbers frequently must be rescued after taking on a climb more dangerous than they can handle, so if you are planning on attempting to reach the summit, be aware that it’s not a beginner-level kind of climb. Most popular (and involving over 6,000 feet of vertical gain) to climb is Avalanche Gulch, also known as the John Muir route. Obstacles in your path if you take this route include danger of rockfall (hence the name “Avalanche Gulch”), numerous snowfields and moraines, and a bergschrund.
To avoid the avalanches and other pitfalls of the John Muir route, Casaval Ridge and Sargents Ridge are your best options, especially during the winter months. There are hiking trails around the base of the mountain, too, if the summit isn’t your goal and you’d rather enjoy the atmosphere without as much of the risk. Thanks to its snowy, steep peaks, Mount Shasta is also a popular destination for back country skiing. Experienced skiers may choose the steep upper slopes, while the less-daring can still enjoy the mountain with less-angled slopes further down.