Book Review: "Climbing Mt. Shasta

Written by three mountain guides, this book
is the product of decades of
guiding and mountaineering knowledge.
Truth: I've never been to Mt. Shasta. In fact, the closest I've physically come to the mountain was on a trip to San Francisco. And yet, after reading Climbing Mt. Shasta, I've got more knowledge to draw from than I thought possible without actually visiting the mountain. Peppered with typical mountain guide humor and beautiful quotations,  Climbing Mt. Shasta  is as much an encyclopedia of information on mountaineering and the Avalanche Gulch route as it is a delightful read for anyone with a passion for mountains and climbing.

Written by  David Cressman, Timothy Keating and James "JB" Brown of SWS Mountain GuidesClimbing Mt. Shasta  is a tangible collection of decades of guiding and mountaineering knowledge. Though the three expedition leaders have a variety of experience around the world, they all have a love of Shasta in common. They chose to write the book to share their knowledge and passion with novice climbers interested in achieving Shasta's 14,197' summit, but after spending time with the book, I'm convinced it will appeal to a wider audience.

Climbing Mt. Shasta is much more than a guide book; it's part mountaineering encyclopedia, part natural and cultural history book, and part adventure narrative. In the beginning, we're treated to descriptions of Shasta herself, the mountain's numerous glaciers, a history of volcanic activity, and obligatory, but beautiful quotes from John Muir. Then, it's on to area flora and fauna as well as a section chapter dubbed "Mystical, Sacred and Compelling Mount Shasta." The juxtaposition of historical fact and Native American lore is a perfect lead-in to more instructional sections. Dave, Tim and JB impart a significant amount of knowledge around training, mental preparation, the best time to climb and how long it should take.

I found the chapters on weather and safety, particularly warnings of sudden winter storms brought down on the "Arctic Express" from the Gulf of Alaska both compelling and intimidating. The next logical section, mountain safety, includes one of my favorite things about mountain literature - adventure stories. A solo climber's struggle for survival after finding himself stuck in poor weather and a daring helicopter rescue doesn't just make for exciting reading; it also illustrates the importance of preparedness on every adventure.

Smack dab in the middle of the volume is the meat of  Climbing Mt. Shasta - a detailed blow-by-blow of the mountains most popular route, Avalanche Gulch. This route up Shasta's southwest slope sees the majority of the mountain's 5,000-6,000 annual summit attempts, though we learn only 45% of them are successful. From a history of the Sierra Club Lodge (or simply, "The Cabin") to the origin of the smelly Sulphur Springs at the summit, you'll learn much more than simply how to follow the Avy Gulch route. The best part? Five of this section's fifty pages are dedicated to glissading, arguably the most fun method for descending. And for climbers looking to attempt other routes, the SWS team profiles several other routes including Casaval Ridge, Hotlum-Bolum Ridge and the Hotlum Wintun Route.

Outside of the Avalanche Gulch route description, the portion of the book dedicated to climbing gear is the longest. As a relative beginner to mountaineering, I'm always curious to hear what folks who climb mountains for a living recommend packing and wearing. From guide-recommended packs and sleeping bags to ten tips on how to choose a tent, the section is both informative and interesting.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone not only interested in the climbing associated with Mount Shasta,  but to those with an appetite for mountaineering knowledge, history, geology and the area's topography. It's obvious that Dave, Tim and JB endeavor to express their love for Mt. Shasta, for climbing, and for teaching.

Huge thanks to the authors for providing a complimentary proof copy for this review! The book isn't officially released until March 15th, but you'll be able to find it on If you're interested in learning more about the book or would like to find out about getting a copy, please send a note to