Castle Lake & Mt. Shasta
Mt. Shasta has been an annual ritual for me since '02. Typically, I make the trip up each year for the Shasta Summit Super Century, easily my favorite ride of the whole season. That trip didn't happen this year due to travel conflict, so this was basically a self-supported ride Lisa and I were doing to make up for it.
Our start/Finish staging area was Has Beans in the south side of town. Love this coffee joint and I guarantee you won't find better coffee anywhere else in a 50 mile radius. Mt. Shasta is a curious town w/ many curious folks. And a lot of lookie-loos fascinated by the tandem racked up on the car. That's where it would stay; we'd be riding our solo bikes today.
It was 41F degrees at around 8:30A as we started prepping the bikes. Dude with some really nice lookin' wolves in his truck, who as selling his handmade jewelry outside the cafe quipped "Ain't it a bit cold to be goin' on a bike ride?" I agreed with him long before he even asked. And after that, it was all the more tempting to ditch the ride and hang out inside the cofee shop w/ warm beverages.
Here it is in early September, and I'm rolling off on a bike ride with every upper body garment layer I've got: base, jersey, arm warmers, vest, rain jacket. Half an hour later during our warmup miles, at the Fawn Creek bridge, I'd shed the jacket, but keep it on hand. This is Mt. Shasta, after all. Land of dramatically fickle weather.
Our plan was to ride up Castle Lake (5,450'), go back to cafe, fuel up, then up to the ski bowl summit on Mt. Shasta (7,720'). Basically, the last 2 climbs of the Shasta Super Century. And the ones with the best roads, actually.
The last time I had been up Castle Lake was in '02, when I was bonking, underdressed and drenched from daylong downpour in 50F temps. I'd say I under-appreciated the beauty of this particular climb on that occasion. Well, since the weather and fog had pretty much made any vista impossible to see then, I really didn't know what I missed. But this time, sunny skies and clear horizons revealed some amazing views from the south side of the Trinity Forest, and a clear view of the Black Butte far down below. At the top of Castle Lake, a goddamn gorgeous lake surrounded by craggy mountainside. We had planned to take a swim here this weekend, actually. Not anymore.
By the time we descended Castle Lake and rolled back into town, temps had risen to a far more comfortable 65F. We wouldn't be fooled into leaving any extra clothing behind in the car. Past years have taught us you gotta be ready for anything up here. And sure enough, 'anything' happened. Again.
The weather climbing up Shasta was actually beautiful. And the climb itself was a serenely peaceful experience as we nearly had the roads all to ourselves. Probably no more than 5 cars that passed us. And not a single other cyclist (the annual Shasta hillclimb race took place just the day before). With this peace and quiet interrupted only by our labored breathing, I felt like the mountain was ours. But as soon as we summited, quick-forming clouds moving in reminded us otherwise. It's always the mountain that owns your asses, silly.
One telling sign of possible weather funkiness was that temperature dropped in the last mile of the climb by about 10F according to a driver I was chatting with in the parking lot. As we gabbed (and at which point he also offered me a beer -- "It's all down hill from here anyway, bro" -- seriously), the outside temp gauge on the dash of his Ford F150 read 39F. It was about 3PM.
A bit of sleet that also came down during the last 2 miles of my ascent was probably just a foreshadowing of what could come. Lisa was still trying to relax and recover from the climb when I nagged her a third time, "We've GOTTA get off this mountain now" Two minutes later, as we saddled up and began our descent, we were hammered by a hail storm. Bright white BB-sized pellets. Those suckers hurt when you're going down a mountain on a bike. I was tempted to call out to Lisa to find shelter and wait it out, but decided in the end it would probably be wiser to keep moving and get to lower elevation more quickly. If the sky kept coming down, I'd rather be down the mountain more quickly and just deal with plain rain as we did two years ago.
Thankfully, the weather cleared up for us about 1,000 ft. down and we had sun and dry roads to cap the day with. Any time of year, this mountain can always dish out an amazing and memorable experience. I LOVE this place!!