California Drought Snapshot: Snowless Mount Shasta

“Mount Shasta , situated near the northern extremity of the Sierra Nevada, rises in solitary grandeur from a lightly sculptured lava plain, and maintains a far more impressive and commanding individuality than any other mountain within the limits of California.

“Go where you will within a radius of from fifty to a hundred miles, there stands the colossal cone of Shasta, clad in perpetual snow, the one grand landmark that never sets.”

That’s John Muir, writing in 1877. The pioneering conservationist, who looked at California’s mountains and always saw poetry, was describing a harrowing day and night spent stranded near the summit of Mount Shasta in a spring blizzard. He and a companion, who had been caught in the open with only the clothes they were wearing, survived the night by sleeping near steam vents high on the mountain.

You wonder what Muir would say today, when drought has all but stripped the mountain of its “perpetual” snow. Today those venturing to the mountaintop (elevation 14,162 or 14,179 or 14,180 feet, depending on who you believe) are greeted by bare rocky slopes. That “one grand landmark” — California’s version of Mount Fuji, which I’m eager to catch sight of each time I head up the Sacramento Valley — is comparatively invisible now until you’re almost on top of it. (Matters aren’t improved at all by the weeks of murky skies caused by wildfires throughout the North State.)

As recently as December 2012, a single storm dumped more than 10 feet of snow on Mount Shasta (the mountain holds the distinction of the most snowfall ever recorded in a single continuous storm, by the way; 189 inches fell there in one week of February 1959). And, of course, the mountain’s snow cover has been sparse before. Now the state of the mountain resembles that seen during the super-dry years of 1976-77.

The slider images above depict Mount Shasta in full snowclad splendor (January 2007) and last week. The sequence of images below begins with the 2007 shot, includes a view from July 2013, and ends with last week.

If you’re wondering, the vantage point is the Sweetbriar Avenue overpass on Interstate 5; that’s 21 miles as the crow flies south of the summit, or 16 road miles from downtown Mount Shasta.

Related

  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mount-Shasta-Energy-Services/305074483863?ref=ts&fref=ts shastatodd

    ““Mount Shasta , situated near the northern extremity of the Sierra Nevada, ”

    actually, mountshasta sits toward the southern end of the cascade range – with mountlassen being the end of the cascades.

    • Dan Brekke

      Agreed! But that was John Muir’s view back in the 1870s, and I’ll venture a guess that the geography wasn’t quite as settled then.

      • former ranger

        Dan, you are correct. Muir was very good, but his online data sources were not up to snuff.

        • Dan Brekke

          Not to mention he only had dial-up back then.

    • Lassen Peak

      You have the geography correct, except for one thing, Lassen Peak is the correct geographic name..There is no “Mount Lassen”

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor