“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.

California Drought Snapshot: Snowless Mount Shasta 3 September,2014Dan Brekke

  • ““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”


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area’s transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED’s comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Email Dan at: dbrekke@kqed.org

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